A captivating artist and gifted songwriter, Ngaiire’s artistry has bred one of Australia’s most charismatic bodies of work. 

The first thing that strikes you is her voice.  

It’s impossible not to be captivated by it; delicate at the outset, warm and rhythmic through each build, unfurling into captivating pockets of fire-laced soul.

And then, it’s the storytelling.

Ngaiire’s music remains timeless because of the way she constructs a narrative realm that is intimate without being cold; her observations mix reality with decadent fantasy. 

From early in her career, Ngaiire’s music has reflected a layered and beguiling personality behind it and with her albums Lamentations and Blastoma, Ngaiire orchestrated two incredible records; emotionally intelligent, sonically diverse and never lacking when it comes to replay quality.

The Lamentations era served as a strong introduction to Ngaiire’s sound – impeccably produced by Aaron Choulai and Tim Curnick - and impossible to pigeon hole. As her debut studio release, the album thrives in its hypnotic melange of genre; nods to her jazz upbringing fuse with beautifully realised neo-soul and contemporary R&B sounds that buoy Ngaiire’s vocal. Sometimes, it’s awash with romantic notes, others it’s delivered with a striking melancholy.

Released in 2013, at a time where popular music in the Australian landscape leaned heavily into indie and guitar-driven music, Lamentations stood apart, defiant in its execution of a sonic palette that incorporated the soulful with the electronic.

Lamentations was a moment of arrival and a pure statement of intent from the artistwho previously, had built a reputation as a strong ensemble performer with artists like Paul Mac and Blue King Brown. But a  spotlight that was all her own lay in wait, and an album such as Lamentations – with its lyrical nuance and intricate musical bends – would introduce Ngaiire as a formidable new talent whose vision was clear.

Collaborations with Hiatus Kaiyote’s Nai Palm (‘Dirty Hercules’), as well as Elana Stone and Brian Campeau (‘Ordinary’) have matured beautifully with time, while the poignancy threaded through songs like ‘Around’, ‘Rabbit Hole’ and ‘Count To Ten’ keeps the output feeling as fresh and current, a decade on from their original release. 

Key to the success of an album like Lamentations is a sense of self-awareness and ability to hold a mirror up to oneself – qualities that Ngaiire further explored three years later on Blastoma

That record, even to this day, is a remarkable release and a true representation of the pure approach to music Ngaiire has taken on each step of her journey. Produced by Ngaiire herself, alongside Paul Mac and Jack Grace, Blastoma is as brave as it is cathartic. Taking the dark and menacing nature of the namesake cancer she battled as a child, bringing memories and emotions attached into her musical world as an adult; Ngaiire uses music here to heal, soothe and ultimately emerge triumphant.

Knowing when to apply minimalism to affect desired emotional impact (‘Anchor’, ‘Once’), and knowing when to shoot for the euphoric highs that highlight Ngaiire’s technical and vocal prowess (‘House On A Rock’, ‘Diggin’), Blastoma is a playful masterclass of texture and energy. The album refuses to hold the listener’s hand through its emotional complexities, but provides a strong guiding presence in Ngaiire’s use of melody and visceral depictions of heartache, physical stress and the stitching back together of one’s identity, in moving past ingrained traumas.

Blastoma is the type of album that establishes the legacy of an artist – in the case of Ngaiire, it cemented her status as one of Australia’s strongest voices and champions of a burgeoning wave of future-soul music that would thrive in years to come. 

Records like these don’t come around often and in a way, that’s a good thing. Because when they do land, that first experience of sitting with it on that first playback – front to back – provides a listener with a rush that cannot be replicated.. 

As an artist, Ngaiire has refused to manipulate her creative identity to match any expectations of an Australian industry that could never maintain her in any one musical box. It has meant her output has remained ever-engaging and interesting. As she has continued to evolve as a human; a mother; a proud Papua New Guinean navigating her way through life in Australia, Ngaiire’s music has taken on new layers.

The journey to the woman she is today has beautiful footprints in both Lamentations and Blastoma

Wonderfully complex and unique, this is music that needs you to spend some time with it in order to understand where it is heading next. 

Unafraid to be chaotic, relish moments of self-indulgence or shed the scar tissue of emotional wounds to make way for a stronger sense of self, both stand tall as records that help illustrate the story of a woman and an artist paving her own way to success and fulfilment.

 

Essay by Sosefina Fuamoli

Sosefina Fuamoli is an award-winning Samoan-Australian music journalist, who contributes to titles including Rolling Stone Australia, The Australian and more. She is also a broadcaster on ABC Radio Australia, as well as indulging a love for community radio through her R&B show, Window Seat, on 3RRR FM in Melbourne.