Ngaiire’s Magical Music Finds A New Home In An Iconic Australian Venue

black and white photo of ngaiire with blonde hair

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On November 10th, 2022, the percussion boom, soaring strings, and endless harmonies of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra filled the forecourt of the iconic Sydney Opera House. Standing at the front of the stage was Ngaiire, the Papua New Guinean artist whose voice has been integral to the growth of R&B and soul music in Australia over the last decade.

Her three-album catalogue — Lamentations, Blastoma, 3 —  made up the set list, which was meticulously arranged for the orchestra by award-winning composer Alex Turley and executed beautifully by the SSO, Ngaiire and her band. For Ngaiire, the show proved a significant career touchstone, taking place near the end of 3’s album cycle — a record that combined a contemporary musical palette with emotional visuals of her ancestral villages in Papua New Guinea. A live album of Ngaiire’s performance with the SSO is now available. 

Fusing future-soul with gospel, R&B and pop melodics, the album is a masterclass in vocals from Ngaiire and highlights the diversity of her catalogue, reimagined by the strength of the symphony. The live album arrives as Ngaiire prepares to return to the site that harnessed so much magic for her and her band that night. This time, she’ll put on an unmissable May 4 show in the Concert Hall with the SSO and GODTET, the improvisational jazz project of Australian instrumentalist and producer, Godriguez. 

Though she’s now used to the orchestral format, Ngaiire admits that performing at this type of venue requires mental preparation.

“I’m just always aware, as I progress in my career and as things get bigger, of the quality of my inner self,” she says. “[I need] to be truthful on a stage like that, rather than disappear in the emotion of being there, overcompensating for the nerves.”

Of course, it’s not just nervousness a show like this induces.

It’s exciting to work with an arranger,” she says, reflecting on her experience in 2022. “We’ve only been working with Alex Turley on this round of shows, but there have been so many other brilliant minds out there… they can see the music in a completely different light to how Alex would see it, or to how somebody else would. There are so many avenues to push into and explore.”

Two months of precise work has gone into the arrangements of Ngaiire’s music, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for the kind of improv or movement you might find in a normal show. And for the upcoming Opera House show, there’s not much to embellish on.

“The orchestra alone brings a magic that you don’t need too many bells and whistles put on top of,” Ngaiire says. “There’s been talks of visuals and dancing on stage; certainly that’s an avenue to explore later down the track, but I think I’m just enjoying seeing the songs have a new life on that platform, and have my voice be carried by this monster of a band.”

But while the original show arrived as Ngaiire was ending one of her most personal creative arcs, this return to the Opera House coincides with the beginning of a new one. In its infancy, Ngaiire’s next project currently has her working on new material, following inspiration wherever it takes her — in Australia and Papua New Guinea.

“It’s so crazy, putting your mind in between preparing for a show of this magnitude, and being in the womb of creativity, and not wanting to come out of that for anything,” she says. “Whether it’s to get home on time for dinner, or go to a rehearsal… it is hard to split your mind when you’re in the land of wanting to hunker down and just be present for whatever muses come. It’s hard to do something like that, but I think just being aware of how to gently transition your mind from that space into the next, is something I’ve become much more aware of.”

“I went away the other week by myself to reset,” she adds. “It’s often hard going in and out of being a mum, and home life; going into something that is completely opposite to what I do day to day. The work started two months ago; you have to push your mind into being like, ‘Remember Ngaiire, you’re a performer and you’re playing the Opera House soon…’ It’s so crazy!”

Ngaiire’s new album Live at the Sydney Opera House is out now.