NGAIIRE @ Chevron Lighthouse gets 9/10

Ngaiire @ Chevron Lighthouse
w/ Emma Donovan & The Putbacks  
Sunday, February 9, 2019


The backyard of Perth Concert Hall was suitably dolled up to host the festival’s “City of Lights” outdoor live entertainment precinct. Layers of colourful milkcrates adorned the bar and casual dining area, where members of the public can enjoy free entertainment throughout the festival period. Opening at 7:30pm gives time and space for ticket holders to bookend their evening with a full experience of the senses. Within the open-air Chevron Lighthouse both tiered rows of chairs and stairs were popular for seating but many chose to stand stage-front for the duration of the night, bodies appreciatively swaying and grooving. Although intensely loud, the music mix was clean and crisp.

The two artists featured stunningly epitomised the vision of Artistic Director, Iain Grandage – “inclusive and immersive – euphoric affirmations of who we are and where we stand, …affirm the primacy of Indigenous culture, …capture an ever‐expanding orbit of stories from the local to the global… irreverent, playful, compelling and honest. They will speak to everyone.”

Melbournites Emma Donovan & The Putbacks warmed up the cool Perth night with tight, soulful blues. Audiences instantly trusted that they were in the hands of professionals as the gritty power quintet backed the giant voice of the Indigenous songstress. Donovan’s casual, barefoot appearance was surprisingly fitting as she led the journey of storytelling – effortlessly belting notes that seemed impossibly massive. Donovan’s mandate of being an empowered Indigenous woman comes from a place of authority and confidence. She carries a deep belief that this is the land of her people, and while taking on that mantle of ownership, generously welcomes the “white fellas” into her “mob’s” territory. Despite her down-to-earth manner, the set was crafted immaculately, moving from moments which were exaggeratedly and verging on uncomfortably spacious, into massive swells of flying soul guitar and organ.

After a brief beverage refill break, the experience moved on in a home video type presentation through the eyes of a native Papua New Guinean. There was imagery of Ngaiire in conservative dress standing stoically amongst feather-clad warriors manoeuvring tribal dance rituals. Repetitive shots of Ngaiire’s ancestral village showed grass huts amongst a lush green rainforest scape behind the explanation of the artist feeling as though she didn’t identify fully with either culture. This brief film introduced the audience to Ngaiire’s unique sense of creative expression.

The band orderly filed onto stage to the distant a cappella singing of a foreign tongue. As the band took their places, Ngaiire appeared, continuing to sing, with long afro tresses, white ankle kicks, and an oversized sparkling outfit that was couture men’s t-shirt meets mirror ball. Ngaiire’s unconventional style is as much a part of her brand as her unmistakable, rich, vibrato soul voice.

The word “hypnotic” was aptly fitting. The mesmerising nature of Ngaiire’s work comes from the holistic generosity of an artistic being. Ngaiire has allowed her depth of experience to funnel into her work, not purely as a songwriter, but as a creator. It would be limiting to place this artist’s work into a genre, she plays with different eras: electro, soul, funk, glitch, and more.

Ngaiire’s poetic lyricism was backed with perfection by intricate drumbeats, driving power chords and electronic tracks. Extravagant harmonies blended like an audible soul soaking liquid delivered by powerhouse vocalists Billy McCarthy and Michael Duchesne, accomplished artists in their own right. The entire band worked meticulously on dynamics, at one point climaxing to the most intense chaotic, crushing sound; lights, fog, singers running around on stage. Other moments so perfect and clear, inviting audience members to close their eyes and just bathe in the moment.

A thoroughly enjoyable evening of soul, power and passion.


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