Interview: NGAIO | LOUD MagazinePosted on: 17 Apr 2020
This article was first published in the second edition of LOUD Magazine, 365Bristol's dedicated music publication.
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Musician, DJ, vocalist, spoken word artist, writer, promoter, Inclusion Officer: is there anything Ngaio can’t do? Over coffee, the Arts Council-backed creative discusses her latest projects
It’s been five months since the release of We Fly; Ngaio’s latest EP created as part of Saffron Records’ Artist Development Programme. Home to an infectious amalgam of genres, the five-track record boasts neo-soul vocals, jazz arrangements and essential discussion. It’s a body of work which, Ngaio says, reflects herself not only as a musician but as an individual: “I was really adamant that I wanted it to be something that I felt really reflected who I am and what I think.”
Take ‘Blackbird’, We Fly’s near-nine-minute crescendo. A thunderous composition, ‘Blackbird’ offers an exploration of race, identity and representation. Through the medium of pensive spoken word and powerful vocal, listeners are met with Ngaio’s personal experience, too; of being mixed race, of micro-aggressions and exclusion. It’s a conversation starter, and a piece of work to connect and represent her audience. “People have really heard it in the way that I wanted,” Ngaio says, reflecting on the months since the EP's release. “They haven’t felt attacked or anything, which I think is a big worry.”
‘Blackbird’ had been in development for a while: its spoken word was written over four years ago, which, Ngaio notes, “shows how much things haven’t really changed or shifted. I’ve always written like I’m writing a diary. So,” Ngaio continues, “when I wrote that, it was because I was going through something internally.” The words were also inspired, in part, by Ngaio’s upbringing. Ngaio grew up in rural Wales, where, she says, “there were no other black people around, and I didn’t know what the hell was going on.” She explains that if the song were for a specific person, that person would be her nine-year-old self.
Indeed, ‘Blackbird’ is a fearlessly personal track, and thus, ignited a level of vulnerability upon its release: “you’re really putting yourself out there for everyone to pick apart.” However, it’s a vulnerability Ngaio hopes will translate to her audience. Though the track platforms a discussion of critical struggles, they are struggles with which some listeners may not often engage or experience – but that’s okay, Ngaio explains: so long as there’s a willingness to be vulnerable in response; to open up and engage with the content. “It’s a beautiful thing because when people do listen, and they do connect, you can see them becoming vulnerable in that moment of realisation.”
Aside from making music, Ngaio works professionally as the Inclusion Officer at Bristol charity Artspace Lifespace. She is also the Musical Director of the Bristol Bass Choir and is the founder of DJ collective and monthly party, Booty Bass. The EP’s title symbolises the purpose of Ngaio’s work: “I wanted We Fly to be the name because that is essentially why I do what I do. It’s the music; it’s the writing, it’s the inclusion and diversity work - I feel like that wraps up what I’m trying to do at the moment, which is for everyone to feel like we’re all succeeding together.”
Ngaio’s surrounded by friends and collaborators at a We Fly music video shoot | Credit: Charley Williams
Today, we meet inside Easton’s Orchard Café, and Ngaio is effortlessly warm, chatty and energetic. It’s a positivity she brings to track two of We Fly, ‘Green Eyed Queen’. Although inspired by a friendship breakdown, the song champions seeing the best in others. But equally, Ngaio mentions how she has learned the importance of “quiet days” - days spent alone, focusing on herself. In fact, Ngaio couldn’t escape quiet days when she lost her voice, a few years ago: “there was a worry about whether I’d be able to sing again. I had to be quiet for six months.”
‘Well, if there’s one thing that’s never quiet, it’s Booty Bass!’ I respond. “It’s funny you say that,” Ngaio smiles, “because I learned how to DJ when I wasn’t allowed to sing. I was barely allowed to talk, and I just thought: if I don’t find something musical to do, I’m gonna go mad.” It’s when Ngaio signed up for local DJ course, Mix Nights, and became instantly fascinated with mixing.
Read more about Booty Bass in the lead feature of LOUD Magazine, Issue #2: Dancefloor Solutions.
This year, Ngaio will unite her work as a musician and her skills on the decks. On April 17, Ngaio is set to release a new EP via Durke Disco; a remixed version of We Fly. Some of Ngaio’s favourite producers have produced remixes for the release, allowing the EP to enter the club space. Ngaio’s planning on upping her DJ game, too: she’s learning how to sing and DJ at the same time, and mix jazz with drum and bass. It’s no surprise, given her recent grant from Arts Council England: “it’s still mind-blowing, to be honest.” The Developing your Creative Practice grant will enable Ngaio to undertake a music production course with LA’s Beat Lab Academy, specialising in dancehall and afrobeat.
Ngaio's new EP, We Fly Remixes, is out now
So, for Ngaio, what is the most exciting thing about 2020? “I think seeing where I’m gonna be at the end of it because I just don’t know. I feel like I’ve been doing loads of groundwork, and now things are starting to come to fruition.”
Dancefloor Solutions: meet the people, projects and parties making change | LOUD Magazine
Get in touch with Kate at email@example.com.