how i make it work... NGAIIRE JOSEPH
THE SINGER CAN FEEL CAUGHT BETWEEN TWO CULTURES AFTER EMIGRATING FROM PAPUA NEW GUINEA TO AUSTRALIA AS A TEENAGER. BUT THAT DOESN’T STOP HER EDUCATING OTHERS ABOUT HER MOTHERLAND THROUGH MUSIC
Ihad a very gritty childhood. My parents are both academics so we were always well off, but we still faced the realities of life in a developing nation. When I moved to NSW’S Lismore with my mother and two younger siblings at age 16 in 2000, I was excited. But I had no idea how long it would take to fit in.
At first it was hard because school here is very clique-y. I wore baggy clothes; I didn’t shave my legs. I quickly realised I looked different to everyone else. Then I found music. I started doing music classes at school, which I hadn’t had the option to do before. My first day in class was so incredible and mindblowing because there were so many genres I had never heard. I was like a kid in a candy store. That really helped me through the transition
As I’ve gotten older, it feels like I’m caught between two worlds in a different way to when I moved here. I’ve adapted in a way that I don’t feel completely Papua New Guinean and I don’t feel completely Australian. Now that I’m engaged, I think about how I would want to raise my children. Do I want them to experience what it’s like to have a tribe around them? How Western do I want them to be? There are all these questions.
A lot of people are fascinated by where I come from, constantly asking me what it was like to live there. They’ll say, “Do you miss PNG? Do you guys still eat people there?” It makes me realise how uninformed Australians are about their closest neighbour.
I haven’t written any songs yet about my experiences as an immigrant, but my next album is going to touch on it. I recently travelled back to create visual content for the record. I want to celebrate PNG’S beauty, and hope I can make people think differently about the country, in the same way Rihanna has done for Barbados or M.I.A. has done for Sri Lanka.
I often wonder what life would be like for me if I never left. I probably would have followed in my parents’ footsteps and done something in science. I would have been married with kids by now, but also more connected to my culture. You always want what you don’t have, but I have an incredible life here and I get to do what I love doing. It’s a catch 22.