When 12-year-old Niamh Beatrix Smith’s family moved from South Africa to Ireland four years ago, she found a safe haven in music in this new and strange environment.
Although Niamh (pronounced Neave) has been singing since she was a child, she only really began to flourish with her singing talent after emigrating.
“She made music her light when she had to pick up the pieces in her life all over again in the foreign country,” says her mother, Alda.
When Niamh sings Afrikaans songs, she does not feel too far from her beloved country of birth – a country to which she would like to return one day.
“It shows that music and language know no national borders.”
Niamh recently made a recording of the hit “Klein tambotieboom” from the alternative group Die Heuwels Fantasties and her version was viewed more than 5,000 times on YouTube in just one week.
Alda says Niamh wanted to sing and record an Afrikaans song and “Klein tambotieboom” reminded her of her growing up years in South Africa.
“I played her ‘Klein tambotieboom’ and she immediately liked it.”
According to Alda, Niamh was “born singing”.
“She cried terribly as a baby and just wouldn’t calm down. Her oldest brother, Jesse (15), was an old quiet baby and I felt quite horrified with this little girl who could raise her throat like that.”
When Niamh began to speak, she sang almost more than she spoke.
“When we drove in the car, she sang Amanda Strydom in the back of her car seat so that the cliffs answered. “Sara Stoepsit”. “She burns candles”. The whole lot. She also always played singing dolls or sang stories.”
Because Niamh was a shy little girl, she never thought of singing in front of people. When she was about eight years old, her friend’s mother heard her sing while the girls sang karaoke at their house. This mother recommended that Alda let Niamh take singing lessons.
Alda enrolled her daughter for lessons with Gerrida Dickanson, a singing coach in Cape Town. And she still takes lessons from Dickanson today – even if it’s on Zoom these days.
She also gets support from one of the leading international singing coaches, Julie Miles, and Irish singer-songwriter Janet Grogan.
She likes soul music and songs that tell stories. Niamh also sings in different languages: English, Afrikaans and even Irish. She looks up to Adele, Elvis Presley, Eva Cassidy and Judy Garland as singers.
Niamh has always been a dreamer and started pursuing her singing dream from a young age. In Ireland she started participating in competitions.
She gained South African colors for the performing arts, was awarded best junior overall singer at the Talent Africa Championships, represented Ireland in the Oscar Hammerstein International Musical Theatre’s solo final and was selected for the children’s choir in the Irish Women and Harmony’s Christmas Single.
She also appeared on the TV series Donncha’s Two Talented appear and in the 2020 Late Late Toy Showan annual special edition of the Irish chat show The Late Late Show.
She has also been selected from thousands of children for the auditions of a prestigious music program in Ireland which will take place later this year and wants to participate in The Voice Kids competition.
The rising star also launched a fundraising campaign called “Shine from within” to raise money for the Make-a-Wish-Foundation in Ireland. Make-a-Wish is a children’s charity that helps children with life-threatening medical conditions to make special dreams come true.
Niamh hopes to raise €1 000 (almost R20 000) for the foundation with her campaign. She raises awareness of the campaign through her songs and performances.
“I am very happy to use what I love; to shine a light on the things that are important to me: family, community, music and to help children who need hope,” writes Niamh on Instagram.
In his message to Niamh, Pierre Greeff, lead singer of Die Heuwels Fantasties, says that they (the band members) are looking forward to meeting this youngster when they visit Dublin in August for a performance. He also praised her for the fundraising initiative.
Niamh would like to one day work with children with special needs, but her music will always remain important.
“Perhaps she still finds a way to combine the two, but we feel it is good that she maintains a balance. She is still very young and there is still a lot of water in the sea,” says her mother.
Niamh is also interested in voice acting, video production and photography.
“She also likes animals. She would like to have a Burmese mountain dog – like pres. Michael Higgins from Ireland, but our house is already full with two dogs and a cat. There are also many other animals on the farm where we live – from horses and goats to hedgehogs, owls, foxes and rattlesnakes.”
Life changing decision
The Smith family, Alda and her husband, Johann, and their three children, Niamh, Jesse (15) and Néo (10), lived in Cape Town before immigrating to Ireland four years ago. They currently live on a farm just outside the rural town of Roundwood, County Wicklow.
Years ago, before their wedding, the couple lived and worked in Ireland for two years (which is where Niamh’s Irish name comes from).
“When we made the decision to move, Ireland was our first choice. It was not an easy decision – I think Niamh and I want the most. The biggest driving force was opportunities – for us and the children.”
According to Alda, the move to Ireland was by no means easy and a big adjustment.
“It was especially difficult for Niamh, who was in a girls’ school and had to make friends again at the age of nine. But music brings people together and it is also through music that Niamh found her feet here in Ireland, because music is a very big part of Irish culture.”
For now, Ireland is the family’s home.
“The children are settled in their schools and Johann and I both enjoy our work. But we do not rule out a future between the two countries and I know Niamh would like to return to South Africa permanently one day.”