Deborah Wai Kapohe isn't back with her people yet, but she will be soon.
The soprano is speaking to RNZ Concert host Bryan Crump from her home in Riccarton, Ōtautahi, ahead of her return to her tangata whenua in Whanganui.
The singer first developed a relationship with the River City when she worked there as the arts facilitator for the Whanganui District Council, but those ties go way deeper than she first realised.
On 3 December Wai Kapohe will be back, performing in the city's glorious opera house in a fundraising gig for the nearby Sarjeant Gallery, which is undergoing a major refit.
She'll be singing Gareth Farr's 'Ngā Tai Huri Huri' for soprano, percussion quartet and kaikaranga.
Kaikaranga are the women who perform the role of calling, either as host or visitor, at the start of a visit to a marae or similar venue. In the concert, Wai Kapohe will be singing alongside one of the Whanganui women who taught her how to call, Jasmin Ratana.
It was a duty Wai Kapohe took on in her role as Whanganui's arts facilitator, calling as a member of the manuhuri (visitors) arriving at marae around the district.
Ratana eased Wai Kapohe into the task gently. First just one call standing alongside the other kuia, then two, then Wai Kapohe found herself leading the karanga for the manuhuri.
Perhaps Ratana knew something her apprentice didn't, because the marae where she asked Wai Kapohe to take the lead turned out to be the singer's own.
"I was actually calling on my tribal land."
But then Wai Kapohe's ancestors have a way of finding her.
After singing in Jenny McLeod's opera 'Hopeha', she discovered – again – that the story in the opera was a story from her own iwi.
"Performing music for me has been a continuing discovery of my whakapapa. It's almost like my ancestors are reaching out and grabbing me every time I sing."
Next year, Wai Kapohe plans to study for a PhD looking at the creative process, which will include studying Māori and "charting how learning the language gives me more creative expression when I sing in te reo".
It will also deepen her understanding of the responsibility she bears when she's a kaikaranga: "the first voice that is heard on the marae because the caller, the kaikaranga, will say what they feel, what they believe. The message could be political. This is the power that they have, as well as the spiritual realm of the calling".
And because every marae, iwi and manuhuri is different, every karanga is different, which is a challenge Wai Kapohe is looking forward to when she sings with her former teacher in the Whanganui Opera House.
As for the Sarjeant Gallery, the refurbished building is due to re-open in the middle of next year, but Wai Kapohe thinks the "Friends of the Sarjeant Gallery" fundraisers will go on. They've been too much of a good thing, and even refurbished galleries need money spent on maintenance.
And given the Sarjeant's acoustic reputation, maybe some of those gigs will move to the gallery itself.