After decades in the music business, Sinead O’Connor still manages to keep it fresh.

A couple of topics are off bounds when interviewing Sinead O'Connor - Miley Cyrus to name just one. And fair call. Why anyone would want to waste precious moments with the Irish singer reliving the so-called "social media stoush" is beyond me.

There have been times in O'Connor's 30-odd year career where she has touched on musical genius - Lion and the Cobra in its entirety and the same can be said of its follow-up I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got. And then there is the album's hit, Nothing Compares to You.

It has been played ad infinitum but it still chills to the bone. Her albums since may not have had the same commercial success, but there are moments of pure gold.

My point? Who cares about Miley Cyrus when there's so much else to talk about? And what's more, thanks to Womad, she's coming to New Zealand this month for the first-time.

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O'Connor is, of course, no stranger to Womad, having been asked to play on the 1993 bill by the festival's founding father, Peter Gabriel. You might still question her credentials as a "world" artist, but if you dig into O'Connor's genre-hopping back catalogue - pop, rock and reggae, to torch and Celtic songs - she's well and truly up for the task.
And as you might expect, she's not keen on the "world music" title.

"You can't label a particular artist a world artist, just because they come from the Sahara and then say that someone that comes from England isn't a world artist. In a way, it's a ludicrous title. I mean, we're all in the world making music, therefore it's all world music."

Sinead O'Connor. Photo / AP
Sinead O'Connor. Photo / AP

The 48-year-old returned to the Womad fold last year when she was called upon to replace Bobby Womack at a UK festival after his death.

"They were happy that I took over and that it was a great gig. I think they see me as somebody they'd like to have under their umbrella, which I'm delighted with," she says.

O'Connor recalls a similar "world" festival in Ireland last year, to which she took her then seven-year-old son, and says she was blown away by his reaction to the music. "He's crazy about music and I've taken him to other shows where he has been bored stupid and not remotely interested. But there was this band called Tinariwen from the Sahara. He just loved it.

"He liked it, I think, because it was real music, not processed. He's going to school in the car and he's hearing all this processed pop music on the radio and he can tell there's not even a real instrument on there.

"His response was astonishing. He's never in his life asked me to buy records, and he made me buy him every single one," she says, laughing.

It's a similar thing with Womad. "What's brilliant about it is that you get to see all these bands you've never seen."

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As much as O'Connor is excited about the upcoming New Zealand gig, she's spent long stretches on the road touring her latest album, I'm Not Bossy, I'm the Boss, and is brutally honest about the toll it takes on her as a single mother.

"It's difficult because it interferes with your family life, your social life. It's very hard to have a relationship. It's not an easy life by a long shot. But that's the way it is, that's how I make a living."

And it's not glamorous, she points out. "I don't think anybody realises, for example, that you can't take a shit on a tour bus. Not even Barbra Streisand can take a shit on a tour bus."

It's a laugh-out loud moment. Even the straight-shooting O'Connor manages a little chuckle before we return to the serious issue of illegal downloading.

"Because people are not buying records - they're basically stealing them - we all have to tour a lot more than we used to.

"And I don't like that I have to leave my kids more often than I used to. The fact that people are stealing records is having an enormous cost on the lives of musicians' families. We used to go on tour three months a year, but now we're all permanently touring.

"It feels kind of bad to whine about it, I suppose I'm just being honest ... at the end of the day, I love it or I would've got another job," she says, adding that the stresses melt away the moment she steps on stage. "I love it. I really do. That one-and-a-half hours that you're on stage makes it all worth it."

O'Connor's Womad set on the Sunday will be a mix of songs - old and new - but a few favourites won't be heard.

"I never do songs because I have to. I don't think a singer should ever sing a song they can't emotionally identify because then you can't do your job right.

"And there are certain songs I can't identify with anymore. Like Troy, for example - I just don't feel that way anymore. I'm 48 now. I was 18 when I wrote it. I don't emotionally identify with it and I can't pretend it.

"And I don't do Nothing Compares to You any more. I only stopped doing it about nine months ago. I kept singing it for 27 years, or whatever, but I ran out of anything I could use or bring to it emotionally. Oddly, no one ever notices. Nobody ever comments or says anything. The show is strong without it."

That says it all. Nothing Compares to You might be O'Connor's biggest commercial hit but there's so much more to her than that.

For many she was the voice of a generation, an artist who never failed to shock or surprise. And nothing has changed. It does mean those who have waited decades to see her play here might not get your standard cookie-cutter "best of" show at the Bowl of Brooklands in New Plymouth on March 15. But it is Womad and this is Sinead O'Connor - who wants that!

• Visit womad.co.nz for more information. Womad is held March 13-15 in New Plymouth.