Local RnB singer Ladi6 has had a big year: she’s undergone two vocal surgeries, released a critically acclaimed EP, and taken home an armful of awards. Currently she’s midway through a 20-date tour that’s taking her all around the country.
The musician - real name Karoline Tamati, spoke to Kim Hill about her EP and tour, losing her voice, the story behind her stage name, and her troubled cousin Scribe.
The Royal Blue 3000 EP and losing her voice
Ladi is currently on her first headline tour since releasing her six-song EP, Royal Blue 3000, in mid-2017.
The record won big at the Pacific Music Awards last month, taking home three awards including Best Female Artist, Best Album and Best Producer, which was awarded to Parks, Brandon Haru and Julien Dyne.
On top of that Ladi scooped the Tui for Best Soul/RnB artist at the New Zealand Music Awards.
However, the record is tinged with sadness. Ladi’s cousin and close friend Lily died suddenly while band were midway making the EP.
“She was like one of those cousins that’s kind of like a sister, you sort of drag her along with you everywhere you go, she was that sister, she passed away very very quickly while we were making this record.”
Ladi says she and her husband and producer Parks both felt the presence of Lily while they were finishing off the EP, but it took her a long time to come to terms with what happened.
On top of the stress caused by her cousin’s death, Ladi had to cancel the EP’s release tour due to problems with her voice that led to two rounds of vocal surgery.
The surgery was required to remove lumps from her vocal cords which had developed from overuse.
Recovery meant that she couldn’t talk, or even whisper, for almost six months.
“I was just leaving notes everywhere, and writing on everything and being really frustrated. Sometimes I would just start talking or start whispering and nothing’s coming out. It was horrible,” she says.
Ladi says there were moments during her recovery when she felt worried she may never sing again.
“I started trying to weigh it up, like ‘okay what else can I do, what else am I good at, what else have I learnt from this music industry business that I can transfer to another type of job’,” she says.
Eventually her voice returned, although she says it is slightly higher in register than it was before the surgery.
“I’m still playing around with the little nuances and differences that I’ve come upon,” she says. “It’s a bit harder to reach those beautiful low tones that I’ve come to love about my voice.”
Scribe’s battle with drugs
Ladi says she hadn't been in touch with Scribe for a long time, but says he's a "resilient guy" who she "loves to death".
"My cuzzie, Malo, I love him to death. He's a brother of mine and we only just pulled together as a family to support each other and try and work through it."
Earlier this year Ladi's cousin, whose real name is Malo Ioane Luafatu, was found guilty of possessing methamphetamine - a day before he was due to enter rehab.
The conviction was the latest in a string of drug-related incidents that have plagued the chart-topping rapper in recent years.
Speaking candidly, Ladi said several members of her family have struggled with drug and alcohol addictions.
She believes the issues stem from a feeling of displacement from immigrating to New Zealand from Samoa in the 70s.
"We've had a huge journey of going through and learning about what's happened with our family," she says.
"We've done a lot of work in the creative arts to come to terms and understand that, and have suffered for it, and through the generations hope to come up through the other end stronger."
Ladi says that while some members of her family have struggled with addiction, others work in the field as drug and alcohol counsellors.
She says the key to recovery is counselling and rehab, as well as commitment to a recovery programme. However she strongly emphasises the importance of family support.
"The truth is they do go backwards and then forwards again, and then backwards and then forwards again, and what I can say to other families is: they need you."
"It's really important to stay in there, tell them you love them, tell them that they're needed, tell them that you're there. And eventually when it all starts to click, or when they hit rock bottom and they can't seem to find a way out, they know that you're going to be there. And you lift them up and you help them out."
"It is a hard road, it's never ending. But it's one you do because you love them."
Growing up in Tanzania and how Ladi6 got her name
Ladi’s love of making music really took root in Tanzania.
Her parents were head-hunted to do community work in Tanzania when she was a teenager, so the whole family relocated there.
During the 18 months the family lived in Tanzania, Ladi learnt to play the guitar.
“It’s hard to imagine as a westerner, that you would live in a house that doesn't have electricity the majority of the time, so there’s literally nothing to do and as you saw the house is in the middle of nowhere.”
She says her guitar playing started with her dad teaching her the Eagles’ classic tune ‘Hotel California’.
“It’s a great song to learn when you are learning the guitar because you end up having so many tools to actually write your own songs. And it was from there, and from a yearning from being very very homesick, that I just started to write my own songs.”
Her dad was the one that also handed her the name Ladi.
“My Dad’s a nickname giver,” she says. I’ve got six brothers and sisters, we all have a nickname. Only two really stuck forever forever, that’s Cookie that’s the sister just after me, and me, Ladi.
“Dad makes up different stories as to why he named us those, I don’t really know what’s true or false, he’s a bit of an exaggerator, I’m not sure.”
The Outta Time Tour
Friday 22nd June - New Plymouth, The Mayfair
Saturday 23rd June - Hamilton, Gravity Bar
Friday 29th June - Whangarei, Tiki Tavern
Saturday 30th June - Russell, Duke Tavern
Wednesday 11th July - Dunedin, Fifty Gorillas*
Friday 13th July - Christchurch, Winnie Bagoes*
Thursday 19th July - Wellington, San Fran*
Saturday 21st July - Auckland, Powerstation*
* with SilvaMC, JessB and Bailey Wiley
Tickets available from undertheradar.co.nz