Vo­cal cord surgery threw her off the promo trail for her new EP, but global ac­claim is hap­pen­ing any­way. Now, Ladi6 is call­ing out mu­sic in­dus­try sex­ists and de­mand­ing greater di­ver­sity.


Ladi6 ar­rives for our cof­fee date with Suki, pro­nounced “sookie”, who is ei­ther a Jack Rus­sell or a Fox Ter­rier, and al­most sus­pi­ciously well-be­haved. Ladi’s fringe and Suki’s tail have been dyed blue in hon­our of her band’s new EP Royal Blue 3000.

She has just played two nights at Leigh Sawmill – along with Jessb, Bai­ley Wi­ley and Silva MC – in Al­pha Ses­sions III, part of a se­ries in which she im­pro­vises new ma­te­rial with her band and in­vites guests to per­form. It was the first all-fe­male ses­sion and her first time back on stage since hav­ing vo­cal cord surgery.

“The first night they [the au­di­ence] knew my sup­port acts re­ally well, so they were su­per-young and re­ally drunk. They were so hyped, from the minute Jess went on. There were so many boys, and they’re all singing to Bai­ley Wi­ley and they know every sin­gle one of her lyrics, like [puts on a deep singing voice] ‘woah, woah, take it from me!’ Then Satur­day night was our au­di­ence, and ev­ery­one was sober by the time it fin­ished.”

Royal Blue 3000 came out in June, at which point Ladi6, hence­forth her given name Karo­line Ta­mati, found out she had cysts on her vo­cal chords that needed to be chopped out, so she wasn’t able to do any pro­mo­tion. The band then threw out two ver­sions of a mu­sic video for the song ‘Royal Blue’ be­cause she didn’t like them. But in the end, none of that mat­tered, be­cause the EP went gang­busters of its own ac­cord.

In the US, Mass Ap­peal de­lighted over the sin­gle ‘Guru’, “a cut that bub­bles, ticks and pul­sates with un­du­lat­ing keys and in­sis­tent hi-hats”, while the web­site Damp­shade favourably com­pared it to Child­ish Gam­bino’s chillaxed ‘Red­bone’. US broad­caster NPR, mean­while, fawned over the track ‘Royal Blue’ as a “psy­che­delic take on an ever­green dance­hall groove”. “We loved that,” Ta­mati says. “We were so stoked that NPR cared. Be­cause I don’t know why they would, and there’s no rea­son why they

should.” The song has also been nom­i­nated for Sin­gle of the Year at the Voda­fone New Zealand Mu­sic Awards.

Via the Al­pha Ses­sions, the Ladi6 band, made up of Ta­mati, her beat­maker baby­dad Parks, drum­mer Julien Dyne and key­boardist Bran­don Haru, has found a rev­o­lu­tion­ary new ap­proach to song­writ­ing that in­volves spend­ing more time work­ing out ma­te­rial live in pub­lic and less time alone in dark spa­ces. For the band’s three pre­vi­ous al­bums, “we’d just go into the stu­dio, the boys would send me beats and loops that I’d have to make stuff up to. Even­tu­ally it got to be like, how do I do this? It’s not in­spir­ing. I’m just mak­ing up any old crap at this point.”

The new regime of live im­pro­vi­sa­tion has, she says, led to an more even dis­tri­bu­tion of labour, when it comes to song­writ­ing at least, and fewer fights. “It’s not like we openly fight in the stu­dio be­cause we’re all very pas­siveag­gres­sive, so it’s si­lence and it’s looks. It’s pa­thetic. Some­times you just have to not talk and let the mu­sic speak for it­self, and that’s a way we can all com­mu­ni­cate.” ‘Guru’ and ‘Royal Blue’ both ar­rived more or less fully formed on stage, and the band de­cided against fine-tun­ing them too much.

What’s most ex­cit­ing, says Ta­mati, is a new ten­dency to go up­beat. “In the stu­dio it’s dark, you’re stoned and drink­ing a bit of whisky, hav­ing d&m dis­cus­sions. You get a bit sad and deep in emo­tions, then we make the record, and I can’t even sing it be­cause it’s so fuck­ing slow. But all th­ese new songs have got a real tempo to them.”

Royal Blue 3000 is ded­i­cated to Ta­mati’s cousin Lily, who re­cently died of peri­toneal cancer at the age of 30. The 3000 refers to Lily’s B-girl alias, Ice Cold Lils 3000. Ta­mati grew up in a large fam­ily headed by Losa and Vic, founders of the mu­sic and art col­lec­tive Pa­cific Un­der­ground, who worked with streetkids in Christchurch and Tan­za­nia (Vic now heads the anti-do­mes­tic vi­o­lence cam­paign It’s Not OK). Lily was Ta­mati’s cousin on her mum’s side. Their fam­i­lies grew up to­gether, so they were more like sis­ters. “She was one of the bad­dest B-girls in New Zealand. Quite of­ten dancers don’t get pro­filed full stop, let alone break­danc­ing girls, but she was the bad­dest by far and still go­ing hard.”

Lily fell ill and died within three weeks. “I hon­estly thought she was go­ing to make

“Some­times you just have to not talk and let the mu­sic speak for it­self, and that’s a way we can all com­mu­ni­cate.”

it. With all my heart. So I didn’t re­alise she was go­ing to pass away and it didn’t oc­cur to me to talk to her about stuff that might be im­por­tant. One of her dy­ing wishes was, she said ‘all you boys have to make din­ner and serve all the women’. There was about 80 of us at her mum and dad’s house. And she died that day.

“It was prob­a­bly the most ter­ri­ble time I’ve ever had, and it took me up un­til a few months ago to not be a hor­ri­ble mess every time I think about it. But I felt lucky that I could make some­thing that lives for­ever with her name on it.”

This month, Ta­mati will take part in a dis­cus­sion at Auck­land Mu­seum on sex­ism in the mu­sic in­dus­try. Are there any Har­vey We­in­steins lurk­ing in the lo­cal mu­sic scene? “To­tally. It’s al­ready come out about two guys in the hip-hop com­mu­nity [last month pro­duc­ers and DJS Mark Arona and Peter Cham­bers were found guilty of rape and sex­ual as­sault]. So if that’s just the tip of the ice­berg – be­cause as we know, most women don’t ever say any­thing – it’s prob­a­bly rife here in New Zealand.”

She says she has al­ways felt pro­tected tour­ing “in the Ladi6 bub­ble”, or with male mu­si­cians like Fat Freddy’s Drop, “who are all like my cousins, or Scribe, who ac­tu­ally is my cousin”. So she asked a Face­book group of mu­si­cian mums she be­longs to about their ex­pe­ri­ences. (Ta­mati is mother to 13-yearold chess mas­ter, ma­gi­cian and cardis­try spe­cial­ist Philly, who she says thinks “what me and Dad do is not that cool”.)

The women had many sto­ries, “from sup­port­ing male artists who say deroga­tory things about them on stage, about their tits or their weight or shit like that, to promoters fol­low­ing them all the way to their ho­tel room and try­ing to force them to give them blow jobs.

“Then you go, what’s the rea­son be­hind all of this? You start talk­ing about the pa­tri­archy, the way so­ci­ety has been cre­ated from the very get-go. Even at the mu­sic awards, it’s not of­ten they’ll say, ‘oh, we’ll

get a fe­male gui­tarist for the back­ing band’. There’s no thought about di­ver­sity. It’s just, ‘we’ll get Ned and we’ll get Jeremy and Ge­orge and Ralph’. They get an all-boy back­ing band and then get some mod­els to give out the awards. And why? What is this, a box­ing match? At mu­sic awards, why do we need that?”

She’s fine now af­ter her vo­cal cord surgery, which she says is a re­sult of over­sing­ing. “Teach­ers get it too when they’re strain­ing-talk­ing, like ‘Ti­mothy! No! Go sit next to Matthew!’ But we’re not cov­ered by ACC. We pay our levies, and this is prob­a­bly the most com­mon thing for peo­ple in my po­si­tion, so how come we don’t get cover­age? It fuck­ing sucks.”

But where there is no ac­ci­dent com­pen­sa­tion, there is karma. The doc­tor who treated her had at­tended a Ladi6 show many years ear­lier and loved it, so he gave her a $300 ap­point­ment for free, then re­ferred her to another doc­tor who, be­cause the first one was such a big fan, gave her a big dis­count too. “So I was su­per lucky. I feel like, I take it where I can get it.” ●

La­di6join­sDi anne Swann, Geneva Alexan­derMarsters, Jessie Moss and Rose Matafeo to talk about sex­ism in the mu­sic in­dus­try, at Auck­land Mu­seum’s LATE se­ries on Wed 8 Nov. Tick­ets avail­able at auck­land­mu­

“I felt lucky that I could make some­thing that lives for­ever with her name on it.”

Above Ladi6 re­cently did her first show since hav­ing vo­cal cord surgery.

Above “There’s no thought about di­ver­sity,” Ladi6 says of mu­sic awards shows.

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