In 1999 at the age of 16 Ladi6 made her first foray into the entertainment industry, forming a musical group called Sheelahroc with her cousin Tyra Hammond and Sarah Tamaira. Their single ‘If I Gave U Th’ Mic’ won most new promising act at the 2001 bNet NZ Music Awards, organised by the New Zealand student radio network.
at the age of 16, Ladi6 made her first foray into the music industry.
Around this time Ladi met Brent Park, aka Parks. As she tells it, one of the members of Sheelahroc knew a member of his ska band, Yakka Yo. They wanted to record the girls doing some hand claps and chanting for them. From there, she invited him over to her flat every now and then to write music, and a friendship grew through music which eventually became a relationship and saw Parks play a main role in her career.
The same year New Zealand electronic heavyweights Shapeshifter took away multiple awards and in 2001 they featured Ladi6 on their song ‘Move With Me’. It was through similar collaborations with other New Zealand artists such as Fat Freddy’s Drop, 4 Corners and 50Hz that she began to make a name for herself. That and “iconic nights of me rolling up to DJs while out at the club and taking over the microphone”.
When Sheelahroc ended, a new collaboration called Verse Two was created. Primarily formed to enter the Battle of The Bands, the group consisted of Nick Robertson, Redford Grenell, Marcus Vanilau, Brent Park, Scribe and Ladi6. Ladi became friends with Shapeshifter, as they shared several band members. After Verse Two won Battle of The Bands they intended to follow Shapeshifter to Melbourne. “We were too chicken because we were young and nervous so we bit the bullet and moved to Auckland and planned a residency through a recommendation from Godfrey De Grut of Che Fu and the Crates.”
That’s where they met drummer Julien Dyne, and when Ladi6 and Parks fell in love: “Parks and I are very different people but our values are identical. In a lot of ways, we are opposites, he’s very practical, well mannered, clear and distinct taste and aesthetic, very logical and pragmatic.”
Ladi6 was a young 22 and Parks 21 when she became pregnant with their son, Philli. Taking him everywhere with them was something that seemed normal to the couple. She recalls that at one of the Big Day Outs she performed at, Parks – not realising that the whole gig was age-restricted – was pushed offstage by the stage manager whilst holding baby Philli.
In 2004 she worked with Shapeshifter again, on the song ‘When I Return’. Those few years were monumental in building her career; alongside her work with Verse Two she featured on a 50Hz track called ‘Seek No More’ and with Fat Freddy’s Drop on ‘Roady’ in 2005, while in 2006 she worked with 4 Corners on ‘Now I Know’.
As for Verse Two, the group released two singles, ‘Danger’ and ‘Gold’ (2003, produced by Mu of Fat Freddy’s Drop) which featured her Cantabrian cousin, Scribe. ‘Gold’ made No.1 on New Zealand’s alternative charts; the group went on to win bNet awards for best new act (2003). Scribe moved to Auckland at the same time and worked with the group.
She credits Scribe for helping her to build her profile. “He took me on tour with him around Australia and New Zealand and an iconic show in Samoa that the head of state and Prime Minister attended. He was my absolute idol. I watched him slay crowds of 30,000 at festivals and have a ball. He is a magnetic, mesmerising performer that I liked to emulate in every way as a rapper. He changed the face of hip hop in Australasia and I was lucky to be right there with him to witness it all.” She also featured on his song ‘So Nice’ off his 2003 debut album The Crusader.
Moving forward to her 2008 debut solo album Time Is Not Much, she established what would become a long-term line-up of her group, with her now-husband Parks, drummer Julien Dyne, Brandon Haru (keyboards) and Steve Roberts (sound). Time Is Not Much was produced by Parks and Mu, through London-based BBE Records.
LADI6 on her collaborator parks: “We are chalk and cheese but in the most delicious way”
She describes her relationship with Parks: “He can be very private, while I can be an open book. We are chalk and cheese but in the most delicious way, it has been a working and personal relationship that has taken all our time together to refine and tweak. I like to get things done quickly and efficiently, while Parks works slowly and meticulously. He’s a perfectionist and I’m the type of person that doesn't really mind as long as we get to where we want to be.”
The follow-up album, 2010’s The Liberation Of …, spent 34 weeks in the Top 40 in New Zealand, entering at No.6 and was certified gold. The single ‘Like Water’ spent 22 weeks in the NZ Top 40 Singles Chart and was certified gold. The album was made during her 2010-2011 stint in Berlin when she toured throughout the European and UK summer. Produced by Parks and Sebastian Weiss (DJ Sepalot) of German hip hop group Blumentopf, it featured Myele Manzanza of Electric Wire Hustle, Toby Laing of Fat Freddy’s Drop and German singer Esther Adams. In Europe it was released through German label Eskapaden Records.
Philli was also with them, learning to ride a bike, swallowing his first tooth that fell out, making major childhood milestones while brushing shoulders with people like the late poet and singer Gil Scott-Heron, whom Ladi6 opened for during his tour of Europe and the UK. “Gil and his band adored Philli, and Gil would often speak about Philli in his introductory talk at the beginning of his set. Gil’s band were all older men with grandchildren and loved spending time with Philli on tour too. My favourite memory of that tour is backstage watching all Gil’s band members playing their instruments around a four-year-old Philli while he played a tiny little harmonica connected to a necklace that one of them had given to him.”
The album title suggests that Ladi was finding her sound when she made the album, on which she also pays her dues to her hip hop beginnings. Between the years of 1999 to 2008 there was a resurgence of New Zealand hip hop, and Ladi6 wanted to pay respects to her old-school hip-hop beginnings on the album. “On the song ‘98 Til Now’ I wanted to recognise my past and people weren’t acknowledging that part of my music history and no one knew me like that anymore, let’s not forget that I’m old school hip hop and I have a massive history and relationship with NZ hip hop. Me and DJ Sir-Vere also talk about this, there’s only a handful of us still around that were there in the beginning.”
The Liberation Of... took out the 2011 Taite Music Prize; in the same year she won five New Zealand Music Awards including best female solo artist, best urban/hip hop album and best Pacific female artist.
Her third album Automatic (2013) was largely recorded in Detroit, and produced by Parks with Detroit hip hop/R&B producer Waajeed; part of the album was also recorded in Revolver Studio in Waiuku. Automatic featured New Zealand artists Scribe and Tyra Hammond, and Detroit rapper Invincible. One of the most successful local albums of 2013, it debuted at No.3 on the New Zealand Album Chart in August 2013.
in March 2017 LADI6 Knew that something was going wrong with her voice.
Ladi credits the start of her career to her time in Tanzania, where she lived for 18 months when she was a teenager. Starting with her dad teaching her guitar chords, she learned to write music out of an emotional reaction to being homesick. After 16 years away Ladi6 returned to Arusha, Tanzania and – with the help of actor and writer Oscar Kightley – filmed the documentary Ladi6 Returns to Africa. In the film Ladi says her dad taught her ‘Hotel California’, which gave her tools to construct and write her own songs. In the documentary she says, “Music to me has always been a calling, similar to how a nun gets called to be a nun, it was like a divine intervention. I’m lucky.”
Between the years of 2014 and 2017 Ladi6 faced personal turmoil. She lost her cousin Lily to cancer in June 2016, which was a huge shock; her mother had a heart attack at Auckland Airport; and Ladi6 lost her voice entirely. She was forced to cancel two tours and ended up in surgery twice. It was stress that put her there, she says, and grieving the loss of her cousin.
She knew at the Wellington Homegrown festival in March 2017 that something was going wrong with her voice. In June 2017, a worried Ladi6 went through her second surgery. Finally, in September 2017 she began organising Alpha Sessions, another season of the small, intimate shows she began in 2015 and a turning point for her as she returned to the stage.
Her next release, the Royal Blue 3000 EP (2017) was somewhat of an emotional outlet for the singer. In a story she penned for The Spinoff – “The Day My Voice Died” – she said, “I want to admit here and now that even though I was releasing and announcing a record and a tour to promote it, I knew I wasn’t coping. I was grieving and very much still in the super early stages of it. Even though my cousin Lily had been buried nearly seven months by January 2017, I had been busy trying to run and hide into work; into caring for my family, my mum; busying myself with the day-to-day mundane, all while writing the songs ‘Royal Blue’ and ‘Hours’ specifically about my cousin.”
The Royal Blue 3000 EP was recorded almost entirely at Ladi6 and Parks’ home studio; some parts were done at Auckland’s Red Bull Studios, with help from the entire band. It was mixed at Revolver Studios by Steve Roberts and mastered by LA-based engineer Kelly Hibbert. In November 2017 Ladi6 won the Best Soul R&B Artist award at the New Zealand Music Awards for the Royal Blue 3000 EP.
In July 2018 Ladi6 took her Royal Blue 3000 EP on tour, calling it the Outta Time tour. For the first time, she performed in the small towns of New Zealand. Ladi6 hand-picked the women who played alongside her – JessB, Bailey Wiley and Silva MC – based on their outstanding talent. In late 2018 she is on a European and UK tour with Fat Freddy’s Drop and returning for the New Zealand summer festival circuit.
In October 2018 Ladi6 released ‘Diagonals’, a new single in advance of her fourth full album, planned for release in 2019.
In 2021 Karoline Tamati was named a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) for services to music.