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Interview: Ladi6 – Milk & Honey Festival 2019

Interview: Ladi6 – Milk & Honey Festival 2019

Interview by Jerri-Rae Leef / Friday 8th March, 2019 1:52PM

New Zealand hip hop royalty Ladi6 aka Ladi Tamati has kept busy since returning to local stages last year, following voice-saving vocal cord surgeries in 2017. She headlined two festivals last Saturday, Tāmaki Makaurau's Ihumātao Reclamation Festival protest event and the Cross St. Music Festival, and shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. Ladi6 is performing tonight at Wellington's San Fran with Yayné and Alexa Casino, for a special Red Bull Music Presents event in association with the female-focussed Milk & Honey Festival 2019, happening across Aotearoa today in celebration of International Women's Day. The indefatigable artist will also be playing at Red Bull's Auckland show curated by Madcap this Saturday at Westhaven Marina with Eno x Dirty and Bailey Wiley, and is crossing the ditch later this month for a four date Australian tour supporting Wellington dub superstars Fat Freddy's Drop. Ladi6 kindly took time out from her crammed schedule to talk with Jerri-Rae Leef ahead of this weekend's action...

2018 was quite a busy year for you having two operations on your vocal cords, which is pretty serious when you’re a singer. What impact has this had on your voice? Do you find yourself approaching singing differently?

Yeah, well I actually went and spent some time with a vocal coach. She taught me how to use my body more, because the whole reason behind it was that I was overworking my cords, they were banging together in a way that was causing friction. Like friction bumps from just being too harsh with it, and too hard. She taught me how to take pressure off this part of my body and put it more on my butt and my back and my lungs, and certain ways you bend you knees, and if you squish your body to the left side, you push more air into your left lung, and all these cool little tips. That’s the main difference I think I had, which seems like it’s not about the voice but it totally is, that was the first major change I made around the use of my voice post surgery. Otherwise I just never really thought about it, it’s just one of those things, like breathing. You just don’t think you ever needed to really worry about it. You hear all these stories, like Justin Timberlake had nodules, and Adele got nodules twice. I never really worried about because I never really had a big voice, so I never really thought that I was pushing it, but it was literally just the overuse of it.

Geez, that sounds painful…

It actually, weirdly, wasn’t painful. The most painful part was the recovery, not being able to talk for a long time and being so used to using your voice as your only means of communication, so that was the most painful part. Especially being a mum, and being at home… it was just a nightmare. Whispering is worse for your voice apparently, it makes your whole larynx uplift, and when you’re trying to recover, you’re trying to keep it really moist, loose, not use it, leave it open and let it heal.

You’re performing in Wellington and Auckland this weekend, as part of the Milk and Honey Festival celebrating International Women’s Day. Can you tell us a bit about it and what can fans expect?

It’s huge celebration of International Women’s day. Women run it with mainly women artists. But it’s not a woman only event, it’s just about women being at the forefront. And to highlight International Women’s Day and a call for a more balanced world, and better world, which is something that I really believe in, I mean, it’s all in the name isn’t it, Ladi6! Especially in this industry, it’s patriarchal. The industry itself has been built around a male gaze and male influence. So this is about not only bringing awareness that there is more need for women in every sector of the music industry, but that we as artists want it, and encourage it, and support it. Just to have the balance, you know? It’s actually so fucking nice. It’s really weird when I listen to my favourite speakers on the topic and it’s just about having female speakers in the room and realising that diversity makes a much cooler space.

I think when you’re missing 50% of the population's voice, you only get delivered one opinion, but when you have that other gender’s voice it’s much better. The diversity of having women actually have a space to contribute creates a more interesting conversation across the board. So that’s more, on a positive note, what I like about celebrating International Women’s Day. Less of the pointing out how fucked up the patriarchal system is, because you could do that until the cows come home too, but that doesn’t really empower. It becomes a negative issue and you get a negative response. For me, it's about empowering the idea that to have more inclusive gender variety happening in the building actually provides a better fucking show overall! I think this is the beginning of that conversation which I love and why I’m so stocked to be a part of it.

You’ve been playing a tonne of shows lately. What’s in the pipeline for 2019?

Well this is an album-making year for us. We don’t usually play much during an album-making year, but we’ve had a few shows in the past month particularly, which is not much for us really. We’re usually doing a lot of festivals and shows, this and that. I feel like there are a lot of other artists out there that are performing way more than I am. Especially my lady friends, Tali and Jess B. They’re popping up everywhere. I follow them on social media and I’m stoked to see them playing at all the festivals.

We’re going to make a record, probably try and do a little Alpha Sessions tour, which is a project I’ve been doing since 2015 where we take the full band and break down little loops, and then expand them to make the next record. So musically, for the band, that’s been the only way we can make authentic, genuine music together, because sitting in a room and talking about it doesn’t work for us. That shit doesn’t make our creative juices flow. We have come up with this concept of the Alpha Sessions, which is where we just put a gig on, and nakedly take these loops and make it up, and it always, every time I’ve done it, has led us into something really exciting. That’s how we made 'Royal Blue 3000' and that’s how we made our new song that we’ll be performing this weekend. It’ll be the last song of the set, and it’s definitely what is inspiring the next record.

Can you give us some artists or albums you’re vibing at the moment?

Oh Parks is playing the new Solange album around the house. He loves it! He’s really into it! Me, I’ve been going back in time and getting into a lot of stuff that I didn’t grow up listening to you know. Stuff that you’d think I know about, but I don’t actually know about. Like Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, all artists that my parents never listened to, so I never listened to. I think I got into it after seeing a movie, and Neil Young is in a lot of movies. From there I went down a Spotify hole and it was leading me to all these other amazing artists. I’ve just been listening to the songwriting and how cool it is. So that’s what I’ve been listening to, all the old stuff!

You work quite closely with your husband, Parks, musically. How do you find collaborating with someone so close to you, and balancing work & private life?

It’s definitely a juggle. We get a lot of advice around dealing with people, we talk about it a lot, and that helps with our communication. It’s hard when you’re working with someone that closely, and in close proximity as well. We are literally in the same building every day. It’s all about communication in the end, so we have had moments when we’ve really needed help. There’s been a lot of help internally, and we’ve had to reach out and get advice, outside of our working relationship, to help us see where we lack necessary tools. So that’s the only way you can really do it. After a decade, I don’t think any two people could do it, regardless of whether they’re husband and wife or not, without having outsourced help to communicate, and actually not have full on resentment at some point. Not just your marriage but your working relationship too. We definitely have had a lot of help and that’s the only way we’ve been able to do it. It’s great because it allows us the opportunity to look back and go, yes this what we want. Do we still like this? Is this what we’re into? We’ve actually recently done this again. The way you communicate is based on your own beliefs and what you think... we go off and do “mentoring”, and then come back and we go yeah this is awesome.

We really love where our music’s going currently. It’s weird, you’d think after all this time that we might be hitting plateaus, or even hitting a downwards trajectory of I don’t really fucking know if this is good anymore. Creatively we’re on an upward trajectory and we really love where it’s going. It’s bizarre. But it does make sense. The older we get, we know ourselves more. We’re more confident in what we want to say, so therefore creatively of course, there’s going to be a more confident creation. So, it does kind of make sense but it also buzzes us out.


I was reading an interview you did a while ago where you talked about learning guitar as a teenage living in Africa, and you were into grunge and playing Nirvana-esque songs. Do you ever play or write that kind of stuff anymore?

Oh yeah, it’s a real weird thing when you’re 14 and you learn your first eight chords on the guitar and they’re the only chords you can play for the rest of your life. Whenever I play again, I got straight back to those chords, and I go straight back to singing the only Radiohead song I know how to play. And the kids come in and we all harmonise, it’s quite cool. I’ve actually only just got back into it recently. I’ve got my house back, after having my mum live with there, for a long time actually. When you have the house to yourself or you’re alone in your room, they’re the moments when you pull out the guitar. I haven’t for years but have literally starting picking it back up in the last month or so.

Okay last question… ultimate collaboration?

Oh I don’t know. Maybe Janis Joplin, one of the greats. Write her something really fucking kickass and then not do anything on it at all! Just let her rock it out. I reckon I's write something really dope for her. I would just be the writer, not even singing on it, and just standing side of stage like “That’s my song”. I think that would be my dream. Meeting them or talking to them would probably be a nightmare. I would freak out you know! But if I was standing there and they were singing my song, I’d fucking flip out. That would be party night for me.

Ladi6 is headlining a pair of Red Bull Music Presents events this weekend, tonight at Wellington's San Fran and on Saturday at Auckland's Westhaven Marina. Milk & Honey Festival 2019 is happening at venues across Aotearoa tonight, for more info follow the links below.


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