Making her way to the Festival Gardens for Perth Festival next month, New Zealand-born (of Samoan descent) neo-soul queen Ladi6, real name Karoline Tamati, has been described as "New Zealand's answer to Erykah Badu" in her home country and listening to latest album Automatic, it's easy to hear why.
Co-produced by J Dilla associate Waajeed in Detroit, Ladi6's third album, Automatic, was released last August and displays a more mature sound than 2010's The Liberation Of…, the upbeat breakthrough record that spawned NZ top 10 hit Like Water and earned her a string of awards, including best female solo artist and best urban/hip-hop album at the 2011 New Zealand Music Awards.
"Like Water became hugely successful for us but we didn't want to make an album with another Like Water on it," Tamati says. "It made us sit down and think, what is our sound? What is our style? When we look back in 50 years from now, what do we want to hear?
"It made us think deep on our influences and who we wanted to work with. If we wanted to be in a line-up with artists similar to us, who would they be? Answering these questions led us to the sound that is Automatic."
Tamati put together a list of the producers she most wanted to work with. As a result she now calls Waajeed, who topped the list, a lifelong friend.
"He was the first to get back and we had a Skype and connected immediately. From that chemistry we knew we had to get (to Detroit) and see what came of it.
That led to the entire record being produced between Waajeed and Parks (Tamati's producer and partner).
"Originally we were going to grab a couple of beats from a few producers but we made this incredible connection and friendship with Waajeed, probably a lifelong thing."
The cousin of Kiwi hip-hop artist Scribe, who features on Automatic, Tamati keeps her collaborators close. Another cousin, Tyra Hammond, with whom she formed Sheelahroc in the 90s, also guests on Automatic, while her life partner and DJ, Parks (aka Brent Park), is her main creative collaborator in the studio and also live, where they are joined by a keyboardist and drummer.
"The magic for us is when we ad lib to connect songs to one another," Tamati says of the live show.
"To keep it fresh for ourselves we leave spaces open to do whatever. In every show you'll get something new and fresh because that's how we keep ourselves interested."