By Rob Goszkowski
There’s a commonality to a large segment of New Zealand music, much of it with a dubbed-out vibe that one would expect from an island nation. But there’s also an underlying fierceness to it. Karoline Tamati, aka Ladi6 , represents this dichotomy well, and her blend of hip-hop and modern soul will be in the Bay Area for the first time this weekend, with shows at Brick and Mortar  in the city on Saturday and at the New Parish  in Oakland on Sunday.
The lifelong musician started playing music at a young age and was smitten with hip-hop as a teenager when she formed Sheelahroc with her cousin and a friend at 16 years old. She found her singing voice shortly afterward and hasn’t stopped singing. Last year, she released her third album, Automatic, a collaboration with Slum Villager and beatmaker Wajeed, written and recorded in part at Studio A in Detroit and completed at Revolver Studios in Waiku, New Zealand.
Ladi6 has gathered a host of Kiwi music awards, including Best Urban Album and Best Female Artist at the 2011 New Zealand Music awards. Previously, she has collaborated with drum and bass outfit Shapeshifter and the dub-soul band Fat Freddy’s Drop. SFBG spoke with her shortly after arriving in Portland from New Zealand to find out what she’s got planned for her first American tour.
San Francisco Bay Guardian Welcome to the U.S. and congrats on moving up to The New Parish, a bigger venue, at your Oakland gig.
Ladi6 I know! Thank you! I found out on Facebook, too. Nobody tells me anything (laughs). Even thinking about coming here makes me so nervous I feel like I might break out in hives. Coming from New Zealand, my perspective is just that America is the place for music with such a bigger scale. In mind my, strategy is, "Go to America. Do the tour. Don't think about it. Then go home and think about it." You know? I'm trying to play it down so I don't hyperventilate on stage.
SFBG I’m sure you’ll be fine. I caught your performance at the A.R.E.A. 9 festival in Ohau, New Zealand in 2009 and you owned the stage.
Ladi6 Oh That's crazy! So few people went to that gig but it was such a gorgeous location.
SFBG It was impressive because I feel like it’s easy for hip-hop performances to fall flat when it’s just an emcee and DJ on stage, but yours was really engaging. How do you approach your shows?
Ladi6 I don't have any tricks or dances. I have played with bands before and it can be easier to get the crowd involved but in some ways, it's harder as a performer. You have all these personalities up there, but when it's my show, I'm commanding the stage and it's just me strutting my stuff. The idea is to make people feel something, some kind of emotion. And when people ask me how I do it, I can't help but think, "I don't know the fucking answer to that!"
SFBG By now, you’ve been at it for a long time. And you sing, rap, write...
Ladi6 That's right, and before I realized I could sing, I rapped. And before I rapped, I played guitar ,so when I jump from one to other it feels very natural. It comes down to trying to put on a more exciting show. I come from a very music family and started playing guitar because everyone plays guitar. I focused on that until I was about 13 or 14 when I discovered hip-hop and I wanted all of it. I wanted to be a B-girl, I wanted to learn how to scratch, the whole nine yards. So I joined this hip-hop crew and we began doing gigs. When one girl in our crew who sang got pregnant and couldn’t perform with us I thought maybe I could sing and I found my voice along the way. Then I joined a band afterward and struck out on my own later and all of a sudden, I've never had a real job.
SFBG How did “Automatic” come together?
Ladi6 That was a collaboration with my Parks, who I’ve worked with a lot in the past, and ‘Jeed over four weeks. We went over there and I had never experienced a Detroit winter before. Just...whoa. But we made every song fresh in the studio.
And then we came home to a New Zealand summer and it was just a complete contrast. One was like, the dead of winter, it was snowing and freezing and we’re in this hi-tech studio. The other studio in New Zealand was kind of a high-tech studio, but a lot of the equipment was second hand. And it's located on a farm. It's down the road from a waterfall where we'd take breaks and go swimming. The whole family came out to cook for us and stuff. So those experiences really impacted what we came up with. We'll change it next time, and approach the next one in a totally different way.
With Aisha Fukushima & Raptivism, Knight & Grae
Sat/19, 9pm, $13
Brick and Mortar Music Hall
1710 Mission, SF
With Antique Naked Soul, Knight & Grae
Sun/20, 9pm, $13
The New Parish
579 18th St., Oakl.