During her seven-year career as Ladi6, she’s been a welcome face – and voice – at Orientation Week concerts, designed to ease new students across the country into the daunting world of tertiary study. But this year, the singer will be one of those thousands of nervous first-timers as she swaps music and lyrics for lectures and exams.
Enrolled at Auckland University of Technology as a first-year psychology student under her real name Karoline Tamati, Ladi (34) is about to embark on a three-year journey of knowledge.
“While I still have an immense passion for music, I would like to delve deep into something else I feel passionate about,” she tells of the reason for her change. “I think it will add to my music while not being connected directly to it. Psychology is something I have always found fascinating!”
Having previously put her energy into a number of community projects – including Northland-based youth organisation Springboard Trust, creative mentoring project Manawa Ora and working with prisoners as part of Maori TV project Songs from the Inside – Ladi initially considered studying to be a counsellor. But she realised the books she had been spending most of her downtime reading were penned by psychologists.
“I’m more interested in the research component – the theory behind how humans think and behave. I’m totally intrigued and have no idea what I’m getting into!” she adds with a laugh.
Having left school at 16, when she, her father Vic, mother Losa and 15-year-old sister Bonni moved to Tanzania, Africa, to help run a residential centre for street children, this is Ladi’s first foray into tertiary education.
The Like Water hit-maker admits her mantra has always been “jump in the deep end and sink or swim”, something she and her now fiancé producer Brent Parks did when they left their hometown of Christchurch for the bright lights of Auckland in 2001. With just a few dollars in their pockets, they were starting a new relationship and a fresh musical collaboration together. It was, as Ladi calls it now, “an incredible adventure”.
“Parks and I had so much fun. We couldn’t care less if we had to sleep in our car to make it work,” she recalls. “We weren’t sitting around, waiting to get our ‘big break’ – we just had this incredible time jumping from one adventure to the next. It really paved the way for our entire life together.”
It comes as no surprise then, that when asked if she’s nervous about the course, Ladi says she’s confident she’ll stay afloat, despite juggling professional and personal commitments.
“I’m not even thinking about the assignments at this stage,” she tells. “I’m just really excited. I feel like if you can have a kid [she and Brent have an 11-year- old son, Philli] and travel the world, you can go to university.”
With her course due to start this month, Ladi and Brent are working hard to finish her new EP. Parks will happily take on more stay-at-home dad duties to help Ladi get her degree. Taking cues from his parents, Philli’s own educational journey has also been somewhat unconventional. With his mum and dad both in the music industry, staying in one place has been tricky and Philli has already attended five different schools. But what he’s lacked in a fixed classroom setting, Philli has made up for in experience, having toured with Ladi and Parks to the US, Africa and Europe.
“In the early days of touring, we spent two weeks without him. It was so traumatic, we made a rule to never do that again,” tells Ladi. “We were sick to our stomachs with anxiety leaving him behind. We rang all the time and would try to be strong on the phone, but as soon as we hung up, we’d cry for an hour!”
Thankfully, Ladi has a large family to support her and Brent when it is impossible to take Philli with them.
“He’s learnt some incredible traits from living with my mum, and also from my sister Kristy Tamati, my brother in-law Peter Pomale and their four kids,” Ladi says, “such as how to live with a big family and what it means to pull your weight. He has so much love to draw from and a unique world view.”
And now, says Ladi, there’s a new chapter to embark on as a family.
“The whole household will learn together!” Ladi says. “I think this shows Philli that you can go to university at any age and it’s never too late to learn something new.”
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