In 2018, Ladi6 played her first tour since she lost her voice a year before, an event that led to the cancellation of two tours and which required two surgeries and weeks of silence to recover. Here, for the first time, she tells her story.
This post was first published 12 April 2018.
In order to understand what happened with my voice and subsequent surgeries, it feels right to give some context on what was going on for me around that time because in hindsight I believe these factors all played a role. I’m no doctor or scientist, but I know that my stress levels helped me to the surgeon’s table, twice.
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 real truth is, the whole record was about her – my whole life since she passed on 19 June 2016 was about her, and subsequently my mum too, who suffered a horrific heart attack at Auckland Airport flying to Christchurch which saw her defibrillator-ed 11 times at the airport and rushed to surgery at Auckland Hospital. This event led to a two month hospital stay for Mum, and a quick-as-ya-can pack down of both her house and mine, with husband and son in tow, to find a new larger house to move us all into so we could assist in her recovery once she was feeling better and able to be discharged.
My sisters and brothers banded together to make this happen and in two months, Mum was wheelchaired into our collective new home. All this happened a month and a half before Lily was diagnosed with a rare cancer of the abdomen lining called the peritoneum, from which she passed away three weeks later to the absolute shock and horror of all of us who loved her most.
To this day, thinking of her, really thinking about her, I can feel the complete disbelief brew, a feeling where I need to hold my breath as a gigantic grief bubble forces its way from the depths of my belly up out towards my head, immediate tears fall and I can’t talk anymore.
So yeah, that was my personal life.
Come summer, at shows like Homegrown on 4 March 2017, I could sense something was up with my voice, but I shrugged it off, drank a lot and kept going.
We’d had deadlines to meet since Christmas 2016 to have the album ready, and PR to prep by mid-March, so there was a lot of work to get lost in, especially because I had also very recently taken over managing the band. All throughout I could feel inside my body things weren’t right.
Finally, it came to rehearsal for the tour. The tour was booked to begin in Australia then to be followed up by some regional shows, then main centre New Zealand shows. Four weeks out from our first tour date on 1 June, my voice had been croaky for three days straight. I said to my husband and producer Parks, “Let’s go get it checked at an ENT specialist before rehearsal tomorrow, ya know, just in case.”
We went to one that morning and the specialist put an uncomfortable camera light contraption down my throat, which made me feel very sorry myself. Little did I realise I would get used to this procedure over the next few months. He very casually explained that yes there were some abnormalities there and he recommended I see a surgeon. He also said he was a fan and my appointment was free, so there was a silver lining, but my heart sank. I felt a mixture of relief that it was confirmed something was wrong and also total shock – what was this abnormality? Immediately, after all I had witnessed recently, I thought the worst.
But Parks and I hoped for the best, and the next day went to see Jaqui, my surgeon. My voice was raspier than ever, I could barely get a word out. She put that camera down my throat again and showed us on a large monitor what she could see and how she proposed to fix it.
In her expert opinion, surgery was the fastest and easiest option and could potentially work so quickly that we may still be able to go on tour on 1 June.
Fast forward to surgery day and we decided that we would have to cancel the Oz shows, but potentially we could still do the New Zealand ones. In one fell swoop, there goes around $3500 AUD in flights and accommodation just like that, to be paid back to our agent by me. And $2000 AUD in PR fees to our publicist up in smoke and all that amazing work they did wasted! My bank account bleeding alongside – soon – my vocal cords. Just great!
At this point I was still hoping that we could do the New Zealand tour, get the music out and hopefully make some money back to pay for the bills that were now stacking up.
The surgery went well, my record was released the day after my first surgery, so while I was at home in recovery my house was filled to the brim with flowers congratulating Parks and me on our release and also with ‘get better soon’ flowers from my close family and friends who knew.
My beautiful husband had set our room up like the ultimate private hospital room all in preparation for my few weeks of recuperation.
My sisters came over and cried over me. They were still grieving too, and me having surgery was a lot for them to handle. But I was feeling loved and supported.
19 June came around, the one year anniversary of Lily’s passing, and my whole extended family had decided to honour the memory of Lily by all going to Samoa and spending time there together. I was still recovering from surgery and told not to speak while I was there, so I kept a low profile and kept quiet. I was also told that after going through all that, four days after returning home to New Zealand I would need another surgery to remove a small “thickening” from the other side of my vocal cords. I really was trying to be ok with it all, but I had run out of money, had to cancel my New Zealand shows (which made me feel physically sick), had thrown down for this trip to Samoa which I couldn’t afford, and, directly after, a trip to Raro to see some of our closest friends get married.
You better believe by the time I went to Raro, I thought ‘Fuck it’. With drink in hand the entire time, I resolved to love every minute of it. I ate every possible delicious thing and immersed myself in the loving happiness that comes with celebrating a wedding of two people you adore.
It was my big blowout before returning home to New Zealand to go back under the knife, and back into recovery mode.
I had to borrow money from my booking agent to pay for my second surgery; I maxed out my credit card. With no hope of working in the near future, I had to postpone voice-over jobs and let go of the hope that I would be able to fulfil any plans I had previously made. I tried to contact ACC to see if I was covered, or if they were able to assist me in any way with the costs of my surgeries. Evidently, for any singers out there, we are definitely not covered! And that goes for you teachers too, who may get this type of vocal cord thickening simply due to overuse of your voice.
I had a lot of time to think about the year that was and what it meant to me, how it affected me, where the lessons were and what they meant for me and my future.
I don’t remember thinking or feeling much directly after my second surgery. I tried to be in good spirits but I was pretty down and, unable to express myself verbally, I felt kind of trapped in my own mind and body.
I started thinking about my life in music and, at my lowest, sulky and in despair, I’d think about how much I’d taken for granted, how talented I actually had been, and how I had spent far too much time thinking that I wasn’t worthy, not a good enough singer, not funny enough or skinny enough, unworthy of the attention I got and the career I had built.
I eventually vowed (on a more hopeful day) that if I ever came out of this and I got my voice back I would savour every moment I have in music, and with my life. I’d never judge myself harshly again and that I would be my own biggest advocate and fight for every damn idea I have. I’d only do the things I wanted and I’d get insurance for everything!
I’d surround myself with the people who truly care for me and I’d never waste one more second on feeling like I don’t belong or I’m not enough. I decided all that shit-thinking is for life-wasters who don’t understand how lucky they are to have a life, let alone the life they have, squandering their gifts by being too afraid to acknowledge them to even use them in the first place. I vowed to work my ass off to no longer be that girl, to never again let fear dictate my actions. To stand up for myself in every area of my life, to be myself first and foremost, to really aggressively love myself all around.
I began organising the Alpha Sessions in September 2017. It was to be my return to the stage, something intimate, small and of my own making.
I felt good about it, but my voice had completely changed. It has a new feel now, I could reach different notes I’d never been able to before, it felt unfamiliar and witchy-pooish (the best way I can think of to describe it).
I began seeing Cheryl, a voice coach. I’d still be seeing her now if she hadn’t gotten Bell’s palsy and in need of her own recovery.
I organised some of my favourite ladies to join me for a two night Alpha Sessions and we sold them out and had a great time! I felt inspiration hit me again, I was shaky onstage but satisfied that I could do it, one down, more to go… I’m back. Slowly, but I knew I’d get there.
There were constant signs all around me during these times that kept telling me what I needed to do and at some stage I just listened to them and let them guide me.
It’s been six months since then and I’m back with this tour, feeling more empowered than ever and unafraid, thinking sweet fuck all about what anyone thinks about me and what I do. I’m more in love and interested in myself than ever before, fascinated by the things that held me back and why I let them, and how to never let that happen again to me.
I’m ready to claim myself back, bring my voice back to life.
This tour for me is a celebration of so many big things for me, a true marker in my life and I’m so proud of all the pain and struggle, the heartache and fear. I’m so proud that it’s all a part of me now, and not holding me at a standstill.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed, free daily curated digest of all the most important stories from around New Zealand delivered directly to your inbox each morning.