Updated: Last week, Aaradhna came away the big winner at the 48th Annual New Zealand Music Awards in Auckland. The island soul singer, who visited us this past summer, was awarded Album of Year for Treble and Reverb. In addition to top album, she also picked up the awards for ‘Best Urban/Hip Hop Album,’ ‘Best Pacific Album’ and ‘Best Female Solo Artist.’ Treble and Reverb was released in the United States last month.
“I only hope that people can connect with the music the same way they did back at home. That’s all I can hope for. I don’t like to expect things, I just like to let it flow,” Aaradhna (A-rod-nah) Patel explained after she finished performing two acoustic songs from her latest album for an opbmusic studio session.
The 29-year-old R&B singer from New Zealand was referring to her latest record, Treble and Reverb, that until recently hadn’t received much play outside of her home country. Until an American record label representative caught wind of it, that is.
Patel found herself in Oregon as a marquee component to the “Live Up” U.S. tour during which she was supporting the Hawaii-based reggae artist J Boog and fellow New Zealand crew Katchafire for performances that brought them together with some of the best in reggae and Polynesian music from around the world.
“People have been receptive so far,” Patel says of this recent tour. “I think people will connect with whatever I’m on about as long as I’m honest with it.”
Although the genre of the Live Up tour is different from Patel’s classic R&B sound, it’s also one that she has become quite familiar with during the course of her career. Over the years, these musicians have served as her musical collaborators and genuine extended family at home and on the road.
“The community back home is more close-knit. Everyone is supportive of each other because it’s such a small place and it’s more like a family type of vibe. Most artists are there to help each other. No one is competing — no one is too ‘big’ for the other one. They’re all there to help out,” she says.
Born in Wellington, New Zealand to an Indian father and Samoan mother, Patel credits her parents’ distinct cultural influences for her seemingly effortless blending of musical styles. She recalls dancing to the bhangra-style rhythms of Bollywood soundtracks, while simultaneously growing up hearing her mother’s Polynesian gospel sounds.
“Both my parents sing so [my dad] used to take us, me and my brothers and sisters, to all the festivals and birthdays that he used to perform at. He does all Indian music. My mum, she writes her own Samoan gospel and she’d take us to church and we’d watch her perform.”
As the eldest of five siblings, ‘Radz,’ a nickname she has taken on both to aid those who find it hard to pronounce her name and as a term of endearment used by her friends and fans, began singing around the age of 12.
Treble and Reverb, a 17-track record which was released in New Zealand in November of 2012, is the third studio release from Patel, preceded by Sweet Soul Music in 2008 and the earnestly titled I Love You, a cover/tribute album in 2006. Like a lot of R&B albums, many of the songs on Trebel and Reverb point to challenges with love and relationships, as well as the broad spectrum of emotions that go along with them. However, the subject of relationships isn’t the only topic the album covers. If you’re not careful you might confuse the powerful and emotional ballad, “Not the Same,” with a song about a breakup and difficulty moving on.
“When people hear it, they do tend to think it’s about a relationship, but really I’m talking about depression — ‘Mr. Heartbreaker’ is depression,” says Patel. “I’m saying that after the depression, I’m not the same anymore — the same ol’ oh fun Radz out there and outgoing — I’m not the same. That’s really what the song is about. It’s about depression and how when I’m depressed I’m just not the same when I am around my friends, and happy, you know?”
Vocally, Patel infuses the tracks on Treble and Reverb with inspiration drawn from classic soul singers like Otis Redding and Sam Cook. Patel has taken to calling her sound “retro/metro,” and if you listen closely to her vocals and energy, you may find yourself comparing her to the late Amy Winehouse.
Patel sees Winehouse as a kind of emotional mentor, someone who has paved the way and helped her literally find her voice.
“When I got her album, Back to Black, that’s kind of when my depression kicked in and I connected with everything that she was saying,” says Patel. “She was coming from a place where I thought that I connected [with] and she influenced me to make music that was more honest — I wanted people to connect with my stuff the way that I connected with hers.”
Before the summer is out, U.S. listeners will have a chance to connect with Patel’s music when Treble and Reverb is released here. Patel’s record label, Republic Records, an imprint of the industry giant Universal Music Group, has decided to leave the recording mostly unedited for U.S. audiences, a move that is rare for albums making the transition from one territory to another.
Though it is uncertain what level of success Patel’s emotionally brazen Treble and Reverb will ultimately achieve, she has done what she set out to accomplish. Her feelings seem to be summarized pretty well in “Sit With a Slouch,” a song that points a finger at obstacles she has struggled against: “I never thought it would be that hard, doing what I really love. All my life all I wanted to do was this, or nothing at all — this is my life.”