If you hear Te Karehana Gardiner-Toi's voice you might be surprised when you find out his age.

The Northlander has been described as having a "deep, smooth, soul voice which just kind of fills you up somehow".

And he's only 23.

Known as TEEKS (his artist name and nickname), he has now released his EP: The Grapefruit Skies and some songs have already appeared in the Spotify New Zealand Viral 50 chart.

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"It's kind of surprising for me because the type of music that I make, I know it's not necessarily commercial music, and it's not necessarily going to make radio. So I was surprised at how well it has been received online," he said.

Mr Gardiner-Toi moved to Opononi when he was 11. He went to Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o te Tonga o Hokianga and then Taipa Area School when he moved to Doubtless Bay.

He was surrounded by music growing up through kapa haka and grew up listening to Bob Marley, Elvis Presley and Stevie Wonder.

"At the time you listen to that every day and as a kid you got annoyed listening to the same stuff and you want to listen to what everyone else is listening to. But I'm glad I was brought up around that music, it's impacted the type of music that I make."

Te Karehana Gardiner-Toi (third from left) photographed with his Taipa Area School band Ahomairangi in 2011.
Te Karehana Gardiner-Toi (third from left) photographed with his Taipa Area School band Ahomairangi in 2011.

Mr Gardiner-Toi's first experience with music and song writing outside of kapa haka was through the Taipa Area School reggae band Ahomairangi.

The group competed at Smokefreerockquest and made it into the finals of Smokefree Pacifica Beats in 2011.

"It was quite instrumental in sparking that passion for music for me. I realised at that time I wanted to do this properly.

"I look back today and I'm like man, everyone has those cringe moments. But I felt like it was good to be able to experience that at that time. I don't regret doing it."

He started studying music at Unitec in 2013, and discovered soul suited his sound, and began to home in on what he wanted to do musically.

"I found my own artists I really connected with artist like D'Angelo and Maxwell. It's music for your soul and it made you feel good and that's why I stuck with it."

He finished the course in 2014 and started teaching te reo Maori at Unitec.

He became involved with Pao Pao Pao - a music mentoring programme which allowed Mr Gardiner-Toi to connect with Maori artists like Tama Waipara, Ria Hall, Maisey Rika, Warren Maxwell and Rob Ruha.

He was encouraged to apply for Creative NZ funding which allowed him to travel to New York for a week in 2015 where he recorded two songs on his EP - If Only, and Change - with producer Jeremy Most.

"I was lucky to work with him because he was amazing," he said.

Mr Gardiner-Toi finished the rest of the album at The Lab studio in Mt Eden and finally finished the EP in December last year.

He said 2016 was a tough year for him after losing family members.

"It took a big chunk of me that year. In terms of music, it was a big gap, like it didn't really exist. End of 2016 I decided I need to get things in order."

Mr Gardiner-Toi said The Grapefruit Skies is about love and loss, and all the songs on the album are written by him.

He hoped to go on tour and would definitely put Northland on the list.

"I have to, it's where I'm from," he said.