Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1084

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Feature

Melanie Fiona: You know you got soul

Melanie Fiona @bluesandsoul.com
Melanie Fiona @bluesandsoul.com Melanie Fiona @bluesandsoul.com Melanie Fiona @bluesandsoul.com Melanie Fiona @bluesandsoul.com

Think famous Canadian singers and you straight away think of Michael Bubli right? Hee-hee, maybe not!?! Well youâll probably mutter Brian Adams or Celine Dion of course. Or maybe feel proud of yourself if you remember Avril Lavigne, Nelly Furtado or for an extra point Shania Twain. Ok well maybe not too many mentions of that little lot on these pages, but I think youâll agree a certain pedigree of artist comes from the land of Maple Syrup and Mountees all the same...

SO now ladies and gentlemen I believe the time is ripe, or âTime of the Seasonâ is ripe (donât worry youâll fall in, in a minute), to add new name to that musical menagerie. In fact, a rather special exotic songbird has recently been attracting the same consistent buzz as the aforementioned artists, whilst looking set to nest at the top branches of the charts.

Melanie Fiona is a singer/ songwriter from Toronto born to Guyanese immigrant parents. Her father was a guitarist in a band, and as word has it, allowed the young Fiona to perch on the edge of the stage and listen to his band while in-turn getting a taste of the music that would shape her future. Her debut single âGive It To Me Rightâ with a sub zero hook sampled from the Zombies âTime of the Season,â has been picking up radio play at a rate of knots and looks set to become a summer scorcher.

After assessing Ms Fionaâs talents the night before as she flew in to support Mr Hudson at Londonâs The Scala â and being blown away by a short but sweeeeeet set, including a version of Kanye Westâs âHeartbrokenâ (did you spot the connection by the way?) Hudson on Westâs label and Fiona opened for West on his European Tour in 2008 (10 points if you did). I track down ever effervescent Ms Fiona to a recording studio in Londonâs West End where she has just found the delight that is a Drumstick!? â Not the Chicken variety- Ohhhh no, or even the drum kit kind (well what other would you find in a recording studio?) Well, the sweetshop kind of course?! Hmmm, right yeah of course!?!

Melanie: Hi Lee, have you tried these (Well I think thatâs what she said as she was trying to un-stick her teeth).

Lee: Once?! (Err herm, ok Iâve had a few more than that! On with the interview...) Are you settled in New York now?

Melanie: No. I live out of my suitcase- I literally do. Today I live in London, tomorrow I will live in Miami, Tuesday I will live in New York and Friday I will live in L.A. I went home for two days last week â it felt great to go home for some hugs and kisses from my family.

Lee: New single âGive It To Me Rightâ takes the sample of the Zombies classic âTime Of The Seasonâ. And in my opinion an instant shaker, as the sample is well known and has a great summer feel.

Melanie: Thank you- I love the song. That sample is so familiar, even if you donât know the Zombies song; you feel that you should know the sample. It is a little scary when you take such a classic sample and youâre doing a new song. But thatâs what I wanted to do â I wanted to do old and new together. Iâm a young girl but I have an old soul because of my parents, and what they listened to while I was growing up.

Lee: What did they listen to?

Melanie: They listened to lots of soul music - Sam Cooke, Johnny Mathis, The Drifters, Gladys, Nat King Cole, Bob Marley â they listened to a lot of great soul music. So because of that - Iâm six years old singing Sam Cooke songs - Other kids that age was singing New Kids on the Block and all kinds of stuff and Iâm six singing Sam Cooke songs (as she chuckles to herself).

Lee: I liked the rest of the material you showcased last night; âAy-yoâ is another strong summer tune (I hope her next release). I was surprised to hear the Kanye tune (Heartbroken) thrown into the mix. Does he know you sung it last night?

Melanie: No he doesnât know, but my manager rang him while I was singing it and I think he left the performance on his answering machine!? But Kanyeâs really cool. Heâs the nicest, the nicest, THE nicest guy â very kind, very sweet, very passionate about what he does.

Lee: A dickey bird told me he gave you some advice?

Melanie: He did â âWhatever you have to do to make people remember you, donât be afraid to do it!â

Lee: Are there a set of things you now do because of that advice?

Melanie: Absolutely- especially in shows.

Lee: Well, Iâll remember you for those Drumsticks that are for sure!?

Melanie: Sorry is this rude (SLURP)?

Lee: No youâre cool. I can understand you (could have been gobstopper I suppose!?!)

Melanie: Last night - prime example. Iâm doing a show in London with Mr Hudson, signed to Kanyeâs label. Met them on the Kanye West tour and Iâm performing in front of an audience that clearly loves Kanye and clearly loves Mr Hudson⦠What is Melanie Fiona going to do to make people remember her - Sheâs gonna sing her fabulous songs that are amazing, cos I picked them (weâll be the judge of that) but sheâs also going to sing a song that makes sense as to why sheâs here. She met Kanye, she went on tour, she met Mr Hudson â this is how this story comes about - now sheâs gonna sing a song that we love, sheâs gonna sing a Hip Hop song and she gonna sing it in her own way. You have to tailor your show to your audience, thatâs what makes them remember you â that what makes them feel like you specifically have done something for them. Not just cookie cutter â the same show I do everywhere.

Lee: I came across the Busta Rhymes and Rakwon remix of your latest tune, what do you think of it?

Melanie: I had no idea it was being done â I ran into Busta Rhymes at an event in New York City (in her best Busta voice) âYo, yo, yo - Iâve just done this verse on your trackâ. Iâm like what! Itâs for real â downloaded it, I couldnât believe it. The way he flows on it, itâs just great. I think it made the song more sexy. I think itâs hot â Iâve got street cred right now, Iâm borderline thug (laughs). Heâs so good at flipping and being able to get on an R&B song, and a hip hop song and a reggae song- he goes across, thatâs why I love him.

Lee: What influences are on the album?

Melanie: Iâve recorded here in the U.K, Jamaica, Canada, the States. Itâs an international album- itâs made for everyone. East, west, north, south, black, white, yellow, brown â doesnât matter. Itâs made for everyone.

Lee: The Benetton album?!

Melanie: (Laughs) Hey, thatâs what someone said the other day, I said I wanted to make an album for everyone- they said, that sounds like a Benetton commercial (great minds hah?! Nahâ¦) The consistent theme on the album is soul, live instrumentation, soulful lyrics, strong lyrics - then the soul mixes with everything that influences me. Reggie, Hip Hop, Pop, R&B- to make one kind of universal sound that is just good music. You donât want to put it into a box because track seven might be like track nine, but then ten might be like track twelve.

Lee: So is it an album of songs you think youâve heard before?

Melanie: No, Thereâs gonna be familiar samples, but I donât think itâs anything youâve heard before. In a feeling you know? I think itâs really refreshing and really something new.

Lee: Your name came onto the radar last year as one to watch â any pressure being labelled with this tag without material being released - Did you feel extra pressure that this album had to be right on the money?

Melanie: (Reassuring giggle) Iâm a bit of a perfectionist really. I put a lot of pressure on myself- always to aim for a bar thatâs been set and aim beyond it. Never just settle- never ever settle for just whatâs ok. I always say do you wanna be good or do you want to be great? Thereâs a big difference and itâs the thing that separates people - mice from men type of thing. I always wanted to make sure that was something that we did- everybody on my team. Itâs just a level of quality that HAS to be met every time and you cannot settle for anything less. So you know, in having âthat titleâ put on I didnât realise I was one to watch. I didnât know anyone knew about what I was doing, cos I was just doing it and just hoping that maybe someday somebody would notice. I think itâs great, and with statements like that put behind me I feel very confident when people actually do hear the music, theyâll be like WOW I get it! I feel like itâs good â good pressure for me because itâs always gonna make me stay on the top of my game because there are people that actually believe it and thatâs the best thing. I have seen a lot of great records and great artists develop organically and I have no problem being one of those artists. Let people digest the music as they need to, but I feel they wonât walk away and say thatâs bad music- theyâll still walk away and say thatâs great music. I feel like, if the album never gets the recognition that people say that it deserves- the people that really know about it will say Melanie Fiona has one of the underrated albums ever made because I really feel itâs great- I feel itâs a great album. I could be like all the other artists who toot their horn for their album (doesnât sound like you are); Iâm just very proud and Iâm very honoured. This is a career, this is a life, this isnât a quick-fix, this is not an overnight Cinderella story.

Lee: Who influenced a young Melanie Fiona and who does it for you know?

Melanie: When I was younger, because mum used to listen to her a lot, and I think sheâs the best voice of all time - Whitney Houston. Sheâs beautiful and had the most amazing incredible voice. Now Iâve gotten older, Iâm really a big fan of Alicia Keys. I think she does a fantastic job of being beautiful, talented and a strong educated women. People recognise her for her talent and not for whoâs she dating on the sidelines and what she does when she goes home at night. You donât care about her in the tabloids and things like that â she just makes music and thatâs what I want to be known for. Thatâs what people love her for and thatâs the same career path I want to take.

Lee: Donât hit me but⦠I closed my eyes last night to listen to every note in one of the songs and heard, I have to say, traits of Alicia Keys and dare I say at the top end of your voice- Lauren Hill.

Melanie: (Laughing) No, thatâs ok, I have gotten that on several occasions â she is someone I admire so much. Ted Cockle the president of Island records over here said the same thing. He said you have your own thing, you sound like yourself. But there are little nuances in the way you perform and the way that you sing hitting certain notes â itâs like watching a little Lauren Hill. Itâs a great feeling cos sheâs a huge influence, I love her music. I feel like, as an artist she was right up there at the top making a classic album. She was beautiful, she was talented, she was diverse, she was educated and nobody was ever intimidated by it (Iâm sure sheâs still alive), thatâs why I love Lauren Hill and Alicia Keys. If these are the comparisons Iâm getting then they are amazing compliments. I donât take offence to that, cos I feel that we all draw from the same things. Alicia Keys listens to soul. Iâm sure Lauren Hill listens to soul. As Iâm a new artist people are bound to say you remind me of, or thatâs reminiscent of⦠Iâm sure that one day there will be a new artist and someone will say, you know what? You sound like Melanie Fiona â itâs one cycle thatâs gonna happen. To have those two artistsâs mentioned with my name, thatâs great.

Lee: What do you think of U.K artists, any influences there?

Melanie: Amy Winehouseâs âBack to Blackâ album is one of my favourite all-time albums; I put it right up there with âMiseducation of Lauren Hillâ. Itâs an amazing album, when I heard her voice I said oh gosh. Then I heard Adele â itâs great that Amy Winehouse and Adele are winning Grammyâs. I love Adele; her tone is in-cred-able. I get that feeling from India.Arie as well, love her. When you hear that voice sing thereâs just something you know? You have great singers that can just sing, but thereâs something in a voice that just grabs me. Iâve put a hole in the Amy Winehouse CD; I donât think it plays anymore. But Adele is one of my new favourites.

Lee: Can you tell us about Santogold, whatâs she like?

Melanie: I tell everybody Santogold is my best friend, because I love her so much as a person. Sheâs amazing; sheâs so sweet, so kind and so nice. We hit it off on the tour. She has her own sound and not afraid to do it- getting recognition she deserves.

Lee: Well Iâm sure youâll soon be getting the recognition you deserve, thank you Melanie Fiona.

Melanie: Thank you.

Melanie Fiona's single 'Give It To Me Right' is released June 21st, taken form the album 'Bridge' released July 20th.
Words LEE TYLER

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