Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Melanie Fiona: You know you got soul

Melanie Fiona
Melanie Fiona Melanie Fiona Melanie Fiona Melanie Fiona

Think famous Canadian singers and you straight away think of Michael Bubli right? Hee-hee, maybe not!?! Well you’ll 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 you’ll 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 ‘Time of the Season’ is ripe (don’t worry you’ll 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 ‘Give It To Me Right’ with a sub zero hook sampled from the Zombies ‘Time of the Season,’ has been picking up radio play at a rate of knots and looks set to become a summer scorcher.

After assessing Ms Fiona’s talents the night before as she flew in to support Mr Hudson at London’s The Scala – and being blown away by a short but sweeeeeet set, including a version of Kanye West’s ‘Heartbroken’ (did you spot the connection by the way?) Hudson on West’s 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 London’s West End where she has just found the delight that is a Drumstick!? – 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 that’s what she said as she was trying to un-stick her teeth).

Lee: Once?! (Err herm, ok I’ve 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 – it felt great to go home for some hugs and kisses from my family.

Lee: New single ‘Give It To Me Right’ takes the sample of the Zombies classic ‘Time Of The Season’. 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 don’t 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 you’re doing a new song. But that’s what I wanted to do – I wanted to do old and new together. I’m 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 – they listened to a lot of great soul music. So because of that - I’m six years old singing Sam Cooke songs - Other kids that age was singing New Kids on the Block and all kinds of stuff and I’m six singing Sam Cooke songs (as she chuckles to herself).

Lee: I liked the rest of the material you showcased last night; ‘Ay-yo’ 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 doesn’t know, but my manager rang him while I was singing it and I think he left the performance on his answering machine!? But Kanye’s really cool. He’s the nicest, the nicest, THE nicest guy – very kind, very sweet, very passionate about what he does.

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

Melanie: He did – “Whatever you have to do to make people remember you, don’t be afraid to do it!”

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

Melanie: Absolutely- especially in shows.

Lee: Well, I’ll remember you for those Drumsticks that are for sure!?

Melanie: Sorry is this rude (SLURP)?

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

Melanie: Last night - prime example. I’m doing a show in London with Mr Hudson, signed to Kanye’s label. Met them on the Kanye West tour and I’m 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 - She’s gonna sing her fabulous songs that are amazing, cos I picked them (we’ll be the judge of that) but she’s also going to sing a song that makes sense as to why she’s here. She met Kanye, she went on tour, she met Mr Hudson – this is how this story comes about - now she’s gonna sing a song that we love, she’s gonna sing a Hip Hop song and she gonna sing it in her own way. You have to tailor your show to your audience, that’s what makes them remember you – that what makes them feel like you specifically have done something for them. Not just cookie cutter – 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 – I ran into Busta Rhymes at an event in New York City (in her best Busta voice) “Yo, yo, yo - I’ve just done this verse on your track”. I’m like what! It’s for real – downloaded it, I couldn’t believe it. The way he flows on it, it’s just great. I think it made the song more sexy. I think it’s hot – I’ve got street cred right now, I’m borderline thug (laughs). He’s 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, that’s why I love him.

Lee: What influences are on the album?

Melanie: I’ve recorded here in the U.K, Jamaica, Canada, the States. It’s an international album- it’s made for everyone. East, west, north, south, black, white, yellow, brown – doesn’t matter. It’s made for everyone.

Lee: The Benetton album?!

Melanie: (Laughs) Hey, that’s 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?! Nah…) 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 don’t 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 you’ve heard before?

Melanie: No, There’s gonna be familiar samples, but I don’t think it’s anything you’ve heard before. In a feeling you know? I think it’s really refreshing and really something new.

Lee: Your name came onto the radar last year as one to watch – 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) I’m a bit of a perfectionist really. I put a lot of pressure on myself- always to aim for a bar that’s been set and aim beyond it. Never just settle- never ever settle for just what’s ok. I always say do you wanna be good or do you want to be great? There’s a big difference and it’s 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. It’s just a level of quality that HAS to be met every time and you cannot settle for anything less. So you know, in having ‘that title’ put on I didn’t realise I was one to watch. I didn’t 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 it’s great, and with statements like that put behind me I feel very confident when people actually do hear the music, they’ll be like WOW I get it! I feel like it’s good – good pressure for me because it’s always gonna make me stay on the top of my game because there are people that actually believe it and that’s 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 won’t walk away and say that’s bad music- they’ll still walk away and say that’s 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 it’s great- I feel it’s a great album. I could be like all the other artists who toot their horn for their album (doesn’t sound like you are); I’m just very proud and I’m very honoured. This is a career, this is a life, this isn’t 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 she’s the best voice of all time - Whitney Houston. She’s beautiful and had the most amazing incredible voice. Now I’ve gotten older, I’m 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 who’s she dating on the sidelines and what she does when she goes home at night. You don’t care about her in the tabloids and things like that – she just makes music and that’s what I want to be known for. That’s what people love her for and that’s the same career path I want to take.

Lee: Don’t 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, that’s ok, I have gotten that on several occasions – 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 – it’s like watching a little Lauren Hill. It’s a great feeling cos she’s 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 (I’m sure she’s still alive), that’s why I love Lauren Hill and Alicia Keys. If these are the comparisons I’m getting then they are amazing compliments. I don’t take offence to that, cos I feel that we all draw from the same things. Alicia Keys listens to soul. I’m sure Lauren Hill listens to soul. As I’m a new artist people are bound to say you remind me of, or that’s reminiscent of… I’m sure that one day there will be a new artist and someone will say, you know what? You sound like Melanie Fiona – it’s one cycle that’s gonna happen. To have those two artists’s mentioned with my name, that’s great.

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

Melanie: Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’ album is one of my favourite all-time albums; I put it right up there with ‘Miseducation of Lauren Hill’. It’s an amazing album, when I heard her voice I said oh gosh. Then I heard Adele – it’s great that Amy Winehouse and Adele are winning Grammy’s. 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 there’s just something you know? You have great singers that can just sing, but there’s something in a voice that just grabs me. I’ve put a hole in the Amy Winehouse CD; I don’t think it plays anymore. But Adele is one of my new favourites.

Lee: Can you tell us about Santogold, what’s she like?

Melanie: I tell everybody Santogold is my best friend, because I love her so much as a person. She’s amazing; she’s 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 I’m sure you’ll 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.

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