Growing up in Toronto as a first generation child of Guyanese immigrants may be hard to balance for most. But for singer Melanie Fiona, it provided her with the best of both worlds.
"West Indian cultural mentality and a North American life equals the perfect balance," says Fiona. Her traditional upbringing could have easily pegged her into -- as she jokes -- having a stereotypical medical career, but luckily Fiona's parents loved music just as much as she did and encouraged her to pursue her dreams.
“My dad used to play guitar in a band and my mom was always listening to big vocalists. That trickled down into my love for music and my open mentality,” says Fiona. “My parents leaving a third world country to a first world country and building from nothing -- that’s really inspiring to me and it’s influenced me in a positive way.”
Even with the range of genres and sounds that Fiona could be boxed into -- she mixes new school hip-hop and R&B with old school soul, tinges of West Indian reggae flavor and a lot of sass -- she prefers to be free, citing Bob Marley as an influence. “Bob Marley is one of the most recognized artists. He didn’t care to be defined,” says Fiona. “People wondered, 'Is it reggae? Is it rock?' But at the end of the day they were still playing his music and that's what matters.”
Her single, “Give It to Me Right,” peaked at No. 22 on Billboard’s Adult R&B Airplay. Sampling the iconic '60s hit “Time of the Season,” "the track creates familiarity with existing fans, says Fiona. With lyrics like, “When I want it / You gotta be ready / When I get it / I better be satisfied,” she showcases her sultry pipes and solidifies her strong persona as a self-described “no nonsense” woman who knows what she wants.
Fiona’s’ debut album, "Bridges," is slated for release in the U.S. August 18 via Title9/SRC/Universal Motown, but may be pushed until early fall. Producers include Supa Dups (John Legend, Pitbull) and Salaam Remi (Lauryn Hill) among others. Other songs on the album include the emotional ballad “It Kills Me” and Fiona's personal favorite, “You Stopped My Heart."
Stuck under a glass ceiling in the Toronto music industry but determined, Fiona moved to Los Angeles a few years ago. She managed a couple of cracks by writing “Dem Haters” for Rihanna (from the album "A Girl Like Me") and with a reggae track she released under the name Syren Hall. But she finally broke through when she was discovered by music mogul Steve Rifkind in 2007.
Fiona, who toured with Kanye West earlier this year, just finished working on a live remixed version of her album with ?uestlove of The Roots. Although it has a couple of covers, she emphasizes that it isn’t a mix tape. “It’s a collectors item, it’s organic and it has its own life,” says Fiona. “It could be a re-release of the album because it’s so strong.”
Next on the agenda for the Caribbean crooner is more songwriting for various artists, touring and making sure she gives it to her fans just right. “I go through heartache, I feel sad. I want people to feel like they know me, like we’re friends,” she says. “I feel like artists aren’t putting their hearts into it anymore. They're all about the quick fix. I’m a big nerd, I’m not that super cool artist. I live out of my suitcase and I’m happy to do so. I’m focused on my career and my fans, not just right now.”