Melanie Fiona was born and raised in Toronto to Guyanese parents. Having been signed to Jay-Z's Roc Nation management after writing a song for Rihanna, she also opened for Kanye West on his European Tour in 2008. 20th July sees the release of her debut album 'The Bridge' through Universal Motown, lead by the hot single 'Give It to Me Right'.
Marvin Sparks caught up with Melanie Fiona to talk about the "It" in 'Give It to Me Right', being cheated on, to opening for Kanye, her favourite things about UK including her favourite UK artist.
Marvin Sparks: I first heard you when David Rodigan used to play 'Somebody Come Get Me' on his Reggae Show. On VP records annual compilation Reggae Gold the artist is listed as Melanie Hall a.k.a. Syren. How did you come to Melanie Fiona?
Melanie Fiona: Syren was a nickname DJ's gave me when I was making music independently. It had this Caribbean flavour mixed with Pop and R&B. All the Reggae DJ's were like “Syren you music is fire!” So it became a nickname and I started doing performances under that. When VP records came to pick up ['Somebody Come Get Me'] the public had known this Syren character. They picked the record up, but Syren was already trademarked. So because I wasn't an official artist and didn't have a deal at the time - was just doing music independently - they couldn't use Syren on its own because it was already copywritten. They took my last name and abbreviated it to Hall and then made Syren Hall then put it on the album. Then when it came to signing my deal and making my album, I was like “no confusion anymore. Melanie Fiona is my name“.
Marvin Sparks: In relation to 'Somebody Come Get Me' have you ever been cheated on?
Melanie Fiona: Oh yeah.
Marvin Sparks: How did you react? I know you couldn't have had a knife in your hand.
Melanie Fiona: [Laughs] I've never killed anybody; I've never been to jail. In relationships you get driven to points where you feel like you could do something crazy. I'm not really the crazy type; I don't break windows, burn clothes, stab people or scratch cars - that's not really my thing. But when I was cheated on, when I found myself in that situation, I was definitely devastated. I was sad and that's kind of like a final thing for me like “I'm done”.
Marvin Sparks: Good to hear you aren't a murderer. Another Reggae song you have is 'Sad Song' which uses the rhythm track as Janet Kay's Lovers Rock classic 'Silly Games'. How did that come about?
Melanie Fiona: I did the record with a songwriter and producer named Andrea Martin. I heard the song and I loved it because I felt like it was the perfect blend of me in music, because it has got that Calypso/Soca feel with Lovers Rock and I'm West Indian - my background's West Indian - with Soul, and [lyrics from the chorus] “Sad songs are the best songs”, great melody, great lyrics and I absolutely loved it. I fought for it to be on my album, because I really felt like it was me. I felt like I had to represent for my roots/culture on there.
Marvin Sparks: Quite a few West Indians are coming through now. There's also you, Shontelle, Serani's on the rise, Kardinal Offishall and there's obviously Rhianna. Why do you think there is a sudden interest?
Melanie Fiona: I think, erm, I hate to say it but I feel like people are starting to feel like West Indian people are cool. I think we're awesome, so I just think it's great that our islands are getting our shine and there's a lot of talent. I'm glad that people are finding it and getting it from the Caribbean.
Marvin Sparks: You've actually written for fellow islander Rihanna, what song was that?
Melanie Fiona: The song was called 'Dem Haters' [on 'A Girl Like Me'], it definitely had a one-drop Reggae vibe. And you know she's half-Guyanese too - her mum is Guyanese - so it was really great to work with someone West Indian and be able to lend her my talent and to contribute to her album. It was great.
Marvin Sparks: Have you worked with anyone else we know?
Melanie Fiona: No. I have worked with a bunch of producers. I'm going to have a lot of things coming out in the future because I have done a publishing deal now, so I'm going to be doing a lot of work with other artists.
Marvin Sparks: Who would you most like to work with?
Melanie Fiona: I would most like to work with Wyclef. He's such an awesome, great guy. Super talented, so down-to-earth and makes great music for everybody.
Marvin Sparks: Who are you currently listening to?
Melanie Fiona: Ryan Leslie. He's amazing.
Marvin Sparks: What message are you trying to give with your first single 'Give It to Me Right'?
Melanie Fiona: I'm trying to give out a message that I am no nonsense and it's ok to be no nonsense. I know what I want, I know what I don't want, and I hate having my time wasted. It's a very sexy song, it's very empowering and I just love the fact that it is the debut single off my album because it really lets people know out the gate which type of woman I am. I'm totally no nonsense and I consider myself to be a strong woman. I think any man or woman, doesn't matter who it is, needs to know that out of the gate. But 'It' can be whatever you want it to be. It really can.
Marvin Sparks: Ok, because I already had an idea what it was about in my head.
Melanie Fiona: Most people will think of something.
Marvin Sparks: I was thinking maybe food or something like that.
Melanie Fiona: I love food. That's exactly what it is.
Marvin Sparks: You've also got a track called 'Island Boys'. What is it you like about island boys?
Melanie Fiona: It's just a huge part of my life. I grew up in Toronto and everybody is West Indian up there, so they are all island boys. I think, you know what I love about island men is - and this is just from my experience because it is a part of my culture - it's the way we were brought up. I know how I was brought up and I know how my brothers were raised and for me, because I am an island woman, it's just easier to relate to them. They understand me, they understand where I come from. Not to say I don't date outside of island boys but I think it was that. When I heard the track and wrote about the record, it just felt like the right thing to sing about - it felt like a little get away.
Marvin Sparks: Is there a celebrity that you have your eye on?
Melanie Fiona: I love Common. Everybody knows I have a crush on him. I just think he's great, he's so handsome, talented as a rapper, I'm a fan of his work, he writes children's books and he just has a generally good reputation in the industry. I admire him as a person and as an artist and I'm sure many ladies will agree with me that he's hot.
Marvin Sparks: What's the worst date yo've been on and pet hates in guys?
Melanie Fiona: My worst date was this one guy who just was totally about complimenting me thinking that would soften me up and trying to stick his tongue down my throat. I hate guys who are overly aggressive like that. I like guys who are chilled, kind of leave something to the imagination, make me intrigued to get to know them. I hate the guys who, right out the gate, are like “Oh you are so beautiful“. Urghk! It's disgusting. I hate that. I hate guys who are overly forward and physical.
Marvin Sparks: What was the reason for naming your album 'The Bridge'?
Melanie Fiona: When I first started working on the album, I started playing it for people, the feeling between whether people were old or young, male or female, black or white they all said the same thing, “This is refreshing. This feels good,” so I felt like the body of work was like a bridge. It took you from one side to another. It bridges the gap that separates people, so I named it 'The Bridge' for that reason. It's not just one thing; it's Soul music, mixed with R&B, mixed with Pop, mixed with Reggae, mixed with Hip Hop so I thought bridge the gap - that's what it is.
Marvin Sparks: And where would you like this bridge to lead you personally as an artist?
Melanie Fiona: I think I would love it to lead me to the bank of artists that did that in their career. That made music that is classic and timeless. That people appreciate forever and made a positive effect in music.
Marvin Sparks: Who would you say those people are?
Melanie Fiona: I would say Lauryn Hill is one. Bob Marley, Alicia Keys, Sam Cooke for me back in the day.
Marvin Sparks: What can listeners expect from the album?
Melanie Fiona: They can expect real music. They can expect an album they can relate to, that they can go on an emotional rollercoaster with and at the end feel really great and positive and an album that will never expire and they can go back to in 10 years, I promise!
Marvin Sparks: Is there a personal favourite?
Melanie Fiona: 'Ayo' is definitely one of my favourites. It's an anthem about positivity and overcoming adversity. But the hidden gem on the album that people have never heard, because people have 'Ayo' when they've seen me perform it, the hidden gem that I can't wait for people to hear is called 'You Stopped My Heart'.
Marvin Sparks: Are you going to tell us what that is about or you going to keep it secret?
Melanie Fiona: Nope, just listen to the album.
Click here to see official video
Marvin Sparks: How do you feel about the state of R&B at the moment?
Melanie Fiona: [Deep breath] I feel like it has changed a lot. I feel like it has... music has become one sound. I feel like it's all sounding the same. I feel like people, not all people, but most people are afraid to take risks to do something because they want to use a formula that they think already works and they don't want to branch out to do something new. So that's really what I'm trying to do; I'm trying to be different. I'm trying to be recognised as an R&B singer as well but be different. I want to be recognised as a Soul singer and a Pop singer as well. I don't want to put myself in one box.
Marvin Sparks: Would you say your response has been better here than it has in the USA?
Melanie Fiona: Honestly, the response has been positive everywhere; in the States and over here [in the UK]. It has been faster over here which I love because I feel like in the States they look for you to be more one-sided, whereas over here they appreciate whatever it is as long as it's good. That's why I love it over here, because I really think that the definition of what music is supposed to be just kind of goes out the window and it just feels right.
But it's all been positive. It's kind of unbelievable to me when people say “Everybody loves your stuff”. I'm like “Really?” I feel like people should but I know there are people out there who are miserable and don't like anything. It's actually grown faster here and it makes me feel good because I wanted to make an international sound, I wanted to make world music, so it's great that the world is accepting it.
Marvin Sparks: You've been over here many times recently. What is your favourite thing about UK?
Melanie Fiona: It reminds me of Canada. It reminds me of home; the culture, the people, the fashion, the shopping, the food. It's just really alive. I love it.
Marvin Sparks: Are there any UK artists you like?
Melanie Fiona: You know who I just got put onto? I went to his album release party last night. Bashy; he was great and his performance was amazing. I met him and he was just really cool, quiet, then he took it to the stage and he was just took it like a beast! I was like “Yeah, that's the way it's supposed to be“. It was great! And I love Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen and Estelle.
Marvin Sparks: You came over here as opening act for the Kanye West concert last year. How did you feel when you found out he selected you to open for him?
Melanie Fiona: I was in shock, I didn't believe it, I was like there has got to be a catch. I'd never met him so I was like “This is not happening!” Even when I did the tour, after the tour I was like “Did that really happen?” I was in complete disbelief. I love Kanye, I've admired him for so long, he's one of my favourite artists and it was just an honour. I honestly can't think of any other word to describe it, but an honour.
Marvin Sparks: Was there a particular highlight that stood out for you?
Melanie Fiona: Performing at the Paris show. By the end of the show I had moved up in the time that I was allowed to perform and the slot. I performed right before The Roots and then it was Kanye. I really moved up, it was a packed house and the fans were unreal. It was the closing show for me and it was like whoa! It was incredible. That moment will always stand out in my mind and I'll never forget it.
Words by Marvin Sparks [www.marvinsparks.blogspot.com / www.Twitter.com/MarvinSparks]
Give it to Me Right on iTunes now
The Bridge is in stores 20th July 2009
Interview I did last year but never posted on here for reasons I have since gotten over lol. She's bigger/better known now so it serves it purpose a bit more. I could have told you it was an old interview at the beginning of the post, but you may not have read it. I'm a bastard I know. Hope you enjoyed it. Doesn't look out of date anyway, so I doubt you'd even notice if I didn't say