Melanie Fiona beats the ‘sophomore jinx’
Melanie Fiona is working.
It seems as if no one told the Guyanese Canadian songstress about the dreaded “sophomore jinx.”
Her oft-delayed second album “The MF Life” hit No. 7 on the Billboard 200 after one week. She has been everywhere, from the late night talk show circuit to the NBA All Star Game, to increase the awareness of her new project.
The singer, whose real name is Melanie Fiona Halim, has been on a steady rise since her first album “The Bridge” debuted in 2009. A favorite of critics and fans alike, the album was anchored by the big ballad “It Kills Me.”
Spending nine weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard’s RandB singles chart, “It Kills Me” snagged Fiona a Grammy nomination for female RandB performance. Opening slots on tours with Kanye West and Alicia Keys, and an appearance on The Roots’ and John Legend’s collaborative album, “Wake Up,” helped cement her as one of the artists to watch.
After winning two Grammy awards for RandB song and traditional RandB performance for her work on Cee-Lo Green’s “Fool for You,” she follows up with a new album: “The MF Life.” Guests like hip hop legend Nas, John Legend, B.O.B. and T-Pain all contribute to the new work. Producers Salaam Remi, NO ID, Andrea Martin and Rico Love were at the boards to give Fiona a sound that she explains as the most current of her musical voice.
“The first album was more an homage to the influences and artists that inspired me to get into music,” she said. “This album was a little bit more personal and true to who I am.”
Her higher profile does come with a bit of a cost. Fans may try to play super sleuth to crack “The MF Life” for codes into Fiona’s personal life. Especially since news broke that the singer recently separated from CSI: Miami actor and costar of her “It Kills Me” video, Adam Rodriguez.
She recently spoke with the Banner about living in the age of social media, the importance of her cultural roots, and the importance of having the right team to beat the sophomore jinx.
With the second album and the Grammys, you have a higher profile now. How are you adjusting to people getting more interested in your personal life?
I’m not fully adjusted. I’m a pretty private person. And I keep my personal life personal. Everyone loves a story. They want to know where everything comes from. I’m now getting a taste of what that is and how to handle that side of being an artist.
I admire artists like Sade who are able to be a recluse and have their music speak for itself. They are still able to maintain their sense of privacy.
You grew up in the West Indian community in Toronto. We can hear those influences in your work. How important is it that people see that in what you do today?
My Caribbean culture is what I identify with the most. When I think about my food and my language and my slang, my morals and my traditional upbringing, that all comes from my parents being immigrants to Canada.
So that’s very much a part of who I am. So it always has to be there. Present on the albums and present in the shows. That’s where I started making it underground on the reggae circuit and the DJ’s mixing RandB and reggae together.
I need to have that so people can identify who I am and where I come from. And I’m so very proud of my culture.
Have you ever thought of doing a whole project under your old name? (Fiona recorded under the name Syren Hall. Her big hit “Somebody Come Get Me” was included on Reggae Gold 2008.)
I would love to. The whole name situation was before I had a record deal. They used to call me Syren on the underground or whatever. “Somebody Come Get Me” became a really big record. Syren had put out music underground. So my last name is Halim. They shortened it to Hall. And that’s how it came out on the compilation.
But, yes, I would absolutely do a reggae album. I would do a reggae remix version of all the songs on my current album. I love it. And I’m proud to have the versatility to go back and forth.
We have a large West Indian population here in Boston and one of the things that got you hot here was your freestyling on the radio with Chubby Chub.
That’s dope. I didn’t know that till “Like I Love You” started getting played and I came down. They were there. They came out for that reggae show. It was a great time.
Isn’t that hard in this age of social media? It’s out of your control, isn’t it?
That’s it exactly. You have to let go. You cannot change. You can’t control everything. And I learned that. I’m a control freak.
At the end of the day, people are going to talk. I have a good head on my shoulders. I have a good foundation around me. So people can say whatever they want. You can’t get caught up in it.
Your fans go hard for you. They are serious devotees. How does that feel?
It’s the best. There are much more famous artists that have millions and millions of fans but I don’t know if they feel the love that I feel with my smaller demographic of fans. I feel like my fans are so personal with me.
I feel like they are really rooting for me. They are down! Ride or die. I feel like it’s a testament to the music. They are emotionally connected to the music and if that connects them to me then that makes me feel good.
Who is the artist that you most want to work with?
I would love to work with Kanye West. He’s an artist. He is brilliant. He is so about his craft. He produces. He raps and performs. I feel his passion for his music. I feel his passion for his performance. He can’t do any wrong in my eyes.
G. Valentino Ball is editor-in-chief of Killer BoomBox.