BY AUDRA D.S. BURCH
Soul-reggae-r&b-neo singer-songwriter Melanie Fiona brings her abundant voice, throwback vibe and modern energy to South Florida this weekend. She’ll join a lineup of other performers at the fifth annual Jazz in the Gardens event, hosted by radio personality Tom Joyner.
Fiona, 26, delivered her stylish debut CD The Bridge last fall, a promising narrative on the wonders of love and the angst of loss. Since then, the CD has produced hit singles, impressed critics and attracted a world of new fans, some surely spoiled by the big-voiced sounds of contemporary singers such as Lauren Hill and Amy Winehouse.
Fiona’s is an earthen sound that helps generations remember the difference between pop and soul. Her single It Kills Me, a commanding anthem, about unhealthy love,topped the Billboard’s R&B chart and was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.
In 2008, Kanye West selected Fiona, who co-wrote Rihanna’s Dem Haters, to open the European leg of his Glow In the Dark tour. She also toured with soul old-school vet Raphael Saadiq and Alicia Keys. Last summer, she was featured on a mixtape with Roots drummer Questlove.
Soon, she plans to slow down — or at least unpack her bags.
“I practically live on my tour bus. I haven’t had a permanent address since I left my parents’ house in Toronto,” she says. “Right now I am trying to establish a home.”
The daughter of Guyanese immigrants, Fiona grew up in Toronto and has family in West Palm Beach.
“When I am not on the road, I go home to be with my family or go on vacation,” she says. “I like to try new foods, and I do photography. I also try to catch up on rest.”
Fiona stole a few minutes from her kinetic schedule to chat with The Miami Herald:
Q: If your debut album is Chapter One, what do you want listeners to come away with after hearing it?
A: I wanted people to know that I am a believer in good classic music. I hope people will learn the type of artist I am, my influences and also about me as a person. I hope they listen and believe in the staying power of me as an artist and not look at me as a flash in the pan. I hope they will see a body of work that breaks stereotypes.
Q: How would you describe your music? And if you had to assign a color to your sound, what would it be?
A: I would describe my music as strong, classic, soulful. I would also say it bridges generations [thus the CD's title] of music from the older eras with the new. I am diverse. I wanted my music to be diverse and appeal to as many people as possible.
If it were a color, my music would be purple, my favorite color, the color of royalty. It’s a great hue to have around you, it has a good, positive energy, and I want my music to make people feel good.
Q: With such a textured sound that easily translates into other genres, have you any interest in experimenting with other forms of music?
A: I know this is going to sound crazy, but I would love to take a stab at a house track. I think of people like CeCe Peniston and Andrea Martin, who both have these big voices and have done house music. I like the energy and simplicity of house beat with big soulful voices.
Q: You grew up in a House of Blues, or at least a house of good music, ranging from the 1960s girl group Ronettes to Whitney Houston. How were you influenced?
A: I grew up hearing my dad playing the guitar, and my mother was always playing great music in the house. My older brother loves music too. He really introduced me to hip-hop. On Saturday nights, our family would get together for food, laughter, music, drinks and music. We would play dominoes to the wee hours. Growing up in a house that always played music, I knew I could pursue singing. I am a product of my environment.
Q: What are you most passionate about: singing or song writing?
A: I would have to say singing is my first love, something I loved as a little girl. Before you learn about song writing, you learn to sing other people’s songs.
Q: You have written songs for several artists, including Rihanna. Tell us about your writing process.
A: I write songs about the real experiences in life. I try to keep them as universal as possible, unless I am writing about something very personal, even then the themes are universal.
Q: What do you enjoy more, performing in intimate settings or on the big stages?
A: It’s hard to compare the two because they have very different energies. I love the up-close, intimate setting where people are really paying attention and responding to the music. I also love the beautiful energy that comes from performing for 15,000, where it’s like a big party.
Q: Bob Marley and Patsy Cline are among the artists who have influenced your music. Do you have a favorite artist?
A: Sade is such an inspiration musically. I hope to have a career like hers that enduresand leaves a legacy.