Words by
Zondra Hughes

Photography by
DeWayne Rogers for Steed Media Service

MTV says Melanie Fiona is “criminally overlooked,” and we couldn’t agree more — especially after the hit single, “It’s 4 a.m.” The haunting ballad strikes a painful chord with any woman stranded on the ugly side of love, or on the cold side of the bed, wondering where her lover is at such an ungodly hour.

Standing here and I’m getting heated
Pour me up a drink I swear I need it
I think I’ma about
About to hurt somebody
Swear this man is begging me to leave him
Getting sick of being so mistreated
Another night without
Without his arms around me

The song has become the tribal call of the scorned, because ironically, it soothes the emotional suffering.
“… 4 a.m. is that time when people are doing many things,” Fiona tells rolling out. “Some are waiting for love, some are making love, some are looking for it, longing for it, and some are working. It’s 4 a.m. means many things, and for me it’s a new sound. I love how mellow it felt … like a beautiful ballad and people are really loving it . They know that it’s showing so much love, and that makes me feel like I’m doing something right, it makes me feel like there is a huge market out there for people that need that type of language, this type of emotion and this type of passion.”
Fiona’s music is culled from personal experience. As a true musician, she writes what she knows because the craft demands that level of authenticity.
“I’ve definitely been in situations where I’ve been cheated on and when I haven’t been cheated on,” she divulges. “Sometimes the signs [of infidelity] are the same.

“There was once upon a time when I was really nosey and I wanted to know — like every girl who digs for the dirt — but when you dig for the dirt you’re gonna get dirty. That’s when I learned that my instincts are my best friend. I don’t need to work off of insecurity. … Whatever is not feeding me what I need, then I don’t need it. I don’t need that person.”

Fortunately, the exotic Canadian-born performer of Guyanese immigrant parents, did need music. She says music saved her life, and changed her destiny.
“I was 16,” Fiona recalls. “I went through a stage where I became really introverted, even though I played a lot of sports. I dimmed that musical light because when you become a teenager you go through all kinds of changes. I moved from the inner city to the suburbs. I experienced a lot of prejudices, ignorance and racism. It took away from the happiness [and] where I was as a person.

“When I made the decision to get back to being happy and being proud of who I was, and not being afraid to show that, is when I turned back to music.
“I started singing, and it gave me the confidence to be like this is the thing that is basically going to save my life.
This is the thing that is going to make me who I am. Once I made my decision. Everything just started moving forward, I met people in the music industry. I started recording in the studio, writing songs for the first time, and I really found myself in that moment.
“It evolved into making it my purpose and making it the thing that would connect me back to me and everyone else.”
Ultimately, Fiona’s talent and stage presence was certified by Kanye West and catapulted by Jay-Z.

Kanye taught Fiona the show…

“The Glow in the Dark tour … was my first touring experience. I had done festivals … shows and talent shows, but to do arenas, it required a different muscle and a different level of fearlessness.
“And watching Kanye be a one-man show, he was so theatrical and dramatic when telling that story on stage and that’s where I learned that whatever you have to do to connect with those people, give it to them.
“He actually gave me that advice, ‘do whatever you gotta do to make people remember you, and don’t be afraid to do it.’ ”

… And Jay-Z taught Fiona the business.

“Being a Roca Wear model and representative for the brand — that affiliation is priceless.
“Just being around his team and his staff, [there’s] a certain level of excellence and caliber which they operate at, which is why they’ve been so successful. Just being in that environment, you see the success and you see the ingredients and what it takes, and that’s inspiring to somebody like me coming up. That’s valuable. Not a lot of people get to witness this firsthand.

“And when I did my first show in New York, Jay came out and I was like, ‘wow’ Jay — who I’d been listening to all of my life — is sitting there, supporting me and my career, it was pretty cool.”

Fiona didn’t have this fantastic MF Life handed to her on a golden platter; she worked for it.
Long before Kanye and Jay-Z, Fiona left all that she knew behind and traveled to Los Angeles with her production manager, Carmen Murray of Title 9 Productions to land the deal that most artists dream of.

The rejection came from both ends. Fiona says sometimes the labels didn’t understand her music, and at other times she rejected them. “A lot of the labels didn’t get me. They wanted to change me, they wanted to make me something I wasn’t and I’m not.”
Enter Steve Rifkind of SRC Records, the man behind some of the biggest names in hip-hop, and the man who would change everything for Melanie Fiona. Rifkind signed Fiona to SRC Records and Universal Motown in 2007. Shortly thereafter she was on the Glow in the Dark tour with Kanye.
“He came by one of my studio sessions. I played him a few tracks, and between, ‘Somebody Come Get Me,’ and ‘It Kills Me’ … Steve was just like, ‘I love what you’re doing as you are and I want to support you.’ That’s what made me say, OK, because every other label was pulling something away from me.”

Fiona exhales and revisits her former struggle, as if to emphasize her trial by fire. “That was the worst feeling to feel, to work so hard for all of these years — sacrificing family and holidays, relationships, and friendships — to then go somewhere and you can’t be yourself.”
Fiona’s work ethic, and her love for retro R&B, is homegrown.

“I guess having immigrant parents and seeing them work hard and sacrifice and struggle to make a better life for me and my brother always gave me that foundation,” Fiona says. “If you want something, you want to build it. If you want to progress and if you want to change where you come from, you must do better than you did before.

“My parents really taught me the notion of appreciating hard work, not taking anything for granted, and paying your dues. Everything comes in time.”

Her time is now.

Melanie Fiona has rubbed shoulders with hip-hop’s kingmakers and she’s astute enough to learn what she needed to know.
She sings from her soul, and is not afraid of bringing it hard-core for the heartbroken.
“It’s a lot easier to sing about the downside of love because I feel that’s therapeutic and you’ve got to express it. You’ve got to express that vulnerability to yourself, or on a record, or to an audience. It is very therapeutic for me and I hope it’s therapeutic to the people that are receiving it as well.”

From the debut album, The Bridge (2009), to the new one, The MF Life, Fiona says she’s matured in her understanding of love.
“I’ve learned more of a definition of love — if one could ever figure it out in a lifetime — because love comes in so many different forms. I’ve grown into love. I realize that I’m very deeply rooted in love. It’s kind of become my passion for the music.

“Knowing that the things that love can do to us, the power it has. It’s that driving force that can get you going. It’s that weight that can drag you down. It’s that thing that blinds you and helps you see clearer and see life like you’ve never seen it before.

“And I think my connection with my fans and my connection in my own personal relationships inspire me to sing about the things that I actually go through, because instinctively, that’s where we all come from, we come from love. It’s our first known emotion.”

As for her own love life, Fiona knows what she finds sexy in a man. “Confidence, not cockiness or conceit. I’m very turned off by an arrogant man. I love a guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously, but when it’s time to take things seriously, he does. And I am very attracted to a guy who has great relationships with great people. Show me your company and that will tell me who you are.”
Still, Fiona says she’s not afraid of being alone.
“Some people are afraid to be alone. The … times that I’ve learned about myself and grown as a woman, to become a better woman to be with a better man, have been in those moments that I’ve been vulnerable, heartbroken, on my own and alone. You get back in touch with yourself so that you can offer someone else your better self.”
Melanie Fiona is roaring. Can you hear her now?

Melanie Fiona’s sophomore effort, “The MF Life,” will be
released on Feb. 7. Follow her on Twitter: @MelanieFiona.