R&B's Next Chart-Topper Has Arrived and her Name is Fana
Move over, Solange and Janelle. V sits down exclusively with your next musical obsession.
Move over, Solange and Janelle. V sits down exclusively with your next musical obsession.
Some musicians are born. Others are made. Yet the come-up of emerging R&B star Fana Hues was a blend of both. With honey-tinged vocals and a sonorous tone that effortlessly glides over each lyric, the L.A.-born and raised singer-songwriter has a knack for melody. Born to a multi-instrumentalist funk and soul father and a neosoul loving, dancer mother, music pulses through the virtuoso veins of her large clan. During childhood, Hues familiarized herself with rehearsals and the stage, performing backup in a family band. Drowned out in the sea of voices of her eight siblings, Fana set out to find her own voice. “I pretty much did it on my own,” she gushes over the phone. “It’s not like anyone was pressuring me to find my musical voice. It’s just something that I wanted to do for myself because I come from a large family and it’s just naturally competitive. I for sure was fighting for my spot.”
As a teenager, she dedicated her daily time allotment on the family computer to cutting homemade karaoke versions of songs on an old-school computer program called WavePad. “They sounded horrible,” she laughs. “It would basically strip the lead vocal, or try to, and leave it in the background. I would just sing the same song over and over and over again until I got kicked off the computer.” Harmonizing to the likes of Nina Simone and Anita Baker, Hues found representation in alto-inclined voices. “I had a heavier voice growing up, so I was like, ‘Oh, if I’m gonna sing, this is what I’m going to sound like.’ I leaned toward voices that had a deeper tone because I saw myself in them.”
Fast forward a few years and the 25-year-old rising star is turning (some very famous) heads for her fresh take on soul-pop. After the acclaimed release of her debut album, Hues in December 2020 and a growing collection of family-featuring, warm-toned music videos, Hues caught the eye of Tyler, the Creator who slid into her Instagram DMs to propose a now über-successful collaboration, “SWEET / I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE”, a two-part track of unrequited love from his 2021 album, Call Me If You Get Lost. Now, Hues is building on that momentum on her fast track to fame. In the fine-tuning stages of production for her sophomore album, she’s delving headfirst into the construction of “the sonic landscape that is Fana Hues” and aims to embrace intentionality with each artistic choice. Whether or not this is your first introduction to Fana Hues, it won’t be your last.
V MAGAZINE: Hey Fana! Congratulations on the release of your latest single, “Pieces”. I wanted to kick start our chat with a question of how you got started in music but I actually read that you taught yourself to sing with YouTube tutorials. I’ve gotta ask—is that true?
FANA HUES: Mmhmm. (laughs) This was when YouTube was new, right? The days of dial-up internet when it took forever for one video to load. Every day after school during my time on the family computer, I would just play karaoke versions of songs and sing them back and forth, just over and over and over again until I sounded the way that I wanted it to sound. I would listen to the original, like Mariah Carey, after school. I don't know why “You'll Always Be My Baby” is what's coming to my head. I think that I played that one out, that’s why. I would listen to music after school and then find the karaoke version of a song. I used to make karaoke versions of songs, too. It was on this software called WavePad. They sounded horrible. (laughs) It would basically strip the lead vocal, or it would try to, and leave in the background. I would just sing the same song over and over and over and over again until I got kicked off the computer.
V: Wow, you were making your own practice tracks at a young age—iconic. Does music run in your family?
FH: Yeah, so my dad is a multi-instrumentalist, and my mom is actually a dancer. She danced all throughout high school and in college with the band. Then afterwards, she did a lot of West African dance. Now she's a belly dancer and performs at weddings and things.
V: That’s amazing. I’ve seen you dance in some of your music videos, like Yellow. Did you pick up any of the dancing bug from her?
FH: Oh, absolutely. My mom had us in dance class. I took ballet, tap, jazz, modern, all of those things growing up. I also took an African ballet class which was just like a fusion but it was really really really cool. She always made sure that we were moving our bodies as well.
V: Did their musical tastes also rub off on you?
FH: Definitely. My dad is a huge funk and soul man, like through and through. We were always listening to the greats in funk and soul. He loves Prince and that’s just at the top of my head but I mean he has such a broad taste for music. My mom is more neo-soul, more Erykah Badu and Jill Scott, Indie Arie, Les Nubians. But then me and my sisters loved Destiny's Child, Aaliyah, Toni Braxton also pop, like the Backstreet Boys. It was a very wide range of music being played in the house at any given time. My favorite singers growing up usually had a heavier voice because I had a heavier voice growing up. I was like, “oh, if I'm gonna sing, this is what I'm going to sound like.” I leaned towards voices like Nina Simone that just had a deeper tone to them because I saw myself in them.
V: That’s great that you shared music taste with your sisters, though. No fighting over the radio station, I guess!
FH: Yes and we’re nine siblings! I have five little sisters and three older siblings.
V: Wow! How do you feel being one of nine influenced you in your artistry? Did you have to fight to have your voice heard?
FH: Absolutely, because when I was younger and I was in a band with my family, I did backup and definitely was not the focal point of the group. I had to basically fight for my spot musically within the family, but it wasn't anything crazy grueling. They were like “let's see what you can do.” But I pretty much did it on my own. It's not like anyone was pressuring me to find my musical voice. No one was hounding me about it but it's just something that I wanted to do for myself because I come from a large family and it's just naturally competitive. I for sure was fighting for my spot.
V: Yeah, I can only imagine! I actually noticed a lot of your music videos feature you and a group of your girlfriends just enjoying the music, dancing or just vibing to it. And correct me if I'm wrong, but some of the same people appear in all three music videos, right?
FH: Yeah! (laughs) Two of my sisters are in every single one of my music videos and they will continue to be. (laughs) Everybody that’s in my music videos I know very well and personally. I have my sisters in every single one and then my best friend is in all but one. It's really important to me to have people that I feel comfortable around be very hands-on in the process because it's all new to me. Yes, I've been making music for a long time but I hadn't shot a music video until “Icarus”—that was my very first music video. It was really, really good to have the support system that I did have behind the scenes and there with me and on camera with me. It was really, really nice.
V: That’s fantastic. I get the sense that community is super important to you.
FH: Definitely. Very, very, very important to me. Well, because I come from a big family so it’s community and everything. I feel like that’s going to be an ongoing theme throughout my entire career because it’s such a big part of who I am and how I was raised that I can’t imagine myself straying too far away from community. Hues was definitely a collaborative process and project because again, you really can’t do an album by yourself. Some people can, but it's just not the way that I relate to the world. When I write music, I have to do it outside and talking to people and this, that and the third. So it just makes most sense for my music and my visuals and all that I am creatively to be community based. I say that I'm not a hermit creative—I don't and I can't just sit down and import creativity, I have to be out in the world.
V: The dichotomy of your musical process is super interesting because on one hand, it’s very collaborative but then your lyrics are so personal and vulnerable. When do you feel you get your best song ideas?
FH: Honestly, it never happens when I'm sitting down like, “okay, Fana, it's time for you to write a song”. It never happens then. The best song ideas honestly come in conversation, like when I'm just talking to people, and someone will say an idiom that I've never heard before. I'll say “what does that mean?” and then that'll start a snowball effect and eventually might turn into a song. The best source of inspiration is when I'm learning things that I've never learned before.
V: It just flows to you when you're not forcing it.
FH: Exactly. Actually, when I used to nanny, I used to take babies for walks. “snakes x elephants” from my last album—I wrote the whole entire first verse while trying to get this baby to go to sleep. I was just walking him for like, an hour and a half and I just wrote a thing. When I'm not crazy, crazy focused on making music is when the music naturally comes. Sometimes I'll just be driving and freestyling melodies with zero words, just made up words. I'll find the structure of the song in the melody that I'm freestyling and then I'll formulate it and put the lyrics in there afterwards, right? I have maybe 2,000 notes in my phone and some of them are literally just one word. I just pulled one up right now—it says “walk between raindrops”. That might turn into something, I have no idea.
V: Obviously it’s working because you’ve gotten the attention of some big name talents like Tyler, the Creator, collabing on his track “SWEET / I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE”. How did that opportunity come about?
FH: He DMed me on Instagram! I believe his engineer had sent him my music and he totally listened to it and then DMed me on Instagram after he'd been commenting on some of my posts. He commented on some of my posts and then DMed me like “Only two songs?”. I was like, “What is he saying? Like, is he saying he wants more or is he shitting on me right now?” (laughs) But yeah, he pretty much just DMed me and was like, “I really fuck with the music”. He kind of read me, I can't even lie. He was like “You like Erykah Badu, Solange.” He gave a whole list. He just read me through and through, musically, because he said he could hear some references in my music. Then he was like, “if you're in LA, come to the studio. Let me know like when you're in town”. I was like, “I live here. Born and raised”. So then he invited me to the studio. I went to the studio and he was like, “I'm gonna find something for us to work on”. A couple months later, he was like, “I found it! Can you come and listen to it?”. He's genuinely a genius.
V: I feel like it’d be quite a learning experience to work with him as a producer.
FH: Absolutely. I've been a fan forever so it was really amazing to be able to watch him work the way he works, too. And super, super inspiring. I was in the booth and saying one line, I don't even know how many times! Like 50 times—an insane amount. I see him reacting but you can’t really hear anything when you’re in a booth. I see him out there reacting but I’m like, “But they not saying nothing so I gotta keep doing it because this might not be what they’re looking for”. Then he was like, “This is all amazing, I'm using all of this”. I watched him comp the vocals and it just turned into this beautiful chorus. Beautiful. It was just layered very, very meticulously. I was like, “Wow! How did you get that from me while not knowing what you really, really want?!” He gave me creative freedom and was like, “This is the framework, now go crazy. Go do what you do”. I went in there and did what I did but was still doubting it a bit like, “I don’t know if this is what they want”. He knew exactly what he was doing and just snapped his fingers and made that shit happen.
V: Looking ahead now, what is next for you as an artist? Do you have any exciting projects that you're working on that you can share?
FH: Yeah, so I'm almost done with my next project. I'm like, three quarters done. I have all the music, I just need to tighten it up. I feel like I'm taking my time more with this project and I'm being a little more intentional. Everything that I do is intentional, but I feel like I'm being more intentional about even the technicalities of it which I didn't do as much on Hues because I was just in creative mode and just being Fana, just being wild. This project, I'm being intentional in different ways. I feel like the sound—you'll hear it, you'll hear it! I just have more tools at my disposal to really, really zero in and churn this shit out the way that it’s supposed to sound. I hope to go on tour next year. More videos are coming, more visuals. I'm just really zeroing in on my sound and building the sonic landscape that is Fana Hues.
Listen to Fana Hues' new single "Pieces" below: