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Interview

Fana Hues Is California’s Everlasting R&B Singer

By Donna-Claire Chesman on

Fana Hues knows how to spin a story. Inspired by Nina Simone, Dionne Warwick, Anita Baker, Beyoncé, and more R&B legends, the California native pours her soul into every last word—and note—of her music. While naysayers and the uninformed bemoan the death of R&B, Hues delivers the self-titled Hues collection, a marvel of ingenuity that spans 10 soaring tracks.

Fana Hues, one of nine children, lost her voice for nearly five years. A combination of scarlet fever, tonsillitis, and strep throat stood in the way of Hues becoming the next voice of a generation. The now-25-year-old weathered the ultimate storm to get to her formal debut.

Hues begins on an honest note, literally. The first moments of opener “Slippin” sound like a placid jam session before Fana Hues enters atop a chunky bassline and the song picks up the pace to develop a classic, bluesy body. Not too formed, though. “Slippin” is an exercise in self-expression with no expectations and provides a raw look into Hues’ ethos as a singer.

The rest of the tunes on Hues are more traditional in structure. “Desert Flower” is a ballad so tender it almost feels wrong to peer so deeply into her world. The gentle picking and Fana Hues’ near-piercing tones summon a wellspring of tears. The writing is simple and aching. Each image is poignant and given room to coil around us.

Fana Hues does not overstuff her music. Hues evolves song over song into a highly emotive—and effective—listen. Hues goes beyond exposing the perks of vulnerability to understanding the necessity of discomfort in order to grow. She rose once, and she’ll rise again—Fana Hues proves herself to be everlasting.

Let’s start with family: How did your upbringing shape your love of music?

My dad is a multi-instrumentalist, and when we were young, he had us in a family band. He trained my ear. He trained me on how to listen for harmonies from, literally, birth. I know we sounded horrible. But he gave me the foundation of musicality and helped me find music in things I normally wouldn’t.

My step-dad, he was a DJ, and he had a bunch of records. A lot of old soul records and a lot of old Jamaican records. A lot of rare Bob Marley records.

My mom put me in violin, and I stuck with it for nine years, and classical guitar. I don’t remember a time when music wasn’t the focus in my household. It was always being played, or I was dancing—my mom’s a dancer. Music has been so natural for so long; I don’t know anything else, really.

When did you find your voice? Or realize you could sing?

It happened gradually. I was always losing my voice, so they always had me singing really low in the harmonies. I was singing alto, and then when I got to sixth grade, we did a talent show. It was the first time I sang in front of people without my family. Everybody kept coming up to me, all the teachers and staff, like, “Oh, my God!” That’s when I was like, “Oh, I can actually sing.”

You’re an incredible storyteller. Where did your love of writing come from?

My middle school English teacher, all three years of middle school, used to push me to write poetry. She entered my poems in some competitions, and I won one for Black History Month. I remember reciting it in front of everybody at my school. [My teacher] would give me writing prompts that were interesting, and they came easily to me. My sister would read stories to me or give me books to read. My mom would give books to me. I like songwriting, playwriting, screenplays. All the things! It’s an interesting way to convey emotion: storytelling.

Hues is gorgeous and very emotionally bare. When did you become comfortable with your vulnerability?

I don’t know that I absolutely am, completely… Yet! I’ve been a part of this non-profit called Aim4TheHeart for most of my life. We study emotional literacy through art. The topic this week is family, so everyone has to write a piece on family. So, for the majority of my life, I’ve been digging deep to write pieces. That’s the only reason I can write the way I do. I’m not sure if I’m fully ready to let the whole world know what goes on in my head, but I’m putting music out! This is my first time putting anything out. I don’t know how I feel… Well, I’m anxious and excited.

I also read that Hues was made over time and not in one burst. Can you walk me through that timeline?

Notice Me,” I wrote five years ago, actually. It happened by accident. I wasn’t supposed to have that beat; it was for someone else. The producer walked across the street to get some coffee, and I wrote the song and recorded it on his computer while he was gone. When he got back, he was like, “Okay, you can have it.”

You’re a superstar.

It was crazy! “snakes x elephants,” I wrote three years ago, and it took me a year to finish that song. It was intense to me and was very specific to that relationship I was in. When I’m going through something, it takes me a while to process my emotions and then write.

I did a lock-in a year and a half ago, for two weeks, with just me, my manager, my songwriting partner, and my producer. For two weeks, we sat in my manager’s living room and created about 10 songs. We ended up with six we liked. Then, this past summer, I had to re-record a lot of things on my own in my apartment, in my closet. That was the last, finishing touches hurrah. It’s been a process; it was not rushed at all. I do everything with intention, so I wanted everything to feel like that.

Hues stands in direct opposition of all the out-of-touch people claiming R&B is suffering or dead. What would you say to those folx?

For me, R&B is the foundation of pop music today. It could never be dead! It’s like saying music itself is dead. It makes no sense. All the singers out today have studied Whitney Houston in some way, or classic R&B singers, like Anita Baker. You can see the influence of R&B across so many different genres; there’s no way it can be dead. I wanted to show, too, all the ways singers of my past have influenced me. Also, hold up a mirror and show other people how they influenced their sound as well.

After losing your voice and now coming back with this incredible body of work, how much of your life is shaped by the notion of gratitude?

Hm… Like, 70 percent? I have so much gratitude for my voice. No one could hear me [when I talked]. My middle name means “patience rewarded.” I’ve been patient my entire life, and I’m starting to reap the benefits of that patience, finally. I’m forever grateful for that because it has shaped who I am and the way I move throughout the world. Everything has a time limit, so if you’re not grateful, you’re gonna miss it.

Photos by Drew Robinson (main) and Amira Hadiya (vertical).

InterviewFana HuesCaliforniaR&B