Interview conducted for Jefferson magazine by Mike Stephenson in October 2013 in Starkville, Mississippi.
I was born in a little small town about twenty minutes from here called Crawford, Mississippi and I got into the music business doing hip hop with my brothers that had a hip hop group. The group was called Crawford Boyz and they were under the management of Clarence Weatherspoon. At the time he used to play with the New York Knicks but he is retired now. At the time I was living in Germany and when I came back to the States they had their group so they asked me if I would sit in. We went to the studio in Canton, Mississippi and we recorded about six songs in one day and that was in 2003 and 2004, and I travelled with them until 2007 and then in 2008 I left them and went back to church. For my first and foremost I got my start in church when I was a little girl singing in the Sunday choir. My musical background foundation comes from the church period and then in my later years I ended up with hip hop and then after hip hop, in 2008, I went out on my own as Falisa JaNaye and here I am today talking to you.
Other members of the family that are into music are my daddy’s brother, he sings and raps and writes and he also produces. My older brother, he sings and he writes and he is also a producer. They all do it for a hobby, I do it for a living. I was featured on six songs that my brothers recorded in the Crawford Boyz. They have a CD out and it was called The Crawford Boyz Jamz’. I had ‘Falling’, ‘Butt Naked’ and remember this was hip hop and I was twenty four/ twenty five years old. I was just a little hook girl, there were six guys on stage and I was the only female. One of the songs was ‘Love Me’ and I re wrote it and I called it ‘Can’t Nobody’ and it is basically the same song.
With the Crawford Boyz I travelled to Miami, once to New York, Chicago and I met many hip hop artists such as Mary J. Blige, P Diddy and you name them in the hip hop market and I met them and performed with a lot of those people. It was a successful band and we were a family band, all siblings and cousins, so it made it easier for all of us to work together. That’s where I got my training from, is from hip hop. Now I run my whole own corporation, my own business, just me myself. I learnt a lot by watching them.
The reason I changed from hip hop to soul/ blues is that I grew up. I matured a lot. Being a wife and a mother, my life changed so my style of music, the writing changed, my thinking changed and as I started to develop more in motherhood and I started seeing things in a different perspective and not taking things for granted, I decided that I really wanted to do this music thing. So I put myself on a homework path and I started to do researches to try and understand blues music and get as much history as I could. Hip hop was a passion and it was a hobby but I didn’t take it seriously, but I loved the money that I was getting paid in hip hop. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night you are making $900 a night and for me that was a lot of money. I decided that I wanted to be my own person and I created Falisa JaNaye in 2009 and here I am.
The one thing I had working for me when I came into soul/ blues was the experience I had in hip hop. In hip hop you used to look like this and sound like that. In real grown folks music they wanted you to look like this and sound like that and they accepted me so well in the soul/ blues market, they have shown me so much love and by me being younger, I brought my style to soul/ blues and they were mesmerised and they embraced me. That wild hair do and that crazy make up and those crazy wardrobes, and I didn’t sound like a real blues singer. The radio jocks got my music and they played it because it had a twist, it had an upbeat, a little Michael Jackson, a little Whitney Houston. I was trying to put the hip hop influence behind me and at that time I didn’t have a name. When I came over to soul/ blues I did ‘U Won’t Miss Yo Water’ that was written by Larome Powers, he is out of Memphis. What I did, because the soul/ blues scene is so competitive, I did something that the people in the soul/ blues world weren’t doing. I shot a video to it and by me being so young in the soul/ blues industry, I did a lot of research to find out who had a video out and what I needed to do and what I didn’t need to do. So when I did the video no one in the soul/ blues market was doing videos at that time other than the pictures on You Tube and that took me to being right here today. The video went places to where I may never perform the song. It went worldwide and it went global. We released the video in 2009 and I’m still feeding off of that song, I still get booked off that song.
I then put out a CD called ‘Sweet Love’ in 2010 and it has a list of songs, some I wrote and some by Mr. Sam, he is out of Memphis and he also produced most of the songs. He taught me how to sing in the studio. I learnt a lot from working with Larome Powers and Mr. Sam, both great producers. I recorded the CD in Memphis at Willie Mitchell’s recording studio and ‘U Won’t Miss Your Water’, ‘Sweet Love’, ‘Tonight Is The Nite’ and ‘Can’t Nobody’ was recorded there. The other songs, some were recorded in Atlanta and some in Memphis with Archie Love. The CD is doing very well indeed. That CD came out on MiLaJa Records and I signed with MiLaJa Records in 2009 and the label is out of Jackson, Tennessee. The label has also had releases on Mr. Sam and other artists and Mr. Sam was with them when I came on board. He found me in Memphis at the WDIA Juke Joint tour for Bobby O Jay and he introduced me to Jazzii Anderson from the label and we talked and I signed with them and we put out that CD.
I’ve also done a ‘Best Of F.J.’ two box set for my fans. I added my ‘Christmas Song’ in there and I also added ‘I Got You’ and ‘You Are Not The One’ from my hip hop days. So the fans can get different style of Falisa JaNaye and that was released in 2012. There are four videos on the release as well. The ‘U Won’t Miss Yo Water’ video that was the very first one I put out and it’s talking about the typical thing about if you don’t get yourself together I’m going to have to let you go. The ‘Sweet Love’ video on there is more r&b and it’s talking about loving and being in love and being happy. The ‘Party 4 Southern Soul’ video is a blues with a little r&b and hip hop influence. I wanted to try something new on this one with a more funky sound and groove and it’s a party song. The fourth video on there, ‘Can’t Nobody’ is just talking about loving that man so much and can’t nobody love me like him.
I’m recording another CD and I plan to call it ‘Back To Love’ and it may be on Webber Entertainment label, that is my new label and it is my label. We have just released two videos ‘Swing Step Song’ and ‘Back To Love’. We shot those two videos in July for those songs and they can be found on You Tube and my web site falishajanaye.com. For the new CD I recorded some in Memphis and I have a new single from that called ‘Can U Stand Up N It’. I recorded some songs in Columbus, Mississippi and also some in Atlanta. I worked with three different producers on this project. The material some comes from me, some from my brother in Christ and his name is Ajaye he wrote some numbers and Mike Hall he wrote some tracks. In collaboration with Walter Waiters I have a singing duet on ‘We’re Going Swinging Tonight’.
My main working area and my busiest area is Florida and I’ve just got back from Daytona Beach and I was on a show with Mel Waiters, Sir Charles Jones and Bigg Robb and I was the only female on that show. I do Mississippi a lot, Atlanta a lot and I do Texas a lot. I go to so many different places. If I’m not driving I’m flying. In July 2013 I was in Italy for the Poretta Soul Festival. That was a wonderful experience for me, the people over there were beautiful to me. I was there a week.
I have my own company which is Webber Entertainment. I don’t have a booking agency I’m currently not assigned to an independent or major record label so I have my own SJ Music which is my own record label and I have my own booking agency company which is Webber Entertainment. So I run my own business. I answer the phone, I book my dates and do everything for myself; there is no middle man so there is no ten per cent. I take care of Falisa JaNaye, everything from travelling to stage management. I’m Webber Entertainment until the hair go up, the make up go on, and the wardrobe go on, and when you put the microphone in my hand, at that moment I am Falisa JaNaye. It was hard work when I first got started but now it’s like second nature because I have been doing it for two years by myself. I’ve built my own website along with Mike Hall’s help.
I have had to learn how to be independent and an artist. I still have to be mum as I’m still a mother. It was hard at the beginning but when I went through that transition in the first year, it has been smooth sailing since. I wouldn’t take anything back and change it if I had to. My contract with MiLaJa Records has come to an end two years ago. I had to have some independence with the whole Falisa JaNaye thing and I wanted to start my own business and run my own business because now I am starting to work with other artists and bringing them under my company. I have Ajaye, Gracie Love and Lacie Love and Little Scrappy, they are children, I’m working with children, they are my nieces and nephews. I don’t wanna work with grown ups right now. Most of them sing and they dance. Maybe next year I may have a DVD to release on them.
I am currently an ex model. When I was in Europe I modelled for Total Transformation, Miss Carol, and she can be found on that company’s web site. I loved it and that’s when I got introduced to make up and doing your hair different ways and your wardrobe. Because before that I was a tomboy. I didn’t wear make up and I just wore my hair in a ponytail and I only wore sweat and T shirts. So I learnt how to be a model through Miss Carol and a young man named Roland Wilkins. I did it for two years until I left Germany. They tried to get me to stay but I wanted to go home. I was in Germany at that time because my husband was in the military and stationed there. I was working in day care and I quit that job to model because the money was good. My picture was on billboards in Frankfurt and it was fascinating to see me come from beast to beauty. It was a lot of fun, I learnt how to walk in heels and all that kinda stuff. I was just a face they picked out from the crowd, I didn’t have to go to modelling school and it worked to my advantage and it got me into the music business. I was in Germany from 2000 to 2003. I was there when 9/11 happened.
Over the years in my musical career I have been on stage with so many other artists such as Denise LaSalle, Bobby Rush, Fantasia, Karen Wolfe, T. K. Soul, Willie Clayton, Sweet Angel, Archie Love, The Duchess, Mr, Sam, Mel Waiters, Sir Charles Jones, Bigg Robb, Shirley Brown, there are so many and I learnt a lot from each and every last one of them.
I have my own band and it is a three piece, but the majority of the time I take a one piece because we put all the music in the board and it all depends when they call me and ask me about my one man band so when I explain to them and I get to the gig and see it they like it. All the music is in the keyboard which is programmed and my musician plays the drums but then if I just want to do acapella he will come down with the bass guitar and stand by me and we will do it that way, so we give a little bit of everything on stage and the drummer also sings. A couple of weeks back I was on the same bill as Fantasia and Karen Wolfe and they were impressed how we did that.
Being a woman in the music industry has been easy for me as I came from ip hop and when I came to the soul/ blues world I did my homework and came with a video. I released my song and put my video right behind it and that put me above very quickly because within a matter of months I was recognised to be nominated for the Blues Critic Awards. But because I didn’t have a strong name out there as it is out there now, it became challenging at times to get booked because when you are new in the business they think you don’t know. The only time it got kinda hard for me was when I first left the record label MiLaJa records. For the first four to six months I struggled because I didn’t have a lot of contacts. The record label had done most things for me so that was a struggle. In those six months I put myself on another homework task and once I did that and released ‘Can’t Nobody’ and then people started to be aware of me and said that I was back. Everything has been a learning process.
Looking back now there were a lot of tears shed and there was a lot of laughter. Six or seven months rolled by and my dates started to pick up and people started calling so I thought I had gained my independence and had arrived. Music is now my job full time because I run my own company, there is no one else sitting behind the desk. I print flyers, I design my own stuff and I love it. For me I am booked for most of the year so I work constantly. There has never been a whole month where I haven’t worked. If there is something I don’t want to do I won’t do it but I work constantly. My new single, ‘Can U Stand Up N It’ is doing well and I want to take it beyond Southern soul. It’s a female copycat version of the Theodis Ealey song. In the summer months I work every weekend and that may start on Fridays and sometimes Thursday because I do casinos too. I also do a lot of hosting. I host a lot of parties so when I’m not performing on stage I’m hosting. Hosting is like being an MC. If you have a programme and you want to hire someone to come in to announce the artist and to keep the audience calmed down that would be me. I laugh and crack jokes on stage until the next act comes on that I introduce. I do that everywhere. I write my own contract and there is money in hosting like $500. It also gives me an opportunity to connect with people and sell myself as well, its just another avenue for me.