We spoke to CHIC singer Folami about her background and career, her brand new single 'Four to the Floor', and what's in store for the future...
Download 'Four to the Floor' here, or on Spotify and Apple Music.
Yesterday you had your secret gig, was that performing CHIC songs, were you doing a normal set? What was it like for you?
It was a normal set. It was amazing - very intimate, and the energy was so electric. CHIC is moving into the next step of our career as a band, and Nile Rodgers is moving into the next phase of his career as well, so you could feel the electricity in the room and the energy. To be honest, I realise now that not only is Nile Rodgers’ record label here in London but this is his city. I mean for us to sell out the O2 arena – massive!! So now we’re stepping into the new phase, and you could feel it last night.
We want to hear a bit more about you: what your musical upbringing was like, and what brought you to the stage you are at now with your career as a singer?
My mother created her own school when she realised that the public school system in California was not giving children like me what they needed. All the way through the arts was very important so our school basically travelled and performed ever since I was a kid. I’ve studied music, African dance, Tai-Chi – you name it, I’m just all over the place.
I went to Howard University in Washington DC and studied musical theatre under some amazing professors that basically taught a lot of stars, so my foundation stepped up a notch. From there, I had a teacher who was dating the lead singer of CHIC, and once I finished school, CHIC needed a sub. So I was the choice and I’ve basically been with CHIC ever since. And basically...Nile gave me life! The disco movement just bona fide and solidified what I came here to do, and what I enjoy most. I just had to find that sweet spot in music for me.
Now I’ve released my first single 'Four to the Floor' and I’m really excited about it because it’s just everything that I just said, all into one. It’s my first baby. I’ve been doing everything myself. I was able to score a producer who turned out to be my boyfriend, and my best friend turned into my songwriter! I just organically put all these things together, worked on a new project and it came out really awesome.
You can totally hear that in your new track, this looking forward looking backward kinda thing.
Yes - I had to really research and find other voices like myself and other sounds that really relate to my background. My dad introduced me to afro-cuban jazz, all these different sounds and I studied African dance – my rhythm section in me is a whole lot different and it definitely comes back to what I said – Nile gave me life cause I now hear all these influences with the music that you don’t necessarily hear in other songs.
It’s really cool. I love it and I’m really glad that I was able to find my sound. So I studied and I listened to of course Off The Wall; Quincy Jones, hands down, is amazing. I studied Marvin Gaye. So I really listened to 'Rockin' After Midnight' from the Midnight Love album. It’s epic.
Is it an inkling as to what we can expect from the album?
Yeah, it’s just the beginning of where it’s about to go.
So you’ve worked with Lester, that’s your producer and boyfriend, and McKenzie Frye who is also your friend. Is there anyone that you want to collaborate with on the album?
For this album I’m just gonna work with the core people that I started with. So we can really build the sound that we’ve been working on and display it for you. I have a record that’s gonna be out soon with Felix da Housecat.
In terms of other people I would wanna work with…Bruno Mars, Mark Ronson, Pharrell Williams, Cee-Lo Green…there’s quite a few! Raphael Saadiq. What he did for Solange was amazing, it’s totally her sound, I think that’s the best record she’s ever done, hands down, and I think he really found her voice.
Did you see her at Glastonbury?
Yes and we saw her at the White House earlier this year! Amazing. So sweet. Very very talented.
Talking of Glastonbury, we got to see you there, what was that like for you?
It gives me chills for you to bring it up. It’s what I call the bucket list, and it’s the bucket list I didn’t know I had. Nile Rodgers, again, thank you. He has bought things to my attention that I wasn’t even aware that I wanted to do. I mean 250,000 people literally at once? It’s crazy. I enjoyed myself tremendously. I’m giving you my all every single time and Glastonbury got it aaaalll!
What else have you got lined up?
We’re coming back over to England for New Year’s Eve, to perform on Jools Holland’s Hootenanny!
So where do you see disco music going, and how do you see CHIC’s role within that, as it’s becoming a big revival at the minute?
It’s totally a revival. Nile Rodgers helped with making sure that people understand what disco music is about with ‘Good Times’. That right there is going to always be new and fresh. What president, what Brexit – what anything, you’re gonna have good times.
And that’s why the LGBT community grabbed a hold onto it because they’re going through a whole lot and they need to feel good and enjoy themselves and just live through the times, good and bad. So going into bridging the gap into now what’s happening with music today – you know, why not? It will never get old, so I think it’s smart to take this era cause it’s a feel good song.
What do you think of London?
Well I know that the weather’s not always so pleasing, but the energy and the warmth that we get…like meeting you guys - it’s been amazing to have some of the people that I’ve met still stick with us and still keep in contact, so when we come here we have loads of things to do! So I really enjoy London. When people say ‘ If you had one place in the world where would you live’, like I could probably live in London! You kinda wanna go where you’re wanted. You wanna go where the work is at, you wanna go where people are energised and happy to see you. So London is that place for me.
So is home Atlanta for you?
I’ve been there since college, but I’m a Cali girl at heart, from the Bay area. So it’s been different being in Atlanta even just going to school in DC. Cause I basically went from California to Washington DC to Atlanta. I like the music vibes because they play trap and all the Southern music sounds, but Atlanta is a growing metropolis. It’s a place where they have all kinds of movies, TV shows and businesses from around the world that were based in different places and now they’re based in Atlanta. And now we have this new growing metropolis of entertainment, TV and film so it’s becoming a real cool place. The vibe is getting really nice.
As well as your own album, you’ve also been working on CHIC’s first release in 25 years - It’s About Time - is it still called that?
It’s About Time!! Nile Rodgers has done it again!! Who would call their record It’s About Time?? That is such a phrase that you just live off! You could say that everywhere and it could have so many different meanings. That’s what I loved about working so closely with Nile is that he finds these phrases that people have never thought about and just make it epic! That’s exactly what he’s saying, ‘It’s about time I put this record out’ – you know what I mean?
What can we expect?
Well that’s a good question…cause this is Nile Rodgers we’re talking about and he doesn’t let anybody know about it! Let me tell you something about his recording style that I really enjoy. First of all is, you can go and record with him and never hear the song, and you’ll never hear the song after you leave. You won’t know how it goes, cause of how he records it! So basically he just gives you the lyric, and he just asks you to repeat that one line like 100 times and you just keep repeating.
The work then gets switched over to the engineer – that’s who puts the song together. The engineers are… those guys are badass, do you hear me? O-M-G. So to answer your question, I’ve recorded so many different parts of songs, I don’t even know what’s what!
We know you’re a fashionista - what’s the story of your style?
First of all I’m the youngest of five children (4 girls, 1 boy) so I wore hand me downs - I had some of the baddest sisters that wore some of the baddest stuff. Then my father at some point started buying me boy clothes from the vintage store, like hats and mens jackets and stuff. So I started wearing the clothes and people were like “girl where are you going, what are you doing, who do you think you are?” and I was like “my Daddy got me this, what do you mean?!”. So now you have me in High School and in college, I was always doing my own thing.
So now, in CHIC, I basically help sort out a lot of the clothes, now we have a bonafide amazing designer Karen Binns (from What Magazine), so I’m not gonna take the credit for the shows for the last 3 years or anything. But I’ve been making sure we have a really nice presence on stage and our silhouettes are amazing.
My style is now very 70s/early 80s inspired, it kind of goes with my music, I’ve always been a vintage girl. Fortunately for me, I’ve just been a person able to wear anything, any style, so because I came from the theatre too I always live in these characters because I love the theatre and I have just always loved transforming.
Also, because I’m in CHIC you gotta pay homage, you gotta really go there, you just can’t be on stage and look like some R&B Queen, like no! CHIC was chic, CHIC was the reason why, especially in America, people got dressed up to go to the club, all of these things and Studio 54, that whole era! I love that, all those things matter and I take those things very seriously, so I’m so happy because this is the perfect band for me to be a part of you know?
What are your plans with Folluminati?
Folluminati is my company it is basically gonna house everything that comes from my brand. Having them use me as an example one day, these kids can say “well Folami did this”. I want that for people, and that’s what Folluminati LLC is, so that’s what my company is, it’s my beginnings.
So what’s the plan with your shirts and have you got any over in England?
Yes I actually have shirts with me now here. The shirts were just the beginning of being able to spread the word, and infect people with understanding who I am. So my first shirt that came was my Folami trademark definition, my t-shirt is basically the definition of my name and I wanted to find myself one, because I have a name that sounds like ‘salami’ and that’s what most people hear when I say my name, most people in America when I grew up - that’s what people wanted to make fun of me with. The other things is that my name has a specific meaning, it’s Nigerian, Yoruba, and it means ‘respect and honour me’, and that’s what everyone needs to be, have respect and have honour because you really can’t do too much if you don’t have respect for something, someone, or a thing. So the shirt is my definition, it’s the beginning of defining who I am, so that people understand when they hear Nile Rodgers say ‘Folami’, it’s a way for them to grab hold of it and really learn the meaning of it.
The second shirt I put out was a signature shirt, it’s just one of those things that you see in store and it’s just really subtle. So Nile Rodgers was able to wear it on stage during a BIIIG moment, I wasn’t even expecting him to. He brings the shirt to the Duran Duran one-time one-off show at the Budokan. Now Nile hasn’t been to the Budokan since Bernard passed away. Funny enough Simon LeBon and one of his engineers, and also bandmate Richard Hilton, were all there that same night when Bernard passed, so it was a real spiritual weird moment. So for him to have the shirt on when he went on stage with Duran Duran I was like “WHAAT?!”, even though you couldn’t necessarily see it because it’s so subtle, it really meant a lot to me and I wasn’t expecting it. And now that shirt has taken off - thank you Nile!
Then the last shirt is basically the cover of my new single, so I thought you know what, let’s go ahead and make it a shirt, if you love it that much let’s do it. I kinda put it out altogether because I had already let other people hear it and everything so I decided that’s what I was gonna do. So that was the beginning of Folluminati LLC, there’s so much more to come!
That’s kind of where I live now, finally owning who I become and what I’ve learned, and I thank you guys too for interviewing me because it makes me think about all of the things I’ve done in my life and always being humble, and inspired by other people, and to really really push and give back where I’ve received.
Folami's new track 'Four to the Floor' is now available to download and stream on Spotify or Apple Music.