Name: Fana Hughes
Place of birth: Pasadena, California, United States
Occupation: Singer, songwriter
Fana, as a singer-songwriter and musician, what does success look like for you?
I think the ultimate success for me would be to make music for the rest of my life. And to have the freedom to do that. I've been making music for forever, you know, people always ask me, “When did you start singing?” And it's been since I was two! But to make music, and to have the freedom to make music are completely different things. I get to do this as my career. And when you have that freedom, the music comes out in a different way. You're not worried about survival, you can just create freely, doors that you didn't even know were there are open.
And you feel that freedom now?
I feel like I'm on the brink of that freedom! (Laughs) As of literally, like, last week, you know? I'm still chipping away at the block like I always have been. Growing up, my dad taught me and all my siblings how to sing, he trained our ear from a very early age. My mom’s a dancer as well, and she put me in violin lessons, my sisters took flute, my brother took cello. There literally wasn’t a time where I wasn’t surrounded by music, even if it wasn’t conscious. I think it conditioned me to think of or relate to everything in the world in a musical sense.
“Music is just part of the fabric of our lives. It’s like drinking water; it’s just who we are.”
That actually sounds like a wonderful way to see the world.
It’s a great thing, it’s the best thing about my character. I don’t know any other way to see things, because everyone in my family was also on the same path as me. My family were all members of a band, and that’s what we did on the weekends! Even if we didn’t have a show or rehearsals, me and my siblings were the kids who brought a boombox to school with mix CDs or stuff we downloaded on Limewire, you know? Music is just part of the fabric of our lives, I’ve sang at countless funerals, gatherings… I don’t remember being at any social event or party where we didn’t have a microphone. It’s like drinking water; it’s just who we are.
Most of your family also appeared in the music video for your song “Notice Me,” right?
Almost everyone! I’m just missing one sister in the video. But yeah, that's my family. I had that song for years and I always knew that it would be instrumental and that I’d need a full band to back it up. I really wanted to have all my people in it so I can just let people know I'm stepping, you know what I mean? This is where I come from, these are my roots. They’ve made me who I am, and even something like watching my parents follow their passions and never compromise on what makes them happy — that was the best advice they could give me.
Being raised in this musical family, did it take some time for you to branch out and come into your own as an artist?
Yeah, definitely. Growing up, I sang in the background! I had the lowest note, you know, I was not the Beyoncé of the group. So when it got to middle school and I was the one that really stuck with music and taught myself to really sing and find my voice. It wasn’t about my family and the music I was making with everyone else anymore. I was very focused on myself in that time, so that when I got to high school, it was like the grand reveal! (Laughs) I did musical theater in high school, I was in The Wiz and I invited everyone to my show… That was the moment when I feel like everyone saw me for me, and not just as someone doing backup vocals for my brother’s songs.
Were you nervous?
Yes! I mean, it was just completely new, and also I didn't have the support of my sisters next to me. So I was scared but I also was very excited because it was like… This is me. At the time, finding out how I sound and what feels best for me… It was really, really, really important for me to have something that I could call my own, nobody can take this from me. I’ve also realized that the most important thing to me when it comes to music is my voice. And it’s very fragile, I used to lose my voice a lot when I was a kid so I know that it can be here today, gone tomorrow, quite literally.
As a child, you went through a long period of losing your voice due to stress from different illnesses… Do you think that experience has given you a new respect or gratitude for music because you know what it’s like to live without it?
Oh, it really did. It’s also shown me that I don't like wasting my time! I know that I can lose my voice really quickly, even now, my voice is suffering today because I was talking a lot yesterday. It’s fragile, so I don't like singing on things that not right for me or not what I mean. I'm very particular about the things that I lend myself to because my voice sometimes still feels borrowed. I’m very grateful for it.
Do you ever worry it will happen again in such a severe way?
You know what, it did happen recently, at the beginning of quarantine when I was working on my album. I open my mouth and I just can’t even say anything! Obviously I got better, but it really put things back into perspective that nothing lasts forever. Singing is the way I communicate with the world, it’s the way I’m going to leave my mark… That’s what I hope to do, so I really have to take care of it.
“When you write something that no one else could write, it hits different. It feels like completion. It’s creating something that can only come from you.”
And what about songwriting? Do you also think about it in that deep, personal way?
Well, when you write something that no one else could write, it hits different. It feels like completion… I don't know, I don't know the exact words. And at my core, I feel a lot of things, I’m very tuned in. I’m a very sensitive person. There's a soundtrack to each moment of trauma in my life, there's a soundtrack to each beautiful moment and all the best summers that I've ever had. Songwriting is the best because it’s creating something that can only come from you. And I feel really good about the songwriter and artist I am now, it’s a really good starting point to introduce myself to the world.
If this is the starting point, then what comes next?
I guess it just becomes more polished, more well thought out. I’ve learned that trusting myself is my best tool, so I hope I’m going to trust myself more. I’m still growing every minute and I do have a vision of where I’m going to be in the next years, and I can’t wait to get there.