Monday, 25 May 2009
BY TOPE TEMPLER OLAIYA
IF the Kean University Star Search Award winner of ‘Best Hip-Hop/Rap Performance’ Felicia Babalola, whose stage name is Felyne, had not cultivated her singing instinct early in life, she would have been a celebrated case manager as a psychologist.
She actually studied psychology in college because, as she says, “I like to help people, I like to talk and communicate.”
But following her passion devotedly, Felyne, born to Nigerian parents on March 3, 1984, in Providence, Rhode Island, in the United States, had grown up singing in the church choir since the age of 13.
She, thereafter, joined the Nigerian Association of African Gospel Artistes (NAAGA) and began writing poetry.
Taking her stage name from the cat family, Felidae, which is characteristically active, aggressive, vocal and watchful, this special animal’s personality had inspired her to create a unique and dynamic form of Hip Hop, namely NajHip – a fusion of hip hop and Nigerian music.
Currently in Nigeria to launch herself to the Nigerian audience with her single titled My Baby as well as work on her first album Opposite Twist, Felyne informs that the disconnect encountered with hip hop by youths born of foreign parents but raised in America stirred her to come up with her own genre called the NajHip.
In her words, “I am a rap artiste who has practiced music professionally for three years now. The mission of NajHip is to help music lovers cope with personal life struggles through music, which is why I am working on a collaboration with lot of my close friends like Ayuba and Banky W, to come up with an interesting album and the simple message of the album, Opposite Twist, is to tell everyone who listens that you can do anything you want to do.
“The title says it all, something that is uniquely opposite, there are things on my album people would ask how did I pull that off, can I say these, can I do these? All of these would be found out when the album is out, a fusion of highlife, Afro and hip-hop, all in one, containing songs everyone can relate to. I am going to have a little of everything, including Fuji with Ayuba. People ask me how such collaboration would work out, but that is just a part of my creativity,” she enthused.
Heaping high praise on her mother, who hails from Ondo State, Felyne says her mother stands tall as her pillar of support and inspiration.
“Being raised by my mother and not having a father figure around just showed me that you could do anything you want to do. Most Nigerian parents don’t support music, but my mum had always been there for me from the beginning, she is definitely my idol,” she says.
Not bothered by stage fright, she affirms that she has paid her dues in the music terrain. “I have done a lot of shows that gave me the chest to be on stage and know how it is to be a performer. I have had some performances where I was booed out of stage and I have had performances where people cheered, so it all add up as my learning experience,” she sings.
Besides music, she is a licensed cosmetologist on the side, specialising in hair make-up and skin care.
“I freelance for now, that is why I am able to come to Nigeria back home and promote my music. Apart from pursuing what you believe in, it is always good to have something to fall back on,” Felyne says.
DESPITE living all her life in the United States, she boasts of being 100 per cent Naija. “The only thing that is not Nigerian about me is my accent. I am very much Nigerian, I understand Yoruba though I don’t speak it fluently. My mom always taught us the culture, we cook Nigerian dishes and we wear our native outfit.”
Continuing, Felyne, who intends to further her education to obtain a Master’s degree in Social Work said, “I always wanted to come back and I always wanted to do things that have to do with my culture, I was a leader of an African dance group in college, so, I had always stayed intact with everything Naija.” Looking back to the past, she says she is lucky not to have surmounted so many challenges. “The only challenge I came across was money, because a lot of people have this mentality that if you are living in the United States, there is a tree of money behind your house where you grow dollars.”
Buoyed by the successes of her music idols including Lauryn Hill (for her style) and Kanye West (for his originality), and driven by her passion, she is determined to go all the way in her career path.
“I want to receive all the awards my career could offer. I definitely want to be a legend remembered for creativity, ambition, and uncommon success, because I am definitely in this for the long term. Everybody has a story to tell, no achievement comes easy especially when you are starting out and are barely known. And for any established individual in any field of human endeavour, they will say ‘once upon a time,” Felyne muses.