Felicia Alima's fusion of R&B, hip-hop and world music has the sheen of a big-city urban artist. It would be easy to assume she's from Miami or Harlem rather than Madison and Australia. Her talent and style help put our city on the map as its very own global metropolis (even if it's on the smaller side).
Isthmus spoke recently with Alima, who's nominated for six categories in the Madison Area Music Awards (Barrymore Theatre, May 9), about her songwriting process, her influences and what she's been up to in the recording studio as of late.
Tell us what went into recording your new album, Trade.
I was inspired to write an album about the human-trafficking epidemic after watching the movie Trade. Chino XL had already agreed to collaborate, and we just needed the right track, so I called up [Madison's] DJ Pain 1. The first track he played for me, I immediately connected with it and immediately started singing to it. I then recorded my vocals at Paradyme Productions here in Madison with Jake Johnson. Chino recorded his portion in L.A., and we just mixed his parts in later, which worked perfectly. That's how a lot of collaborative efforts go these days, especially if you're located in different cities - and an "international" artist.
Where in Australia are you from? How do your Aussie roots affect your approach to music?
I was born in Melbourne, Victoria, but I was raised in Perth, Western Australia - where Heath Ledger is from. His cousin and my sister went to their high school prom together.
My Aussie roots definitely affect my music to some degree, but I think more than anything, it's my multicultural background. I'm half Czech and half Indonesian, born and raised in Australia and now living in the States. In other words, I have a lot of influences to talk about.
What are some of your musical influences, then?
If I had to sum up my style in one word it would be "international." I've recently done a couple of crossover songs with Latin artists, where I sing in English and they rap in Spanish, and I'm working with a rock artist right now.
When it comes to musical influences specifically, it's also mixed. I grew up listening to Kenny Rogers, the Beatles, Boney M, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. In my teens, favorite artists were 2Pac, B.I.G., SWV, TLC and Mary J. Blige. Nowadays I listen to more contemporary stuff like Craig David and Goapele, but I also enjoy rock groups like Evanescence, and I'm especially interested in electro after becoming a fan of Sneaky Sound System, an Australianband.
How did you make the leap from musician to recording artist?
My father was a musician, so I grew up listening to him sing and play the guitar. He bought my first guitar for me when I was just 5 years old, but unfortunately, he passed when I was 7. That drove me to take guitar lessons in primary school. Then, in high school, I really started concentrating more on the singing aspect.
I teamed up with a DJ/producer when I was 15, and we created a hip-hop group called Crazy Mad Flavour. We recorded our material in a home studio and performed at all-ages hip-hop events around Perth. Then, when I was 17, I started recording material on my own.
In 2002, I moved to the U.S. and started dabbling in DJing and mixing. In 2005, after a heartfelt breakup with my boyfriend, I started pouring out lyrics. Over a year, I recorded a five-song EP [The Way We Do], which felt liketherapy on wax. I didn't expect anything else from it, but then the song "Leavin' Here Tonight" got picked up by a commercial radio station in my hometown. Now it's three years later, and I've released a full-length album [Know Me], worked with platinum producers who've worked with the likes of 2Pac, Dr. Dre, Eminem and the Pussycat Dolls, won four MAMAs and collaborated with industry artists such as Big Sloan and Chino XL.
How do you get ideas for your songs?
I usually get song ideas from dreams, aspirations, personal interests, personal experience or experiences that someone else close to me has had. Also, if a track has a particular sound to it, it's going to put me in a particular mood, and from there I will start vibing and writing to it. That's the beauty of songwriting: You just don't know where it's going to take you.