FALANA Discusses ‘Rising EP’ and her Nigeria & Toronto Roots

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FALANA is here to bless the world with her smooth, sultry vocals and feel-good vibrations. Hailing from Canada, the Nigerian singer-songwriter makes her mark with her standout braid pom-poms, recognizable from afar and most definitely on social media. Beyond her music, the rising star prides herself in her ability to express herself, with hopes of disrupting the one-dimensional view of women that’s constantly being pushed.

Most recently, FALANA released her critically-acclaimed new EP titled Rising, spearheaded by lead single “Joy.” Beyond her strong stance on women empowerment, FALANA shares her own personal experiences of self-love, relationships, career goals, and everything in between. The 7-track project is perfect if you need a pick-me-up, or simply looking for a breath of fresh air in the music industry. 

Flaunt caught up with FALANA via FaceTime, who was posted in Lagos after wrapping a radio interview. Read below as we discuss her name, roots in Toronto, her sound, new Rising EP, the cover art, her signature hair, love for fashion, what joy means to her, studio essentials, her forthcoming album, and more!

FALANA, how do you pronounce your name?

In Yoruba, the pronunciation is FAH-lah-naoh, which means “God prepares the way.” But people pronounce it FA-LA-NA. 

What was it like growing up in Toronto?

Toronto’s cool. I actually grew up in a suburb of Toronto called Brampton. I have 2 brothers so I was a super active tomboy, and I loved and played competitive soccer up until I finished high school. Brampton is very multicultural, and has a strong south asian community so I could go from singing bollywood hits, then listening to dancehall records with my Jamaican friends, then going home to listen to Yoruba gospel songs all in one day!

How would you describe your sound?

On this project specifically, I found the perfect balance of all of the different influences in my life. You can hear the Naija vibe, the Afrobeats as they call them, but you can also hear the soul and some dancehall influences. You can hear a bit of pop, especially in “Paper Planes.” You also can hear the R&B, but it still sounds like me. I know every artist says this, “Oh my sound is so authentic.” [laughs] But I am really, really confident and believe that I found something that’s so authentically myself and unique.

The process of making this EP was different from my last EP, which was a lot more organic. I produced and wrote all the songs on the Chapter One EP. The  Rising  EP is a lot more of a collaborative affair. I worked with other producers. Dale Virgo in Jamaica, he did “Casanova” and “Electric Lady.” Lord Quest in Toronto did “Paper Planes”, Davey O another friend of mine did “Sweet Adetola.” TBoy, who worked with Burna Boy on his African Giant album, made “Wishing on a Star.” Then this wicked kid named Tyler Richards from Boston did “Energy,” it’s his first ever record. I went to London and met a producer, met a producer from Lagos, met a producer from Jamaica, met a producer from Toronto. It was very much that process of exploring and discovery. 

When did you realize that you could do music for a living? Was there a turning point at all?

I was always performing but I think it’s more when did I get the courage to quit my job and pursue music full time? I decided I wanted to be a full-time artist after reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, but I wasn’t really thinking about making money, but more just more pursuing a dream, I guess you could say. I was on the subway going to work in Toronto and he was talking about 10K hours and I started to think “I’m behind. If I’m going to do this thing I need to really do it.” That’s when I started trying to perform more in Toronto. I also thought I needed to become a better musician so moved to Cuba to learn the piano. But the turning point was when I moved to Nigeria where I started organizing and selling out my own shows, releasing music, and making a living from my music.

Your Rising EP is out now, how are you feeling?

I feel amazing because the response has been epic. Everyone says “This is fire, this is good.” It’s really rewarding. But I am also just relieved because I felt like there was a lot of waiting when it came to choosing a release date! So it feels really good to have some fresh music out in the world.

Why did you name the project Rising?

In the process of making the project, there was a creative, spiritual rising. For example, to get to this EP, I wrote maybe 20 songs, some of which will never see the light of day. But I had to go through that process. I went through that process of trying to break certain limitations in my mind about the artist I thought I was and who I wanted to be. Just Rise, free up and allow the process to happen. 

It’s also a record about woman empowerment, which also happened organically. “Electric Lady,” “Sweet Adetola,” “Energy,” songs about self-love and shining and not being anyone’s trophy — or hustling and owning your power. That happened naturally because that’s what was front of mind for me when I was writing. It’s like a nod to Woman Rising. So, Rising feels like the perfect name.

What inspired the cover art?

The cover art is a remake of a photo taken by Felix Ezema. We were playing around, and did a test shoot in Lagos. We gave the images to a graphic designer from London, Dean Hoad, who is a friend of my manager. He kept experimenting with it and eventually came up with the cover idea.  I love fashion and I love art and It was cool to have an image that wasn’t a picture, but felt like a painting. It reminds me of Joni Mitchell’s Blue album where it’s all blue and her face, it was art. It was something a little different. I like the way it came out. 

Did you always have this hair? How does it represent you?

I have had it for a while because it’s easy, and I feel now it’s my signature. People see the hair, they’re like “Yeah, we know who that is.” For me, it’s feminine. It’s fun, playful. It’s easy to maintain, it has roots in Nigeria.  I just made it a little more edgy and fresh. I made it fashion. It’s a great conversation starter. People always walk up to me on the street like “I love your hair”. Doesn’t matter where I am in the world, they’re always coming up to me. It’s fun. But I'm thinking it's time to change it. lol.

How would you describe your fashion sense?

I would say sexy, easy tomboy. I also love championing African brands who are doing amazing things locally and internationally. There’s so much amazing talent, that’s important for me to make sure I support it!

Bring us back to when you created “Joy”.

“Joy” was recorded in Jamaica at GeeJam Studios. We also shot  the video in Portmore  with Jamaican  Director, Mykal Cushnie. The message of the song just felt like it was so timely, because right when we finished recording the song, the entire world literally went into lockdown. I remember very well  the same day we were leaving the studio, Justin Bieber dropped his Changes album, which I remember listening to on the car ride back to the airport.

Because of Covid and all the uncertainty we ended up waiting for the record to come out, and with every day it felt like such a timely record. The world was feeling really demoralized, there was a lot of confusion, and uncertainty. The lyrics of the chorus “Look up, look up, oh I count my blessings.” [sings].  I think that vibe  and the message in the song is really important. It felt like it came out at the right time. 

What is joy to you?

Joy is waking up in the morning with the sunshine in my eyes. It’s like when I fiinally, finally learned the lesson that your joy cannot be contingent on anything else. Literally to be grateful to be alive is enough to be joyful. I  Joy’s believing that ultimately everything is going to be okay. Being rooted and grounded in that even when life shifts, rises, and falls. It can go left or right. You hold onto your joy.

3 things you need in the studio at all times?

It depends on what studio to be honest. [laughs] I always need a bottle of water, and a kettle because I like to steam my voice sometimes and make tea. I used to need pen and paper but I’ve gotten over that. I am more environmentally conscious, so I type up my lyrics now. So, 3 things - my laptop, bottle of water & a kettle. 

What’re you most excited for next?

Going on tour, being on stages. Coming to LA, which is overdue, and obviously looking forward to releasing my debut album. We’ll let Rising breathe though, because I think a lot of people are going to discover it! 

Anything else you want to let us know?

I’m excited to see how this project moves through the world. I’m grateful for every single person that’s been on this journey with me, and every single stage I’ve been on up to this point. I’m just grateful, I’m excited for what’s to come.