A few months ago, Australia were treated with the CHIC tour and during the Adelaide show I was lucky enough to dance on stage with the band to the song Good Times. Any CHIC fan knows that it’s a long-held tradition and a fun way to have a Good Time!
One of the talented and power house singers from CHIC, Folami Ankoanda-Thompson was kind enough to let me interview her, but it did take a bit of back and forth. Folami is one busy lady and rightly so when you get to travel the world singing with CHIC as well as release your own records and run a Non-Profit Organization ‘Empower of the Creator’.
Has singing and music always been a part of your life?
Yes, Singing has always been part of my life, I was born in a house of musicians. My Father was a singer/percussionist and my Mother played the piano and sang as well. Most of my family members can hold a note.
How old were you when you realised you could sing and make this your occupation?
I was twelve years old when I knew I wanted to work in the Entertainment Industry. It was that year that I did an adaptation of ‘The Wiz’, I played Dorothy. I was confident and learned my lines and the songs quickly, I remember it was like it was yesterday, I had a record player playing Stephanie Mills’ rendition of Home. Yes, it was when my entire family stood up shouting, praising and in tears, I knew I really enjoyed that feeling.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up? Who are your musical influences?
I listened to all kinds of music growing up and I still do today. Growing up I would listen to Jazz, Blues, R&B, Rap, Hip Hop, Afro Cuban Jazz, pop and top 40 radio a lot in California. Some of my favourite artists are Luther Vandross, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Lauryn Hill, Chaka Khan, Tina Marie, Aretha Franklin, Rapheal Saadiq, Joe, Will I Am, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Janet Jackson, Pete Escovedo and Pharrell Williams. Boy that list can go on and on!
Songs evoke memories and moments in time that can last a lifetime. For me Good Times will always make me smile and remind me of dancing on stage with Chic. What song for you relives a great memory or moment?
We Are Family brings me great memories because I have five sisters and a large amount of family who loves and supports me. Every time I sing that song in the set I can only think of my loving family; how strong we are and support one another. It’s such an empowering feeling.
You’ve been singing with The Chic Organisation for ten years now. Can you tell us how it came about you joining Chic?
I happen to study with the former lead singer Sylver Logan Sharp’s Husband Daryl Hunt who also happened to be my teacher at one point. Sylver reached out to me when there was an audition to be a sub for Jessie Wagner. I happen to be the pick and filled some amazing shoes until she transitioned into another band I then became a full-time member of Chic and I’ve been around ever since. It’s been a complete honor!
How has being in Chic and working with Nile Rodgers and the rest of the band helped you grow as an artist?
Singing with Chic I’ve grown in a major way. when I joined the band Sylver took her time to groom me for the entire process and traveling on tour is much different, when an artist reaches that level you have to be prepared. Working and listening to some of the most amazing and talented musicians in the world has trained my ear for greatness. I often have a much better ear for quality. Singing alongside the Power House Diva Kimberly Davis has helped me to develop my own power and placement. Being in the company of Nile Rodgers allows my artistry to grow and develop into a seasoned performer. The countries and different types of people in the crowd makes life so much different and you truly become worldly and I can rightfully say I’m an International Super Star Sensation. Nile has allowed me to express the best way I know how, I would say these last ten years I’ve grown in a major way.
Being in Chic must have given you many memorable moments and experiences. Are there any that stand out that you can share with us?
Many stand out to me because we have done some once in the life time experiences. One in particular was me being in the band when CHIC performed in Oakland which hadn’t happened in forty years. CHIC hadn’t been back to perform in Oakland, the coolest part is that I was born in the Bay Area, so it happened to be the first time my friends and family were able to hear me sing with CHIC. Another time was when we performed at Bestival in the UK and the Genus Book of Records was there to record the Largest Disco Ball ever made that was such an amazing experience. Or like the time we performed at Glastonbury and had the largest crowd rush the stage and they had to close the gates because of overcrowding. The list goes on, the real definition of GOOD TIMES!!
Just coming off the tour in Australia with Lionel Ritchie how was your experience in Australia?
My experience in Australia was amazing! This time there, I got to spend more time exploring and getting a better feeling of the culture. I met with some awesome amazing fans that turn in to friends and comrades. I had meetings and conference calls with some powerful people. I got to go to the School of Music at the University of Australia in Canberra and meet the Head of the Department. I learned of the possibilities that many Australians have as it’s such a seclusion from the rest of the world. I am so inspired to go back and dive in sharing my gifts.
You played Coachella with CHIC. That would have been amazing. How was performing at Coachella?
It was absolutely amazing! With CHIC, were not new to the Huge festivals so we definitely felt right at home but because it’s an American fest it meant a lot. Performing on the massive stage along with acts like The Weeknd and Beyonce, so epic!
What’s it like to travel around the world and perform with Chic?
Performing with CHIC around the world is absolutely amazing! I’ve always wanted to be a traveller and thankfully my journey has blessed me to do what I love! In the band we travel like a family and we show up ready to give people a good time! We’re undeniable no matter where we go.
In 2017 you released a single Four to the Floor. Tell us how that song came about and how it feels to release your own record?
This song was an idea that was demo starting with an amazing producer out of Montruex, Switzerland, Sebastian Moore, he gave me the original track and I got my best friend McKenzie Frye who has been writing music for me since college, to write it. We all knew it was the vibe I was looking for my own sound. While being on tour it was not easy for me to complete such a special song. While it was taking me time, my new singer song writer/producer boyfriend, Lester Shaw, told me “Folami you have fans that love the, “CHIC VIBE”, send me the vocal track so I can recreate that vibe you give them on stage!” All I could do was trust him and I’m glad I did! Although my sound changed slightly I will still be releasing the other versions and remixes. I’m so happy to have accomplished my first single and so thankful for everyone who helped me to get it out!
Did you have a specific idea of what kind of record you wanted to release for your solo career considering Chic is very much disco and dance based?
Yes, that specific idea came from my Artistic Director Karen Binns, at the time in my life when I met her I was ready to release some of my own music and after her, my ideas for execution became complete. Before CHIC I was working on some cool New Jazz ideas and completed a few songs, but Karen was the one that said I should just stick close to the audience I have in front of me instead of rebuilding my fan base with Jazz. I decided on a very retro vintage sound that keeps me dancing. So, when Lester mentioned the same thing not knowing Karen at the time I knew it was time!
You have now released your new single Pose. Tell us about this new song.
My New Single Pose comes from the spicy side of my personality. My good friend and songwriter McKenzie Frye always helps me to bring out my SPICE. She is a trained dancer and she brings forth the movement needed in the tune with the strong bold melody. With the amazing production by Lester Shaw it all comes together effortlessly! It was defiantly inspired by Madonna’s Vogue, a timeless song that brings the fierce structure of the body – a Pose. These poses have been danced for years and we found a way to define them for the Kids today.
Will you be releasing an album soon?
I will be releasing new music in the near future. And let’s not forget the new CHIC album It’s About Time I will be featured on as well. It’s going to be another exciting year!
In your spare time (if you have any) what kind of music and which artists do you listen to?
I listen to a lot of disco and classic R&B. From MJ, Stevie wonder, Donna Summer and Marvin Gaye, to Joe, D’Angelo, Lester Shaw, Rihanna and Kendrick Lamar. Sting, Madonna, Celine Dion, Aretha Franklyn to Quincy Jones and super producers like Nile Rodgers. I’m listening to a lot and trying to keep up with Wiz Kid, SZA, Cardi B, and Ty Dolla $ign to name a few.
Besides singing and music what other hobbies or interests do you have?
I’m in to vintage fashion, I love a great Retro find. I am also a self-taught natural Hair Stylist. I cultivated the skill and started doing hair professionally at the age of 11. Travelling is a passion of mine as well, so being with CHIC is a match made in heaven.
Where would you like to be musically and professionally in five or ten years’ time?
I would like to still be empowering the youth with my Non-Profit Organization ‘Empower of the Creator’ with my partner and boyfriend, Lester Shaw. We also have the Diana and Marvin review that we are working on, it’s such a pleasure singing those songs I want to sing them forever with him. I would also like to be living tri coastal performing around the world.
Will we see you back in Australia touring with CHIC or on your own in the future?
I’m sure CHIC will be back to Australia and I can’t wait to come back! To come back on my own, that would be an absolute dream. I really enjoyed my stay so much a truly can’t wait to return. It’s a beautiful country!
Interview by Anastasia Lambis