Paris-born British Nigerian singer, songwriter, and producer Francine Belle recently released her new single/music video, “Diamond,” paving the way for her forthcoming debut album, slated for 2020 release.
Francine began her singing career at The BRIT School, when she and classmates formed a band. After the band dissolved, Francine worked as a session vocalist and toured with various bands, while at the same time attending Cambridge University.
Hooking up with Ben Bram, Ed Boyer, and Bill Hare, she released her debut single, “Beautiful Heights,” followed by laying down tracks for her album.
Because of her lush silky voice and her delicious music, blending Afro-infused pop with suave sophisti-pop savors, CelebMix sat down with Francine to discover the source of her scrumptious sound and what to expect from her album.
What three things can’t you live without?
Good food, good music and affection. You can live without those things but life would be colorless in many ways without them!
How did you get started in music? What’s the backstory there?
I grew up in a very musical household, so singing was something natural for me. My brother is a singer and my sisters and I would perform backing vocals for his live shows. Because everyone at home is musical in one way or another, I just assumed singing was something everyone could do. I remember at secondary school, we had a music lesson and I had to sing a song in front of the class. I think I picked ‘Best Friend’ by Brandy. The teacher took me to one side afterwards and said I had a very special voice. That was the first time I actually considered that I had something out of the ordinary.
I went to The BRIT School to explore music further and ended up meeting my former bandmates there. We formed a band and had some moderate success – went on tour and I had the time of my life. After we disbanded I started writing, mostly for myself, while working as a session vocalist and touring with different bands. I pretty much taught myself how to engineer vocals almost as an afterthought to the writing. A year later I had recorded an entire album and here we are.
What inspired your new single, “Diamond?”
Diamond came about very organically. Most of my album was already completed and I wasn’t writing new material the time, but the producer Legend Otwenty reached out to me on Instagram about collaborating after he’d heard my voice online. He sent over some early instrumental demos to write to and I immediately fell in love with the instrumental that would go on to become “Diamond.” There was something tender about it that made me swoon, coupled with the unmistakable afro beats percussion that you feel in your blood.
I wrote the song perhaps subconsciously with that duality in mind. I thought about the way that diamonds are simultaneously strong and resilient but then also delicate and sparkling, like the best and deepest kind of love – ethereal and real at the same time.
You are releasing your debut album in 2020. What can you tell us about it?
I’d say it’s very me. I wrote and recorded all of it at my home studio, and co-produced it all, including “Diamond.” I’m a big fan of orchestration, so I made sure to get live strings on there. My love for melody should come through each song and there are moments that showcase different things I love about music generally – harmony, vocal layering, polyphony, orchestration, African percussion. I wanted each song to be like a tapestry. Even the simpler arrangements have ‘build’ to them. Each song has its own feel, and I very much believe that production, as well as lyrics, is integral when telling a story through song.
What do you hope your fans/listeners take away with them when they listen to your music?
I hope they’re moved. I’m moved by everything I create. I can’t remember the exact quote, but Quincy Jones said that all an artist can do is make something that ‘really turns you on,’ in the hope that it will stir the next person. And that’s pretty much my philosophy. I’m a big fan of my music fundamentally, and even if just a small part of what I feel in the creative process resonates out into the world, I’ll be happy.
What is your songwriting process? Lyrics first, or music?
It depends on the song. I have notebooks full of lyric ideas but if they don’t fit the music then I’ll come up with something completely new. Conversely, I can start with a melody and no meaning. Sometimes I’ll dream a melody and record it with dummy lyrics before I expand upon it and work it into something presentable. It varies. Those moments when music and lyrics click – they are magic. There are different routes to getting there.
Who was your first concert, and who has been your favorite so far?
I count myself extremely lucky to have seen Michael Jackson in concert. I went with my mum and brother. It was the Dangerous Tour, Wembley Stadium, 1992. It was a stadium, but his presence filled it. Electric. I’ll never forget it. Definitely my favorite by far.
What was your first album on cassette, CD and/or vinyl?
My first album was on cassette. It was the eponymous Janet album, the one where her then-husband was cupping her boobs on the cover. I felt so grown up purchasing that as a kid, especially because so many of the songs were so sultry. I sang along like I had the slightest clue what I was on about! On CD, I think it might have been Coldplay, Parachutes. On vinyl, Grace Jones Living My Life.
Which five albums and/or artists would you not want to live without?
I couldn’t possibly choose! I know that Diana Ross, Queen, Mariah, MJ and Prince are on that list, but honestly, I could come up with five new albums depending on which time of day you asked me.
Do you have a guilty music and/or entertainment pleasure?
Nope! I take pride in all my pleasures and will not be shamed.
What’s next for you musically?
I aim to tour very soon, and will be releasing my album shortly thereafter. Watch this space!
Why make music? I mean what’s the point?
It’s literally a part of me. That’s the only way to explain it. It’s the art form I’ve been lucky enough to have a born connection with and grow with. Music is my best friend. Better yet, it’s like your imaginary friend that you get to bring to life whenever you wish. They’re your catharsis and your peace, and they’re better than you ever dreamed of when they’re finally real. Why wouldn’t you do that as often as you can? If I get to share our love with the world, and inspire similar joy then so much the better… That answer was basically just the lyrics to “Music Is My Hot Hot Sex” by Cansei De Ser Sexy – but the sweeter version.
Let us know what you think of “Diamonds” @CelebMix