By Julijana Capone
It’s hard to believe that Flo (aka Florence Oramasionwu) once considered herself “a closet singer.”
But once the burgeoning R&B songstress got her ﬁrst taste of the spotlight in a high school musical singing “Joyful, Joyful” – the same rendition that Lauryn Hill sang in Sister Act II – Flo says she was forever transformed. “This new Flo had arrived. I became this diva on stage.”
Flo notes the former Fugees frontwoman as one her biggest inspirations growing up. Fast forward 15 years and there Flo was at the Centennial Concert Hall opening for one of her vocal heroes.
“Had anyone ever told me that I would open for the likes of Lauryn Hill, Boyz II Men and 112, I would have laughed at them,” Flo says. “Getting that opportunity was so surreal. It really taught me that dreams do come true and all things are possible.”
Aside from opening gigs playing alongside some of her musical icons, Flo can add another notch to her list of accomplishments. Her sophomore record, Pieces of Me, was just nominated for a Western Canada Music Award (WCMA) for Urban Recording of the Year.
“I was blindsided. My producer sent me a text and said ‘congratulations for the nomination’ and my brain just wasn’t there. I texted him back and said ‘I think you texted the wrong person’… It was a shock, but it was a good shock,” she says.
The record, produced by 2011 WCMA-winner Arun Chaturvedi, is a collection of upbeat, pop-tinged R&B ripe with empowering messages that reﬂect Flo’s mission to make a difference in the lives of others through music.
“I want to have meaning and purpose to my music. I don’t want it to be empty,” says Flo. “I want to sing songs that can uplift people, encourage, motivate, but also create thinking and change.”
Perhaps the best example of that commitment is the anti-bullying anthem “Hateless” written by Arun Chaturvedi and Heather Longstaffe. “Arun told me the message behind that song and I said I would be honoured to sing it.” The track also features the Winnipeg Youth Chorus children’s choir and Flo says the reaction she’s received from the song has blown her away.
“When I worked with the Winnipeg Youth Chorus, the dad of an eight-year-old boy was in tears and he said ‘you don’t know how important that song is to not only my son, but to me.’ It sounds cliché, but if you can change just one life it’s making a difference,” she says.
In addition to her own successful CD release party at the West End Cultural Centre this past June, Flo has been popping up all over the city in the past year playing a slew of events, such as the TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival and a litany of charity initiatives – not to mention one-off collaborations (see: HOT 103’s Transcona-style reworking of Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind”). Any opportunity to get her music out there is an opportunity that Flo isn’t likely to pass up.
“It used to be where I would have to go out of my way to work to knock on doors and I didn’t have a name at that point,” says Flo. “I had to prove myself. But I remember saying to myself ‘someday some of these people are going to come to me.’ That hard work did pay off.”
With big hopes to break into the U.S.’s booming R&B market in the future, Flo says the WCMA nod is just one more step towards her end term goal – whether she wins or not.
“The perspective is that it would be great if something comes of it, but even if it doesn’t, nothing changes. There’s an end term goal and a dream that I need to reach and I’m gonna keep hustling.”
Originally published in Manitoba Music’s newsletter vol. 21.3