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Fatima Washington: One-Time Wallflower Steps Into the Spotlight
By Sean Smith
Fort Wayne Reader
Fatima Washington was once shy. You'd never know it to see her on stage now, but when she first began singing she was more than happy to be in the corner, or as she puts it, "an actual piece of the wall." But to hear her these days is to realize that the wallflower has most certainly bloomed. Through her weekly performances at the Blu Tomato, Washington has gained a loyal group of fans and has plans to win over more with an album she has in the works. That album will no doubt contain plenty of the upbeat R&B and Hip-Hop infused songs that she has become known for, songs that incorporate modern sounds with a more classic style that she was introduced to years ago.
To say that Washington grew up in a musical family is an understatement. Her father and grandfather played guitar, her grandmother sang, and one of her brothers dances. Family gatherings were a pretty musical event. "On trips to my grandmother's house, it was Motown the entire way there and back, and of course once we got there we had to interpret Motown,” Washington says. “We would put on our own little performances in the room and I remember my dad specifically doing 'My Girl.' MTV and BET were really big then and whenever the songs would come on, that's what we would do. My brother would do the dances and I would dance and sing.”
One of the places it took her was a talent show in junior high, although, she's not exactly sure why, considering her stage fright. "I was really shy. I don't know what it was about the seventh grade. I'd been to the talent show at Blackhawk in sixth grade and there was
another young girl there that I looked up to and she sang a Whitney Houston song and I remember sitting there and thinking, 'I could do that. I sing that song at home.' The next year I auditioned and I was scared. I could hear it in my voice but my teacher had her jaw to the floor and asked 'What grade are you in?'"
Next up was an encouraging experience with karaoke. "They used to have these things at the Coliseum, almost like a kid fair, where they sell all these things and hand out brochures. They had a karaoke area set up and my Mom said go do it you know you want to. I was thinking, 'I don't know. There's people around here.' I waited until the end of the
day when there wasn't anybody around and I was so scared. Even though I knew every single word to that song my eyes did not leave that screen. I turned around expecting my Mom to give me a 'thumbs up' and there was a crowd of people. This one woman was shouting 'Janet's in the building! Janet's in the building!' I was so petrified I hid under my Mom's coat to walk out."
During her junior and senior high school years, Washington developed an appreciation first for young female artists and then became a fan of neo-soul. She also began to understand her talents more and began honing her craft. "I started doing UPAF in high school. I got a lot of training in voice and music theory from Snider's choral program and then I joined UPAF. The combination of the two helped with my confidence which showed in my performance and that was when I really blossomed. I was trying more things at home. I would have rehearsals at home instead of accidentally singing along to a video and wondering if I hit a note or not. I think I bought a karaoke machine and that was my rehearsal machine. I was serious about it, but I didn't know how serious so we didn't want to spend gobs of money on all this equipment and then two weeks later decide that I might want to be a painter. So, I was recording and practicing and listening back."
After graduating high school, Fatima decided she wanted to pursue music full time, but also didn't want to wind up a struggling musician. So, she attended college where she majored in psychology and minored in music (she graduated just a few credits short of a full-fledged music major). Every summer she would come home and practice on her karaoke machine. “That's when I started writing more,” she says. “I had always written poetry but now I was putting the poetry into song form. I was literally sitting down and listening to beats and writing songs."
Fatima says she couldn't tell you how many songs she's written over the years ("I have three lyrics books that are full of songs and thoughts."), but she does remember one of the first songs that she wrote. "It's a song, called 'Best Ex-Friend,' about looking back. You
realize the person that you thought was your friend, you're glad that you separated. It's a good song, but it's not a good song."
For nearly two years now, Fatima has been performing at the Blu Tomato, a gig that came about through a friendship with Ty Causey. Causey would sometimes do a guest spot with the UPAF and on one occasion did a duet with Fatima. He was very impressed, and over the years stayed in contact with Fatima’s mother. When Fatima turned 21 and got out of school, she went to see Causey perform at the Blu Tomato. Causey invited her to sing a few songs, but Fatima was so nervous she didn’t go back for months. Causey called her up on stage. “He said ‘I have these songs, do you know any of them?’” she says. “One of the first songs I did was 'Rock the Boat' and as soon as it came on I started singing and the crowd started dancing and cheering me on. I eventually was doing so many songs with Ty that the owner asked me if I wanted to do my own show.”
Fatima had just upgraded from her old karaoke machine to a proper mixing board with amp that her brother had helped her purchase from a pawn shop. “I had all of this equipment and I could look at it,” she laughs. “But then I got the gig at Blu Tomato and it just fell into place. That's how so much of it will happen. It's a blessing that I'm not able to block myself from those things."
Currently, Fatima is putting together her debut album, but she does have a single that is available at her shows. "It's $5 and the single is 'Fool for Love' and then it has snippets of some of the other songs that will be on the album. I'm trying not to rush it because this is
my first and I've been working on it for over a year. I've learned so much from the time I started until now. If I had released it by now, I wouldn't be listening to it. I've grown so much. My writing has gotten better. I really believe it’s going to be a good album."