The members of girl group De Fam – Azira Shafinaz, Sophia Liyana and Cik Manggis (Nurshazwani Shamsuddin) –spent most their early 20s dancing for other artistes. The list includes Datuk Siti Nurhaliza, Datuk AC Mical, Taufik Batisah and Stacy of Akademi Fantasia 6 fame.
“Nabil Ahmad, One Nation Emcee and who else? There were a lot of other artistes,” said 24-year-old Azira.
Sophia and Azira first met in 2008 when they joined the KL-based hip-hop dance group Funky Fresh Family. Cik Manggis, who was trained in traditional dance, would later join them in 2010.
“I have a passion for modern dancing. We met when they called me to join them for a flash mob,” remembered Cik Manggis. It was a video of them lipsynching to Xde Hal Bro, a song by local rapper Caprice that somehow kickstarted their way to the formation of singing-dancing-rapping girl group De Fam. The video was released on YouTube in 2014.
“We did the video for fun! Somehow, it went viral with over two million views to date. Then people started requesting for us to do more videos. We thought that we could show them that we can really sing, dance and rap as well,” said Azira.
But how did the girls know that they can sing?
Sophia, 25, added: “We do a lot of karaoke together. At that time, we believe that we can sing! We talked about it and decided to give the whole singing-dancing thing a shot.”
They released a cover of Iggy Azalea’s Black Widow and Sophia and fans seemed to love it. Then Tune Studios came a-calling with an offer to sign them as its first act in the newly-established label.
“We started to take the possibility of venturing into the music business seriously when the Tune Studio deal came,” said Azira.
They formed De Fam and released debut single #Supergirls in May last year. Produced by Bryan B (who has worked with Siti, Lil’ Jon and Sean Kingston), #Supergirls is an empowering pop English/Bahasa Malaysia song with hip-hop flavour.
“Most local songs are about love. It’s a cliche. For our first single, we wanted it to be a motivational song that would empower and inspire young women. We want them to keep striving for their dreams,” stated Azira.
The single received massive airplay on local radio and currently has up to 2.4 million views on YouTube. Sophia said they were surprised by the song’s positive response. The girls admitted that they took a risk to go against the usual offerings on local radio.
“We got an e-mail from a single mother who loved our song because it motivated her to keep going. That really meant to a lot to us,” said Sophia. Azira added that the girls got it right to go with #Supergirls: “Our aim was to empower women. It was a clear message. Maybe that’s why people like the song.”
But not everyone was receptive. They have received online comments accusing them of being just another K-pop copycat. Azira disagreed saying: “The music we do is really different from that”.
Cik Manggis have seen comments where they were urged to ditch their association with hip-hop.
“They said we should stick to our culture. It’s not that we don’t want to. We just want to do something different, especially to stand out as a Malaysian artiste. We have considered incorporating traditional elements into our songs. Just wait and see,” said Cik Manggis.
For now, De Fam has released their long-awaited second single With You. The pop R&B single was recorded with Twerk It Like Miley hitmaker Brandon Beal.
“We see this as a good opportunity to introduce ourselves to a wider audience. This song is very different from #Supergirls. It’s more emotional,” said Azira.
In the long run, Azira said the challenge is on them to continue proving themselves as super girls in the entertainment industry. Cik Manggis believes they can move forward together.
“I think the secret to longevity is to understand each other and remember why we’re in this together,” she said.