What happens when you sit a rapper and her fan face to face for a conversation? The Chronicle’s Lifestyle column sits down Rapper/Activist Awa Bling and her huge fan, Mariama Kurubally to discuss Bling’s life, art and her community work. Here’s an excerpt of their conversation;
Raptivist: Hey Mariama, my name is Ndey Awa Mbaye, commonly known as Awa-Bling
Mariama: Hi Awa-Bling, I’m a huge fan and it’s very exciting for me to be sitting here with you today.
Raptivist: I actually wanna change the name Awa-Bling.
Mariama: Why would you wanna do that?
Raptivist: I picked it because when I started rapping, I saw rappers wearing blings and I also wanted that so I chose the name Awa-Bling. Now that I’m growing in music and in life, I wish that i had a more meaningful rap name but my fans are used to it and I just have to keep the name. Plus, I just want to have a better answer than that when people ask me why my rap name is Awa-Bling.
Mariama: I think it’s a nice name and yes I think it’s too late to change it. So who is Awa Mbaye? I want to know her more.
Raptivist: I am 26 years old and I was born in Bakau and raised in Kanifing Estate. After graduating from high school, I went to MDI and got a certificate in Business Management.
Mariama: Really! I am currently going to MDI for Diplomacy and International Relations. Did you stop at certificate level to further your music career?
Raptivist: No, I stopped due to financial difficulties and went to back to hairdressing which I started after High School. My trade apart from music is actually hairdressing and I did it for a long time before my music career took off. It was one of the hardest parts of my life because I feel education is so important for women and having to give it up for the time being was heartbreaking. But I know I’m certainly gonna go back to continue and get my diploma someday soon.
Mariama: I know you will go back and do even bigger things! When did you choose music or did music choose you?
Raptivist: When I graduated from high school, I had no idea what I wanted to be or study, so I decided to try singing and be an R&B singer. I went to a family friend who was already an established artist and told him that I wanted to record a song. He asked me a song about what? And I responded with just a song. He was nice enough to let me sing the song to him. I don’t know how bad it was because after singing that, he sat me down and asked me if I ever considered rap. I told him no. He then decided to take me under his wing and teach me how to write and flow. He started showing me how strong my voice could be as a female rapper and here we are today. I’ll forever be grateful for Ayo Jack of Poetic X for seeing that potential in me and inspiring me to go beyond what I thought possible.
Mariama: That’s so cool that you had support and guidance through your process because so many people are faced with challenges.
Raptivist: Well, it was definitely not easy when I started. I was told that rap was not for girls and it should be something I should pursue. I was beaten for staying out late and punished for going to shows but I persisted. I knew I wanted to do it.
Mariama: I am so glad you did because I feel like you are a voice for so many people like myself and the issues you rap about are relevant to the lives of so many of us young Gambian women.
Raptivist: I’m glad to hear you say that. When I first started rapping it was more of the ego trip kind of rap that is a part of the game but I felt I could do more. In 2016 I attended a two-day training by Think Young Women on FGM. After the training I and another Gambian artist were asked to work on a song against gender-based violence and it was an eye opener for me. At that event, I started to realize the power of my voice as an artist and felt a responsibility to start speaking out. It’s time to start talking about issues, I feel people only want to talk about these issues when it affects them and I feel that they need to be addressed. I knew I wanted to address these issues and do not have the money or the resources to do so. So I decided to use my art and large following to spread the message.
Mariama: Yes, you do. Your songs that I love the most are ‘Don’t Rape, Break the Silence and Dormi Geetleh’. Those songs always make me think about the issues, but beyond that what I can do to help people in those situations. What inspired those songs?
Raptivist: Well Don’t Rape was inspired by a story of a young woman I met. I’ve been raped twice in my life. Once when I was young, about 8 or 9 years old and another time when I was 18. So the song is close to my heart and was kind of therapeutic because it got me to a point where I can talk about what happened to me without crying or shaking. If it gets someone to act or help someone heal I feel like it’s done what I wanted it to do. Break the Silence because I was breaking my silence and using my voice and platform to talk about these issues and I wanted to invite my fellow artists and the people to do the same. That is the only way we can have effective change, when we start talking about these things. I actually wrote Dormi Geetleh 5 years ago and it was inspired by a Senegalese artist who did a song about it. I have not gone through something like that, but I know it happens around me and wanted to talk about it.
Mariama: What has been the most surprising part of your journey?
Raptivist: The people that discouraged me when I started are the same people supporting me, especially when it comes to family. The people who thought I was out too late and that I was wasting my time are the ones pushing me to do better in rap. They see the impact I am making and want me to do more. Also the willingness of the organizations like TYW to work with us to collaborate on their efforts has been awesome and that allows me to be a stronger activist.
Mariama: We all need support in the things we do, so I’m sure they appreciate your efforts as well. What is next for you?
Raptivist: I feel like I’ve so much more to learn that I do not want to rush this journey. I don’t want my mix-tape “HereIAm” to die out because of the messages on it. So I want to do videos for the songs and push the singles more. Then I would like to relaunch the mix-tape and invite not just my fans, but also stakeholders in the activist community to come to the event. I also want to inspire girls to be bold, strong and risk takers. If you have those three you can do so much more. Don’t be afraid to share your stories and let’s figure out ways to find solutions that affect us.
Mariama: Thank you so much for sitting with me today and letting me get to know you better. It’s hard for people to share their stories about rape and other things, but we have you talking about them and that inspires me to want to be a voice for others. I feel you have so much more to do and say and I will be watching and listening. You for using your voice to inspire me and so many others.
It’s hard for people to share their stories about rape and other things, but we have you talking about them and that inspires me to want to be a voice for others.