Inna fight for justice
Interview with Inna Modja, rebel singer with a cause
Inna Modja’s new album Motel Bamako is just like the singer herself: committed, feisty and optimistic. A victim of genital mutilation she fights on and off stage against the inequality and violence inflicted on women, as she told K in a recent interview.
Modja has always been a globe-trotter – her eyes see the world and her voice describes it: its difficulties and injustices, but also its beauty and opportunities. She is what you call an artist with a commitment, a militant, from female circumcision – of which she was a tragically young victim – to the right to freedom and independence. Her energy and humanity reverberate throughout her music and her causes.
You said recently that: “We are all born totally naked. Where you come from, social class, country and family environment don’t matter - you can do it. Is that just what you say or what you do?
What I do. I grew up between Mali and Ghana, and I wasn’t destined to be who I am today. I came from nothing; I don’t come from a family of musicians or a family living in Europe; we weren’t living the high life. Nothing but my own free will destined me for this life.
“During times of war, Women and Girls are very vulnerable.
Right now, they are easy targets in the north of Mali.
We want to be free.
We want to be alive.
We want to be strong.
We want to dream.
We want more…“
These words introduce the video for the song Tombouctou. Why start like that?
Because it’s the reality. Today, the place that was once home to great scholars, great literature and great culture is blighted by war. The people are suffering, and women and little girls are the most vulnerable. They are mistreated, abused and threatened. I wanted to use the video to show women who do not look away and decide not to stay silent.
What did people there make of the sleeve for the single? [Inna poses for it with a suggestion of nudity.]
I was being provocative because I am expressing my right to do what I want with my body. But you also need to know about something very common in Africa, whether it’s in Mali or anywhere else: when a woman is truly hurt or angry, she takes her clothes off. She removes her clothes in the street and the whole town knows she is going through something really terrible. It’s a way of showing how serious something is. That’s what’s behind the photo.
Why do you speak out through your music and your causes?
Because I am aware that it has an impact. I know that everyone has the possibility of changing things, even if it’s only a little. It makes a difference, it’s not being naive. For example, I know that the more funds we collect for AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation], of which Modja is a Sponsor, the more midwives will be trained, and the more mothers will be looked after properly. Whether people have heard about you or not, something happens when you take action.
I also started working with the United Nations recently. The aim is to be able to make things change, make governments realise that people in 2015 are connected, meaning that they know how things are going elsewhere.
What is your number one cause today?
Equality for women. There is still so much to do. People think that women are capable of less than men because they were born women. That makes no sense. Little girls need to be able to go to school and be equipped to take up the same jobs as men and be independent in life. If you aren’t independent, how can you have your say?
My number one cause is independence for women. Physical, mental and financial.
You’ve been an ambassador for several brands: how do you manage to embody important causes and brands at the same time?
Because I am a modern woman. Brands look at me and see what I represent; they know that I have fought ten times as hard to have the same thing other people have. And I have a natural balance, I live with the times. I like taking care of others and I also like taking care of myself.
What can brands do to act?
People often think wrongly that fashion is light and superficial. That’s not true at all. Designers are artists who think, and the paths they take leave an impression on entire era. Brands can be committed. First there is a routine approach: helping individuals follow through with their plans. But it’s also in how they communicate and what they say that they can give space to worthwhile causes. Brands have such a massive platform – they speak to everyone!
In terms of their choice of communication channels, partnerships, ambassadors and the stories they tell, brands can be inspiring. Just as much as cinema and music.
There is also an under-representation of diversity and an absence of risk. This creates a delay in terms of society, especially with the Internet. These days, we all know what people in Tokyo, Bamako and New York are like. We know that the world isn’t monochromatic. We want brands to reflect that depth. When you think about the 1970s, how do you remember the time? Through the fashion, music and social struggles. Fashion helped the hippies to express a philosophy of life, and that definitely shows that it’s not superficial.
Is that what made you want to sing in Bambara (the language of Mali) and English on your album?
For me, Bambara was the most honest language. When you grow up with several languages, certain emotions are more firmly attached to one language than another. Given what I am saying on the album, it was only logical to sing in Bambara. But even when I’m speaking Bambara, I am speaking to the whole world. When someone listens to my songs in my language, I feel that I have taken them into my home a little, taken them to see what it’s like somewhere else. Especially in times like now, where we are afraid of everything - it opens a door instead of closing it.
Inna Modja’s latest album Motel Bamako was released on the Warner label on 2 October.