Naima Mclean is a multi-talented, multi-tasking MBA student, actress, poet, musician and performing artist.
She’s just released a new single, My Happy after a musical hiatus in 2015, so I chatted to her about the song’s journey and meaning and the incredible, engaging campaign she engineered around it. The single is doing well in the country and continent, receiving play in Ghana and Kenya well.
Happy is such a powerful song, how did it come to fruition?
I wrote the song when I was in a particularly vulnerable place in my life and I was tapping into the emotions around my experience and realising that I was happy. The song was produced by 37mph initially but has taken an incredible journey from inception to release.
Other producers have contributed to the effort, and the song has taken on a new life from being quite deep and reflective into being up-tempo and really resonant with the message of happiness invoked in the lyrics.
You ran a really unique social media campaign leading up to the release of the song, I enjoyed how cross-sectional and engaging it was…
The song is about impact, I’m all about the narrative, I want the song to belong to people.
The minute you sign up for a creative career you become an entrepreneur.
It’s Naima’s song but it’s everybody’s story, so the campaign was about tapping into other people’s happy moments and people’s different expressions of the concept of happy.
It happened quite organically, and it’s actually still running as I’m trying to get people to own the story, so the dialogue around upliftment and happiness can continue.
Amazing, to see the stories of South Africans in this light. So, the single has just been released, what else are you up to?
Right now I’m juggling many spaces at the moment, I am working on my album and I have a regular spot on CNBC Africa‘s Kicking Doors that’s around building entrepreneurship. In fact my primary focus and passion is really around entrepreneurship in the creative sector.
The minute you sign up for a creative career you become an entrepreneur, so my current work is all around equipping myself to equip other people around the necessary skills to commodify creative industry skills so the industry can streamline itself. Being an entrepreneur in the creative space myself allows me to look at the commonalities of different industries, and the principles of business which apply to the creative industries.
While someone may not be formally educated they can play an instrument or sing or dance.
I think that’s the missing link in dealing with a lot of Africa’s socio-economic issues. While someone may not be formally educated they can play an instrument or sing or dance. I’m studying the industry from this perspective so I can educate people at looking at creativity in that way.
Not just for the industry but for the continent because we have a rich cultural history and incredibly creative intuitions as a people.
You’ve travelled the continent extensively. Where have you been and how were you received?
I’ve been to Botswana, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho, Rwanda, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Morocco Tanzania and Mauritius. The reception has always been welcoming and people often ask how to access my music but as an independent artist it is challenging to distribute music on that scale so I have focused more on promoting my music in SA and hoping it permeates across the globe through my networks and the connectivity offered online.
That’s quite unique in SA, many people are so alienated from the rest of the continent.
Yes, South Africans are very isolated from the rest of the continent and are alienated from identification with other Africans as well as an alienated from ourselves. Africans are even disconnected from our own traditional spirituality; we have totally embraced western, even eastern belief systems, before our own.
I think Afro-pop artists, particularly Mafikizolo played a significant role in reintroducing African styles into mainstream music.
This speaks to the depth of alienation that colonialism created. So lack of travel, lack of exposure to each other, lack of education about each other, contentious borders that were erected to divide us from each other all converge in creating divisions and prejudice between us.
I see that in how much some mainstream SA artists appropriate American language, style and production.
That appropriation is an international thing and I think it’s actually improving. I see it in hip hop and kwaito where people are rapping in African languages and sampling beats from the continent. I think Afro-pop artists, particularly Mafikizolo played a significant role in reintroducing African styles into mainstream music within the country and beyond.
We are a cultural people, we are a creative people.
People want to see a sense of their own culture in their music and the wealth of sounds and styles that can be found on the continent mean we have a lot to reference and therefore offer in terms of music and style.
What does the future hold for you?
Although I’m still performing and will be releasing my album and a poetry anthology, my energies right now and for as long as I’m doing my MBA will be around understanding creativity from an entrepreneurial space so I can empower other artists to do the same and have an impact on how people think about their culture and their craft.
We are a cultural people, we are a creative people.
And I want to educate people to utilise the skills and resources available to us from a place of knowledge. That is my passion and where I’ll be making contributions for the forseeable future.
Naima’s new single My Happy, can be downloaded on SoundCloud
Follow Naima on Twitter @NaimaMclean