Inna Modja: ‘The Fulani Girl from The Desert of Mali’

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Inna Modja: ‘The Fulani Girl from The Desert of Mali’

There are many ways to describe the multi-talented Inna Modja; singer, songwriter, producer, actress and model. She loves to travel and discover new cultures. She is a proud vegetarian, environmentalist and women right’s activist – but ask Modja herself, and she will tell you first and foremost she is a “Fulani Girl from The Desert of Mali”.

At the age of six, her parents encouraged her to sing in the choir and her father introduced her to his extensive record collection and exposed her to artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Otis Redding. She immersed herself in the rhythm and sounds of 1950’s and 60’s jazz, blues and soul. However, around this time she also developed a keen interest in words and poetry. “I started writing almost as soon as I learnt how to spell. I used to write poems all the time and I still do,” Modja says. “It’s my still favourite form of expression.”

As she got older, spurred on by her old brothers and sisters, Modja expanded her horizons and began listening to rap, thrash and heavy metal, as well as disco. Modja says the exposure to all these different genres influenced her song-writing style today. “I started writing and singing seriously when I was 14.”

Inspired by American hip-hop, it wasn’t long before she leant to rap in her native language Bambara.

“When I was 15, I went to my neighbour Salif Keita and I asked him to mentor me because I wanted to be a musician,” she says. Keita is known as the ‘Golden Voice of Africa’ and took the young singer under his wing. She soon joined his group called the Rail Man, and has been performing professionally ever since.

As a solo artist, Inna Modja has released three studio albums Everyday Is a New World, Love Revolution and 2015’s Motel Bamako. “On my two previous albums, although I was talking about social issues, I wasn’t really taking a stand like I did on Motel Bamako.” Modja believes her own personal experience gives her a unique insight to the struggle of women and girls in her home country. “I’ve been working in the fight against female genital mutilation, abuse against women and inequality for 12 years, and the backlash is real,” she explains.

“I didn’t want the backlash connected to my music because I thought that I wasn’t strong enough to deal with it,” she admits, “but with this album, I decided that this was the right moment to have the work that I had been doing for so long spread to my music.”

Modja plans to debut her blend of desert blues, electronica and hip-hop at next month’s WOMADelaide Festival. “I am so excited! I’ve never been to Australia, and I’ve wanted to come for a while now and playing at WOMADelaide – I’m really looking forward to it. My good friend Oumou Sangaré is going to be play there and there are a lot of artists there that I’ve been wanting to see live.”

Beyond her visit to Australia, Modja is due to start work on a UN-backed documentary about climate change, ‘The Great Green Wall’, with British-Nigerian film-maker Joseph Adesunloye and ‘City Of God’ director Fernando Meirelles. “Some people are still denying climate change so it’s important to show what is really going on. It’s an inspiring project.”

When & Where: WOMADelaide – March 10 – 12

Written by Natalie Rogers