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Inspiring and Leading Change: Khadja Nin

Khadja Nin
Khadja Nin is a celebrated singer-songwriter from Burundi known for her soulful voice and poignant lyrics. Nin developed a deep passion for music from a young age and went on to become one of Africa's most prominent artists. Her music draws inspiration from a wide range of sources, including traditional African rhythms, modern pop, and the sounds of her native Swahili language.

Throughout her career, Khadja has used her music to speak out against social injustice and advocate for peace and unity. Her powerful voice and captivating performances have earned her numerous accolades. In 2018, she was a jury member at the Cannes Film Festival under the presidency of Cate Blanchett and continues today to motivate audiences around the world with her music and activism.

AM: Khadja, why did you choose to stay true to your identity rather than to take the mainstream route
Being commercial and singing in a foreign language would be easier but I felt more comfortable performing in Swahili. Music isn't a joke, when we sing, we send a message and we give parts of ourselves. Especially when you come from countries like mine where people suffer from social issues and wars, music becomes a platform and a tool for my people.

AM: How would you describe your homeland Burundi?
We have beautiful lakes and beaches and hippopotamuses. But on the flip side we face a lot of political conflicts and it makes me sad. I'm positive that the new generation will be much more pan-African and international and this will hopefully help.

AM: You are an artist that transitioned into a vocal personality. Did you see that coming?
It started when I was about 10 years old with the civil rights movement in the USA. I understood it was important to be involved like Angela Davis. Being selfish is a waste of time and it's sad, I cannot live for myself. I had so many losses including my parents and I was left alone with a child by my mid-thirties. These things make you understand that there's no place for egoism. In 2015, our youth in Burundi were manifesting in the streets against our president and these kids got shot. I was in Belgium, so I called the TV reporters and felt the need to talk. I was in a place and had the responsibility to be a voice and part of that conversation of what was going on. I have so many things I need to and many projects for women. I always refuse to perform on March 8th because every day is women's day. It shouldn't be reduced to one day only. I want my sisters to be respected all year long. I also refuse to let western countries give us lessons when a country like France suffers from femicides on a daily basis.

AM: You speak a lot about the image of Africa abroad. What are some stereotypes you are tired of hearing?
I used to visit the countryside with my father who had a house in Mali. What people don't know is that in these villages, and when it's time to make a big decision, women would speak up and share their opinions before a decision could be made. It's been like this for many years because it’s embedded in our culture. We have much more power as women in Africa and we tend to be the boss in the family. You start to lose your rights when you move to cities and live like westerners. So, when people say “Poor African Women" it really frustrates me. I don't want people to talk on my behalf.

AM: And speaking of change in Africa, what were your thoughts about Chanel’s fashion show which you attended in Dakar, Senegal?

They did it well. It opened doors for sharing skills and experiences with African artists. It was positive. Of course, people have always been inspired by Africa, they show some parts of it so it's better than nothing, but they are culturally appropriating us. Sometimes it's right and sometimes it's not. The governments in Africa need to understand that fashion is an industry. For example, the weight of fashion in the French economy is much heavier than the automotive sector. Our leaders need to work in that direction. We have a very young population that keeps getting younger, so they have to keep an eye for this. If we create opportunities in our countries the youth will not leave and things would be different. This could be a solution for immigration. 

Khadja Nin

AM: How do you make a statement through your own fashion choices?
I didn't know I was doing it; it was just natural like writing a song. When I was 8-years old I had a cousin who was my model. She would wear African clothes in an original way. I was a big fan of hers. I didn't have a lot of money so I had to be creative with the seamstresses in the streets. I was my own designer. When I had the privilege to be on the jury in Cannes, I showed up on stage in my orange dress. I remember the eyes of the audience, I walked slowly to say "Africa is in its place." I don't consider myself to be an inspiration in fashion, the only thing that matters for me is the number of African women who will walk as jury members in the future.

AM: As a previous member of the Cannes Film Festival jury, what type of talents or storylines you think the world still needs to see?
There are strong movies that you can remember but it's becoming less frequent. I've discovered while being on the jury that Japanese people tell stories that are unforgettable. I am a firm believer that the movies premiering should not only be for cinema but for the platforms too. I don't think you can freeze history and we need to adapt to the world.

AM: You mentioned that you have recently visited the Middle East for the very first time…
Indeed, this year I went to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Doha and Dubai and I got to meet a lot of people. So many of these women I met were in powerful positions. I learned that in Saudi Arabia there's the biggest women's university in the world. If God gave me a chance, I would tell my sisters that their situation is hard everywhere, it's not easier in Europe. We need to teach people about their rights, we also need to educate them about their duties. Never forget your culture, your culture is beautiful. There is no such thing as equality, there isn't even equality amongst men themselves. We just need to try to do our best according to what we know to do. It is just common sense.

AM: Tell us about an unforgettable moment in your life?
The best moments of my life are when I am on tour. I hate taking planes, so I take a bus that groups us all together. I was so happy being with my band, the best band in the world for months. You discover music and countries together and don't worry about what's happening back home.

AM: What is an upcoming project you're working on?
I have two projects. They will take time and they're always linked to children because they count on us and they are powerless. There are 250 million Ghost Children in Africa who don't have an identity, it means these children don't exist. They're being forced into marriages, some of them are child soldiers. Since I used to be a UNICEF ambassador for 15 years, I know my way around it. The second one is a huge artistic installation which I hope would tour and finish in a country to respect human rights and have a huge conference with it.