Home Lifestyle Inna Modja: How growing up in Mali made me realise equality starts in the home

Inna Modja: How growing up in Mali made me realise equality starts in the home

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Inna Modja Singer and actress, 32, engaged.

My dad, Bocar Bocoum, worked as a diplomat with the Malian embassies all over Africa. He spent his life forming relationships with other countries and cultures, and I was exposed to that from a young age. We have a great connection.  

Inna Modja: How growing up in Mali made me realise equality starts in the home
Singer and actress Inna Modja. 

Dad is an amazing person and proud feminist. He is 77 and still a great educator. He always shared his love of music and books with us growing up, and taught us the importance of getting an education and going to school.

I am from a family of seven children, and my parents raised three of my cousins, so there were 10 of us at home. I have two brothers, Barema and Aly, and I have a great relationship with them. I am proud of the men they are today. They are respectful and hardworking and feminists like my dad. 

My father pushed all of his girls to be as strong and independent as the guys in the family. He told us we are equal and if we want something, gender doesn’t matter. We have to work hard and fight for it. This way of being raised still helps me today.

My mother worked as a midwife and she’s probably the reason I have a lot of interest in female genitalia and protecting women’s health. She wished one of her kids would become a midwife but that never happened.

I was circumcised against my parents’ wishes by a great aunt. She took me to have it done when my parents were out. It happened to all of my sisters. My parents are against genital mutilation. 

My dad was horrified by this event. He is proud I am vocal about this issue. It is something I am still dealing with – I went through surgery to repair the damage – and it still happens to 3000 girls every day around the world. I have been an activist since I was 19. 

I have always been comfortable with boys and I think that’s because I was a tomboy myself. I was bored playing with dolls and would rather run with the guys. I was a fast runner and a good athlete and had lots of male friends as a result. I didn’t want a boyfriend. I was too busy studying. I had my music and my friends and I was really into poetry.

I was 16 when I had my first kiss. I got sick of kissing the back of my hand, pretending I knew what it was like to kiss a boy. When my male friend finally kissed me it was pleasurable but a bit nerve-racking.

I loved Michael Jackson as a teenager. I was mesmerised by his music and persona. I loved the way he moved and sang. The first song I heard was Thriller and I was hypnotised. Dad introduced me to soul music from the ’60s. Dad showed me the power of artists like Ray Charles, Otis Redding and Nina Simone. 

My father was part of an intellectual movement in Mali and was friends with the late photographer Malick Sidibe, who died in April last year, aged 80. I got to work with him thanks to Dad. 

I left Mali when I was 19 and went to Paris to study French literature. Yves Saint Laurent had painted a picture of French elegance for me, and I thought that was what I was going to find. It is a romantic place, but when you live there the romance isn’t everywhere! People can sometimes be really rude – men and women – and that can be confronting.

I arrived in France during winter and had no heating in my room on campus. It was hard because everything is culturally different to where I grew up and I wasn’t living with my family. I was alone. I grew up fast. It made me very independent and I learnt how to do everything for myself.

I wrote songs for others when I first came to Paris. I didn’t really feel ready to sing my own music until later – I needed to live my life and find my feet. I knew I had plenty to say but it had to come naturally. By the time it came to writing my first album, I had enough life lessons I was ready to share. My music is personal, it’s political, it’s cross-cultural.

French-Malinese filmmaker Daouda Coulibaly was a great man to work with on my first feature film, Wùlu. He is an amazing storyteller and pushed me to find a voice inside myself on the screen.

I made a special connection with actor Ibrahim Koma, who plays my brother in the film. He actually does feel like a blood brother. To be able to discuss and develop our characters while filming was such a profound experience for me as an emerging actor.

I met my fiancé, Marco Conti Šikić, at an art exhibition in Paris and we’ve been together for eight years. He is my best friend and lover. He is CroatianItalian, a visual artist and filmmaker. 

The reason our relationship works is that we are both artists. Our creativity works together. To be with someone who understands your vision and gets what you’re talking about is hugely satisfying. We have plans to marry but all this touring the world means we can’t schedule a date. We’re aiming for a European summer wedding.

Wùlu is screening as part of the 2017 Alliance Française French Film Festival.

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