Meet MAMA, The Singer Encouraging Young Black Women To Be Themselves

The musician shaves her head in powerful new video and wants others to do the same.

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MAMA's (aka Simone) music is like no other. A powerful blend of house, techno and R'n'B makes for an enchanting experience each and every time you listen.

The singer/producer (otherwise called Simone) has been recording music for more than 10 years now and the results have taken her all over the world.

Her latest single, 'Unmask Me', is set to get people talking again: the London-based musician approaches a topic all too familiar for black women – natural afro hair. The video, out now, showcases her hair journey from weave to natural afro, in between clips of the singer boldly shaving her head.

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Here she discusses her journey wigs, Oscar Wilde and her journey in the music industry.

ELLE: In the video we see pictures of you when you were younger, how would you describe your hair journey?

MAMA: I so desperately wanted to have long straight hair but I never really talked about it.

So 'Unmask Me' is based on your own personal experiences?

My Mother is French Caribbean and my father is Nigerian but I was raised in London. I felt like I became a product of society, I was doing what everyone else wanted. Media advertising played a big part in my idea of beauty. I finally came to the point where I didn't even know who I was, so I wrote a song about it.

The British traded in slavery for about 270 years, so these insecurities don't go away overnight. I have lighter skin because generations of my mother's Caribbean ancestors were victims of rape by white slave owners. So that violent history is in my skin and hair, and ever since I was five-years-old my mother straightened my hair. As a teenager I wore hair extensions, weaves and braids. As I started to explore my identity, writing was a way for me to let go of the judgment and labels.

I think a lot of young black girls can relate to that. In my school there weren't many young black girls with braids or cornrows.

Exactly. I remember thinking I just want to embrace my natural state, but I had to find the courage to do so. I was obsessed with having long hair and braids when I was younger. My mum would relax my hair and my scalp would burn and I didn't care.

Straightening my hair was easier, but it was becoming a burden: the cost, the façade and the damage to my natural hair and hairline. The chemical hair relaxers start to take their toll, I couldn't go outside if it was raining or snowing, I couldn't get in the sea; it was getting ridiculous. It even affected my sex life. If I made out with a guy I would just be freaking out he might pull my wig off! I was overwhelmed with it all.

What message did you want to get across in the video?

One of acceptance and empowerment. I wanted to shift my focus away from admiring other people, artists and celebrities and reconnect with who I really am. Finding the courage to remove the mask and just face my fears. Shaving my hair off was liberating.

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Of course, it has a lot to do with confidence and how people will react.

Exactly, so it was a moment of starting afresh, working on inner strength and facing my fears. And just having appreciation for who I am. The message was just be yourself and don't be afraid.

How did your friends and family react?

I remember back in the day when I got weave people were full of compliments, like 'oh lovely new hairdo! You look great!'

But I've had a lot of positive feedback, people are like 'I can see your face!' because I had all this hair and it was covering my features. But of course there have been some people who were shocked and said that was really brave. Even my Mum. She was like when are going to get a wig, I think she thought it was a phase.

We also see you trying on different coloured wigs in the video- is that something you'll explore in real life?

The first month after shaving my head I wore a wig. I still felt uncomfortable but I just thought 'this is ridiculous'.

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When I walked into my local corner shop with a bald head, the guy behind the counter was so shocked. I felt sorry for him, maybe he thought I was ill and didn't want to ask me. Some people just didn't get it. It was a bit scary for my neighbours, they didn't know if it was rude to ask what's going on because I suddenly went from having an 18inch long Brazilian weave to a shaved head.

There can be a lot of ignorance when it comes to hairstylists dealing with afro hair. Have you had any personal similar experiences?

It's super tricky because I don't want to judge those who straighten their hair or use extensions. I think if you're going to be a hair dresser or make-up artist, it's important to learn about all hair types and skin tones.

It shouldn't just be about white hair types and skin tones. I've been on shoots before and a hairdresser has been really nervous about touching my hair and it's like didn't you learn this on your course?

What's next for you in terms of your music?

The single is out now, and I've just finished an album which will be out early next year. The title is still in the works but hopefully I should be on tour next year and doing some festivals too. So stay tuned.

If you could give young black girls one message what would it be?

I challenge anyone, of any race or sex, who is overwhelmed by conformity, to shave their heads as a symbol of new beginnings. As Oscar Wilde says: 'be yourself, everyone else is already taken'.

'Unmask Me' available for purchase now. Video directed and edited by Roger Spy.

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