In this special interview with Kairo Radio, the daughter of Gambian reggae legend Demba Conta talks about her life, family and road to music career. Imam Conta storms the music world by surprise, with her composed song Lush Life hitting record sales in Europe.
Interviewer: Mohamed Lamin Sillah
Iman Conta tops the music chat in Sweden. The song she composes for the Swedish pop star Sarah Larson sells over 80 million copies in Europe. We’re please to have Iman Conta on Kairo Radio to talk about her music, life and family. Iman welcome to Kairo Radio.
Thank you very much. I’m so happy for having me. I’m so excited to be here.
Can you to tell our listeners who is Iman Conta?
Iman Conta is a girl who’s based in Stockholm, Sweden. I’ve been seeing my whole life thanks to my family, and now I’m finally doing my own music. I’m performing, writing for different artists and I’m hoping to inspire people with my music. That’s a little bit of who I’m. And I’ve been a back up singer for other artists for years in Sweden and also a song writer for many people. And now I’m so excited to be in the spotlight.
Iman Conta, the child of a music legend and teacher, is not an artiste by surprise. You’re born in an environment that’s filled with music. But we’ve seen some people in your shoes who don’t follow in the footsteps of their parents. What exactly inspires Iman Conta to sing?
Well, like you’ve said my both parents are musicians, song writers, artists, and producers. I’m grown up in a house filled with music. When I was little, my parents used to sing for me, and I met all these artists already when I was a very little girl. So it felt very natural for me to step into those shoes and to choose to pursue music, it’s very natural and I could not wait to do it.
Did you attend any music school?
Yes I did. When I was 10 years old, I started choir school. It’s a school where you learn all the basic things but also learn to sing in the choir. I also did music in the high school which is inspiring. I also attended school in Los Angeles when I was 17.
In the US here?
Yes, over there in the US.
Like father, like daughter. Both Demba Conta and Iman Conta do composing and singing, which is wonderful. Are you naturally born with both skills or your parents help enhance your skills?
Thank you for saying that; thank you for calling it skill. I’ve never looked at it that way. I was always inspired by my parents because they toured when I was little and coached other artists. I always saw them doing this. So it just kind of came to me and I tried it out. It’s still very new to me, I’m only 21 and have not been doing it for so long. I’ll say it’s a combination; I’m inspired by my parents and I want to do my own thing, so it’s kind of both.
Your song Sugar Deluxe is fashioned in real American hip-hop style: the lyrics, the beatings and the melodies are too tempting. But the question becomes what kind of message are you trying to send in Sugar Deluxe?
That’s a very good question. Sugar Deluxe isn’t your common song; it’s not written in normal kind of way; I wanted to take a new direction. I want to do something new. So I started analysing the way men describe women in songs and the mainstream pop music, especially in the [United] States and Europe. What I found was that they’re often very objectifying, they always describe women as belongings rather than active people; rather than people with emotions, intelligence and so on. So I wanted to write something that’s kind of ironic and sarcastic but to the point. Look, you can write this about guys exactly the way they write about women. I wanted to start a conversation, start questioning norms, to make people wondering what kind of music they’re listening to.
In essence, you’re crying for justice and equality between men and women. Is that correct?
That’s a perfect description.
One of your songs is called Paris. Some people would have expected you to choose Stockholm. Is it because there’s something special that you love about Paris, the classic city of ambiance and European civilisation?
Well, when I wrote the song, I’ve never been to Paris. Paris was kind of symbol for me. Like you said, everything it stands for: you think of romance, feeling, love. I want to just use a word that would describe everything in the song. It’s a place I wanted to visit and now I’ve been there, it’s something I felt for. You’re right, the next song should be called Banjul or may be Gambia. Ha ha ha..
Can you tell us more about the song Paris? What does it contain? What is the message in it?
This was some of my older works, so it wasn’t as political as Sugar Deluxe. This was a description of the state of mind; it’s a song that describes emotions. You can make your own emotion about it. You can think pretty what you want to make about it; you can make your own impression about it; it’s kind of vague. But it’s about feelings, you could say. It wasn’t my intention to write about one specific person but many people can relate to it.
When I look at you I can see the image of Nkunle Dube, the daughter of the late South African reggae star. Both of you have gone with your parents’ professions, but the difference is that you sing hip-hop while Nkunle does reggae. Do you plan to try a hand in reggae, your father’s way of music?
Waw! Yeah. I mean, my father did the reggae music, but I don’t think you can be limited to one genre; you can’t just do one type of music all the time. Sometimes you feel happy and you want to write hip-hop, and you’re angry and you want to write rock. Definitely, I’ll be able to make a reggae song.
Can you tell us a little bit about your upbringing, your childhood and your family? I think this will be an inspiration to many young people abroad and The Gambia, considering where your father came from, an unlettered man who combed the Sahara Desert, came to Europe and became a reggae super star. Can you tell us a little about your family life?
Well, my family life, I don’t think it’s ordinary because it’s created out of two worlds. First it’s the Swedish part and then the Gambian part. As you’ve said, my father made a very long journey to come to Sweden and my mother was already born in Sweden, but she’s made a long journey herself – both musically and also in her life. They’re very big inspiration for me that’s why I don’t think my upbringing was ordinary. It’s always music in the house, it’s always discussion in the family house; we’re not afraid of discussing anything. We’re never afraid to discuss politics, important things in the world. I think that’s very important because you need that kind of upbringing to get your self-esteem. And to get your self-esteem high, you need these people who are always going to support you and provide you with information about life and the world. I think everyone who’s trying to pursue music or doing something else in their life always respect their family because they can always help you go the distance you can’t go yourself.
Let’s look at your father’s musical career, I know you get a lot of inspiration from both your father and mother. Can you specifically tell the listeners one of the very best of your father’s music that gives you a lot of inspiration?
Ah, that’s kind of hard. There’s many; there’s one song called Boomerang that I always used to sing when I was young. There’s a lot of bong bong bong in it; I love School Days and Reggae so Nice.
What was Iman’s inspiration to get into music – was it your father’s success or your mother’s music knowledge that motivated you to get into music?
It’s hard to pick one of them; it’s definitely both of them. It’s a combination; you need both parts. It’s definitely the mixture between my mom’s knowledge and my father’s support. I’ve always seen her coaching artists and making music. Actually, I’ve never seen my father perform but I’ve always heard his music and watch his music videos. It’s actually both of them who inspire me.
Iman, your mother who holds PhD in Music Production, is the Chief Executive Officer of Song Academy. Tell us about your mother since you tell us about your father?
My mother works for this company Song Academy. It’s created about 20 years ago. She is both music producer, vocal producer, artist and singer. But in this company she’s been the vocal coach of many Swedish and also international artists. She’s coached some artists that are big in Sweden such as Tuvalu; my mother has done it all. She’s a living legend. That’s all about my mom.
You wrote a song Lush Life for Sarah Larsson. The song hits the chart and sells more than 80 million copies. How did you come to write a song for Sara Larsson?
Well, it happened when I was contacted together with the Song Academy; I came into with this publishing company that Sara Larsson is under, and then I wanted to find song writers to write together with for my own project, but then they asked me to join this song writing camp? to see if I wanted to write a song for Sara Larsson, and to see if I could find people I could connect with musically. So I did that. I went to song writing camp and I met with a guy called Imana and Limiya. We tried to write something and we came up with Lush Life in one day.
Can you work us through Lush Life?
Lush Life is all about empowering this girl [Sarah Larson] because Sara Larson is known for her opinion, she’s not a shy girl. She’s not shy for taking space and not being ashamed of who she’s. But every time she releases a song, it’s always about her being heart broken, meeting some horrible guys; so this time we wanted to make something that would represent who she’s; something that will empower her; that will show the world exactly how tough she’s. So the song is about her, doing what she wants, living the life the way she wants to live it. Guys aren’t part of the song, they can come and go but that’s not the important thing. It’s about her as a person, that’s what the song is about.
Why is the song so successful?
It’s just because many people here in Sweden really like Sarah Larsson. Like I said she’s a tough person, the right song has never come along that describes the way she actually is. And this son is catchy but has a message that I think people have been waiting for. So once they got this message nothing stopped them. It’s thanks to the message.
Before we let you go, I want to ask if you are considering collaborating with your dad, mother and brothers who also try their hands in music to come out with something that can be seen as a family legacy?
Well of course I would love to work with my father, mother, my brother Eddie Conta, Sunjatha who is a very good singer, performer and artist and also I’ve cousins who are doing well here in Sweden. I would love to work with all of them.
If you want to see something you can look at my YouTube account because that’s where you’ll find those kind of a thing. Just look it up.
So it looks like your whole family – even your cousins – are now into music?
Everyone except two like two people. Everyone is inspired by the living legend [Demba Conta].
Before I let you go, I know You’re a very busy person these days, you’ve a lot of work to do. And Congratulation for your success. We Gambians, Africans at large, we’re very proud of you for your success. We hope you’ll connect to the continent also, and as you say your next music will be Banjul or Gambia.
What message do you have for aspiring musicians, particularly from the continent of Africa?
That’s a good question. I don’t want to sound boring but I’d say it’s still the same thing and that’s not to be afraid of your capacity. If you feel like you’ve something to say, something to inspire people with go for it, don’t be shy to express your music, to express your feelings and thoughts. And I’ll say that Africa is a big continent, so there’s obviously a lot of competition but I think as long as what you’re thriving on is the happiness and love for the music, I think you’ll do well. You shouldn’t think too much about how should I promote myself as an artiste. If you know you’ve strong opinion about anything, you shouldn’t go back. For example, I know what I want to do to inspire people, then I shouldn’t be caught be in; I need to promote myself this way, I need to be cool. Just make your message be heard. That’s the most important part.
Thank you very much for sparing your time with us. Kairo Radio appreciates you for sharing your success story with our audience.