On her origins
My father is from Mali, West Africa. He was a diplomat when I was a kid so we traveled a lot. I was raised in Ghana, Nigeria and I have lived in New York and DC. My parents are retired and now living in Mali.
On getting into modeling
I started modeling when I was 17. I was going to see a movie with my friends and I was just waiting for them at the cinema when a woman came and asked me if I would like to model. I said, “Yeh, why not, but I’m not tall and I’m not pretty.” And she said, “You are. This is my cell phone just give me a call.”
I called her and we did a photoshoot and a lookbook and then I started. It’s a crazy life. I was with Elite Model Management. I did commercials, photos for Louis Vuitton and runway shows. A lot of things.
I didn’t really like it. I didn’t hate it because it was mostly fun, but I didn’t take it seriously. It was just a way to earn money when you’re 17. It’s cool, you go to school and you make money doing a fun thing. When I finished business school in Paris I decided to just model because I’d earn more money doing that and I didn’t want to work in a bank somewhere. So I moved to New York and continued modeling.
But there’s a lot of pressure on the girls. You have all the top models but you also have models who work a lot but don’t have name recognition. There’s a lot of competition between girls; you have to stay thin, you have to always be good looking, you have to fit in what they’re expecting from you. It’s not always easy. If you take that really seriously it can lead to trouble.
Eventually I stopped modeling and moved back to Paris to do something I’d always dreamed off, getting back into music.
On her new music career
When I was modeling I still did a lot of music. I was composing for some artists here in France so the boss of my current record company heard about me and came once to listen to one of my gigs. They really wanted to work with me so I said, “Okay. Where do I sign?!”
The response to my album Everyday is a New World has been amazing. I couldn’t even dream about this. It’s crazy because I spent almost two years on the album. I wanted everything to look like me and I wanted something really personal from this album. When it was released people went crazy, I was doing interviews with all these journalists and TV shows and it was great because I didn’t expect that. I just wanted to do music.
On Nneka, and other young African artists
I don’t know Nneka closely, we just met like one or two times. But she’s great, I like her music. Here in Europe there are few African artists really rising. So it was cool for me to have Nneka before so now it’s kinda my turn, so I’m happy.
On whether her hair is real
It’s real. The real hair is even bigger than the wig (laughs). I wear a wig for some shoots because when I work I have to have the same head, the same look. But my hair underneath is natural.
On going natural
I used to have natural hair as a kid but my sister is a hairdresser and she started relaxing my hair when I was 11. At the beginning I liked it because it was smooth and just like all my friends, then I started hating it because it hurt and even when I took good care of it it broke off.
Seven years ago I thought, okay, I’m going to stop. I cut off when my hair, I didn’t even know that was called ‘transitioning’. I just let my hair grow and then I started cutting out all the relaxed hair gradually. It was difficult to take care of both textures, so I did a lot of braids.
At the beginning it was difficult because I was taking care of my natural hair like I used to take care of my relaxed hair, so I wouldn’t wash it very often because I was not used to that. When I was in New York I had a friend who was natural and she told me about what she was doing so I tried out different things.
On her regimen
When I’m working I use a lot of protective styles like weaves that I don’t keep more than 8 or 10 days. My hairdresser braids my hair underneath very loosely so that the front doesn’t break off.
I wash my hair once a week and I also wash when it’s really hot like, now it is in Paris. In the winter I shampoo every two weeks. In between shampoos I co-wash with conditioner.
I use Mizani products because before becoming their spokesmodel I wanted to try them on my hair to check if they’re really good, and they are. I also use Alba Botanica and Amazonia Preciosa products. I deep condition once a week before I do my shampoo using castor oil with rosemary, ylang, ylang (an essential oil that smooths my hair) and shea butter.
As far as styling, sometimes I do twists and braids. If I’m wearing my real hair to a shoot I’ll do an afro or twist outs. Here in Paris it gets really cold in the winter, so I do a lot of protective styles.
On being the new Mizani spokesmodel
Mizani is a line for black hair, relaxed or natural and they didn’t have any spokesmodels for that. They asked me to do it about 6 months ago so we’re going to start shooting in September and I’m really happy about that. L’Oreal (Mizani’s parent company) is such a huge company for cosmetics and hair. They have spokespersons for their cosmetic products, like Beyonce and Kerry Washington, but they didn’t have anyone for black hair products. That was bizarre because so many black women are buying their stuff. So I’m really proud to be the first one. I really, really can’t wait.
Her number one beauty tip
Always take off the makeup before you go to bed. And get facials when you can.