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Araweelo Abroad x Poly Styrene (X-Ray Spex)

Araweelo Abroad had the privilege of virtually sitting down with Celeste Dos Santos, daughter of Poly Styrene (born Marianne Joan Elliot-Said). Poly Styrene was the front woman of the legendary punk band X-ray Spex. The daughter of a Somali aristocrat and a British legal secretary, Poly Styrene formed X-ray Spex in London in 1976. Despite their cult following, the group disbanded in 1979 after one successful studio album. However, they reunited on several occasions since 1979 and released a second and final album in 1995. Styrene also went on to have a successful solo career until she passed away from cancer in April of 2011, at age 53. However, her legacy as a punk pioneer will live on forever.

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Celeste Dos Santos fronts the band Celeste Dos Santos & The Tabloid Queens. We spoke to Celeste about the legacy of her mother as a punk pioneer, a Somali woman in music, and the influence she had on Celeste. Most recently, Celeste was at the helm of a successful Indiegogo campaign to fund a feature documentary about her mother. Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché is scheduled to be released in November of 2018.

IA: Hi Celeste, mahadsanid for agreeing to this interview. We’re big fans and honored that you’re sitting down with us! How did Poly end up being in a punk band? Why Rock n Roll music?

Celeste: Mum didn't start out as a punk. She was really into ska and reggae and her first single was a pop-reggae song called Silly Billy. It was only when she saw the Sex Pistols play in Hastings before they really blew up that she thought about starting a punk band. I think her thought process was - this looks easy and fun...I could do that!

IA: How was your mother’s music career received by her parents/family? It’s not every day that a Somali woman fronts a legendary punk band.  

Celeste: Her mum, my grandmother, was pretty bewildered with punk, it was all a lot of screaming and noise for her. But ultimately she was proud. As for Osman, my grandfather, he and my mum were estranged during her teens. My mother was protective of her mother and she felt that Osman had not been there for the family. They were able to reconcile their differences as my mother grew older. 

IA: When did you realize that you wanted to play music? Is this something you see yourself doing indefinitely? 

Celeste: I was a big show off as a kid and was always singing and dancing. But I never seriously considered a career in music as I had seen how much my mum had been burned by the whole experience. It was only as I reached my mid-twenties that I got into music...but for me it has never been a professional thing - just something I do for fun.

IA: During the early years, your mother was critical of consumerism and of a ‘plastic’ society. She was ‘eco’ before concerns about the environment really gained popularity. Was this concern about a consumerist society something your mother carried with her later on in life?

Celeste: Yes. My mother was definitely concerned about the direction the world was heading; particularly in her last days. More than anything my mother was an observer and critic of the post-modern culture we find ourselves in - where everything is disposable and fetishized... she really had a lot of foresight as to how plastic and superficial our society would become and how this would affect people's connections with not only the planet but each other. 

IA: What is the relationship Poly had with Somaliniimo, or her Somali identity and how did that paint her life experiences? What is your connection with your Somali identity?

Celeste: My mother has a complicated relationship with her Somali identity and indeed with her racial ambiguity in general. She had a difficult relationship with her father and grew up in a part of London which was predominantly white working class and Afro-Caribbean. There were no Somalis at all. She experienced a lot of racism from white people who would call her and her siblings half-breeds and anti-mixed prejudice could be found within the black community too. As a teen my mother often found it easier to pass - people would often assume she was Cypriot or Indian and she would not necessarily correct them. She only really accepted her Somali identity as her relations with my grandfather improved and she made more contact with our Somali family in East London. 

IA: How has X-ray Spex been received by Somali people over time?

Celeste: Good question! I think the younger generations are discovering more and more about achievements of people of Somali origin thanks to the internet. I certainly hope X-ray Spex has found fans among the Somali youth!

IA: Poly was the only woman in her band (other than Lora Logic’s brief stint in X-Ray Spex). She was also one of, if not the only black woman in the punk scene in London in the 1970s. Did she ever speak to you about how her intersectional identities as a woman and a person of color/black woman in a white male dominated industry impacted her experiences? 

Celeste: Absolutely. She continued to come up against discrimination as she entered the music industry. She felt her race was somehow fetishized and she refused to be defined by her sex or the colour of her skin. We have to remember that 70s Britain was still very much a place where colonialism was a recent memory and many white men saw women of colour in a hyper sexualized context. She was even described by someone in the industry as a jungle bunny- which was of course meant as a compliment! I think this is why my mum was so determined not to be sexy - she cultivated a tomboyish asexual identity when performing, even if this did not really represent who she actually was. 

IA: You are also the only woman in your band. Do you think the experiences of women in the music industry have changed between now and when your mother started X-ray Spex? What if any, challenges have you faced in this regard?

Celeste: I think women in performing arts are still under extreme pressures which perhaps in other industries play a lesser role. The obvious thing would be the scrutiny of physical appearance. Irrespective of the musical genre, female artists are still judged on their looks, age, sex appeal, etc. In many ways it seems to be getting worse - a grungy, slightly chubby girl with braces on her teeth could be a pop star in the 70s- nowadays female pop stars are obliged to push the sexual envelope further and further to gain attention and acclaim. Just one example would be the fact that even someone who claims an avant garde identity such as Lady Gaga still feels the need to appear on stage and in videos in her underwear. What purpose does this serve? In most cases it certainly does not add to the 'art'. 

IA: What advice do you have for young Somali women who want to become musicians or form their own bands? 

Celeste: Go for it! Be aware of the hurdles - but aim to break them down- don't let them stop you. 

IA: Poly Styrene was riot grrrl before riot grrrl existed. What role did feminism play in your mother’s life and what role does it play in your life?  

Celeste: My mum was a feminist without defining herself as one. She was a woman who played by her own rules. She was also not afraid of her power. She was never dependent on any man and forged her own path in life, despite the serious challenges she faced. I am a feminist to the extent that I have no doubt as to my capabilities as a human being and I do not let my having a vagina dissuade me from doing whatever the hell I want to do. 

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IA: Poly was a legend to the rest of the world, but she was also your mother. How did this impact you? Is there a sense of needing to make sure her legacy stays alive? 

Celeste: I never identified my mother with fame or legendary status. To me she was simply my mum. Now she has passed away I do feel an enormous responsibility to ensure her work and her art remains in the public sphere; mainly because what she created and what she represented is so relevant and so important that it would be a crime to let it fade away. 

IA: What can we expect from you next?

Celeste: I have taken a break from music. I decided last year to go back to university for post-graduate study and that is my focus at the moment. I am also working on some ideas to bring my mother's work to greater recognition - so watch this space X-ray Spex fans!

 All photos provided by Celeste from family photo archives.

Ifrah Ahmed is an Editor of Araweelo Abroad.

 

 

 

Araweelo Abroad x Mariane Ibrahim Gallery

We first discovered the much talked about Mariane Ibrahim Gallery (then known as M.I.A. Gallery) a few years ago at an opening event celebrating the launch of Helen Jenning's book New African Fashion. Since then we've been impressed by this Seattle based art gallery and its dedication to showcasing diverse and thought provoking art from contemporary artists who have traditionally been under-represented in the art world. The art world has begun to take notice of Mariane Ibrahim Gallery. Earlier this year, Mariane Ibrahim Gallery was awarded a $10,000 award by the Armory Show, a leading art fair in New York. We met with gallery owner Mariane Ibrahim-Lenhardt on a cool summer day in downtown Seattle and discussed diversity in the art world, the experience of running an art gallery, and what it means to be a black/Somali woman in the art world. 

IA: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us, Mariane. You were born in New Caledonia, lived in Somalia before the war broke out, moved to France, lived in London, and then studied briefly in Quebec. How did exposure to such diverse places shape your cultural palette?

Mariane: There are places you choose to live and others that you are forced to leave. I aim to adapt and to take advantage of every single opportunity in order to learn more about myself. Every person, culture and religion I was exposed to has shaped me. I have never felt too comfortable or too strange. Living this way influences you to go where you don’t belong. Diversity is not only physical, actual physical places don’t resonate much. What influences me the most are people.

IA: What is the role art has played in your life? Were you always a connoisseur of art? 

Mariane: It has a significant importance. Visual art sparked my interest much later, when I was a teenager. I have always been curious and have enjoyed going to art centres. I became more involved recently, and working in this environment made me more aware and an expert rather than just contemplating the arts. In my opinion, you have to be a frustrated artist to work as a dealer.

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IA: You created an NGO and partnered with UNESCO and archaeologists in order to protect the Laas Geel ancient cave paintings. In fact, you were successful in making Laas Geel the first Somali World Heritage site. What inspired you to do this? Do you still engage in this work?

Mariane: That was one of the most amazing and rewarding experiences. I guess I was expressing a form of cultural fatigue. I was tired of being discovered and being part of this neocolonialist discourse. I worked hard, harder than others, to share a story that was not mine but belonged to mankind. Archeologists tend to claim ownership of culture. So it was necessary to show, that we (as Africans) know our heritage, it has been transmitted from generation to generation through oral traditions. And this journey also took me to pay homage to one of the first greatest female leader, Araweelo near Erigabo, Somaliland. I have taken a step back but will for sure continue advocating these amazing sites. Ironically, these cave paintings were the first art galleries that have ever existed. It is comforting to pursue what I am doing.

IA: When did you decide that you wanted to open an art gallery? What did the road to that decision look like?

Mariane: It was an idea. I would not have imagined to open an art gallery, now that I actually have one, I ask myself why haven’t I not done this before. It has not been easy, it is a very demanding and hardworking business. My family was not surprised as I began ‘impossible’ projects. Opening a gallery was not too difficult, managing and making it work is the challenge.

IA: You are possibly the only Somali female art gallery owner and one of the few black gallery owners on our radar. That being said, how does your identity influence your work? How often do you meet other black gallery owners?

Mariane: I sometimes don’t think that I am the only one, or don’t want to think. It makes you more obnoxious. This is not where I focus. I tend to reflect on the current trends, what is going on in various parts of the world. I luckily have been connected with black artists, curators, architects who have been great supporters. I don’t see many black art dealers, many say I am the only one...I am sure there are a few out there, and a few will soon be known.

IA: In the early days, Mariane Ibrahim Gallery focused largely on contemporary African Art and you've exhibited the likes of Maïmouna Guerresi,  Soly Cisse, Malick Sidibe, and Delphine Diaw Diallo. What motivated you to open a gallery often focused on contemporary African Art, and why in Seattle of all places?

Mariane: I am still showing artists from Africa. I simply believe Africa must be heard and seen in many and different ways. As I navigated in the art world, I would notice how Africa is missing from the map. It is vital to expose Africa, and other regions. We are under-represented. My mission is to generate more visibility, so our voices are not only heard but count.

IA: In the past you’ve attended the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair. What was that experience like for you? Does a network of African artists and African gallery owners exist?

Mariane: I participated in the first edition of the fair. It is one of the most professional and friendly art fairs I have had the pleasure of doing. It is always wonderful to meet the dealers and artists. With the art dealers, we share a lot of concerns and are all putting our energy to promote the artists. We know each other, we sometimes unite.

IA: What has been the biggest challenge or joy of running your own art gallery?

Mariane: Just walking to my space and asking myself what is going to happen. Every moment is a blessing. I am grateful. 

IA: Do you have any plans to exhibit any Somali artists in the future?

Mariane: I am actually following one young Somali artist, so the answer is YES.

IA:  What is the process of selecting an artist to exhibit in your gallery like?

Mariane: There is no process. If there is a connection, it works.

IA: What advice do you have for all the black/Somali art babes out there who want to pursue a career in the art world but don't see enough representation of themselves?

Mariane: I was more or less prepared. It is a very uncertain and unpredictable career. My advice is have a plan and multi-task. The most difficult part is not to open a space, it is to run the gallery on a daily basis. And go with your feelings.

IA: What's next for you and for Mariane Ibrahim Gallery? 

Mariane: I have so many projects and am also focusing on my development both strategically and internationally. And I need to travel more :)

More can be found on Mariane Ibrahim Gallery here.

Ifrah Ahmed is an Editor of Araweelo Abroad.

A Must-See Exhibit Honors Black Women’s Resistance Art

Dindga McCannon .  Empress Akweke , 1975.

Dindga McCannon . Empress Akweke, 1975.

In 1970, the artist Faith Ringgold, alongside her daughter, writer Michele Wallace, and a New York-based artist-activist group successfully pressured the Whitney Museum of American Art to include Betye Saar and Barbara Chase-Riboud in that year’s Sculpture Annual—the first two black women artists to ever show at the prestigious institution. How did they do it? With well-placed cracked egg traps and tampons inscribed with “50%” scattered around the museum, a perfectly irritating reminder to curators of their demand: that half of the artists at the show be women. “The Whitney Museum became the focus of our attention. We went there often to deposit eggs. Unsuspecting male curatorial staff would pick up the eggs and experience the shock of having raw egg slide down the pants of their fine tailor-made suits,” Ringgold wrote in her 2005 memoir, recalling their performative tactics.

A new show at the Brooklyn Museum, “We Wanted A Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85” offers a rare glimpse of this moment in time, when the Black Arts Movement dovetailed with the women’s liberation movement. One of the exhibition’s anchor images, a photograph taken by artist Jan van Raay of one of their protests, shows a fresh-faced Wallace mid-chant, holding a sign that reads “50% Black Women Artists” and marching alongside her mother outside of the Whitney. It’s a striking record, not only of the artmaking of the time, but of the struggle for creative self-determination that black women artists were challenged with, an issue they still face today.

Curators Catherine Morris and Rujeko Hockley painstakingly assembled “We Wanted A Revolution” over the course of three years, resulting in a timely collection that centers radical resistance and pays particular attention to intersections of the personal and political, private, and public that black feminists and allies were forced to navigate during the second wave of feminism. The collection is incredibly expansive, spanning many mediums, two decades, and the work of 40 artists. It’s a rare compendium of black women artists, including the work of Ringgold, Saar, and Chase-Riboud, as well as that of Dindga McCannon, Emma Amos, and Lorna Simpson—names which now signify greatness, but belong to women who had to fight their way into the room, sometimes using eggs as weapons.

Carrie Mae Weems . Mirror, Mirror  1987-1988.

Carrie Mae Weems. Mirror, Mirror 1987-1988.

Carrie Mae Weems seminal photo series “Family Pictures and Stories,1978-1984” illustrates these tensions in a neat microcosm of the entire exhibition. The photo series, a depiction of the artist’s home life in Portland, Oregon, was conceived as a direct response to the Moynihan Report, a controversial 1965 policy paper that suggested black American families were dysfunctional and unable to contribute to wider society because black women were deviant in the home.

Faith Ringgold.  For the Women’s House , 1971.

Faith Ringgold. For the Women’s House, 1971.

Other memorable pieces include Ringgold’s rarely seen “For the Women’s House,” a work which the artist dedicated to women incarcerated on Rikers Island. The painting was truly made for the women, as Ringgold had asked them what they would like to see—what would sustain their spirits behind bars and what they would like to do once they were freed. The result is a dreamy collage of women in powerful stances, occupying roles that were rare for women to hold then: a doctor, a police officer, a construction worker, an athlete. Here, Ringgold’s idea of “freedom” extends beyond the prison which restrained her subjects, reaching out to all women seeking liberation from confines far less tangible than prison walls. Another particularly affecting piece is Howardena Pindell’s experimental video work, “Free, White, and 21.” In it, the artist details racism she has experienced and has overcome throughout her life. She then dons a blonde wig, assuming the position of an unsympathetic white woman listening to her complaints. The video functions as both confessional and critique; at one point, the artist wraps her head in white gauze suggesting the strictures of the white gaze.

Emma Amos.  Amos’s Sandy and Her Husband  (1973)

Emma Amos. Amos’s Sandy and Her Husband (1973)

That artmaking was necessarily political in a time of such tumult should not come as a surprise, and neither should the fact that the artists were successful against all odds. The lesson contained here: If there was not a way, these women would make one.


This piece was originally published in GOOD on May 3rd, 2017.

Catch “We Wanted A Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85” at the Brooklyn Museum until September 17th, 2017. 

Muna Mire’s work can be found at the New York Times, The Nation, The New Republic, and VICE. Find her on twitter at @Muna_Mire

The Mahoyo Collective

We first heard of Mahoyo a few years ago when we saw stunning pictures of the collective floating around the web. Mahoyo is a combination of the Mandarin and Somali words for mother– “Ma” and “Hooyo”.  Araweelo Abroad wanted to catch up with fly girl Farah Yusuf, one of the two founding members of Mahoyo (the other member being MyNa Do). We asked Farah about Mahoyo’s origins, identity, DJing, and what the future holds for this bomb creative duo.

IA: How did the Mahoyo Collective come to exist? What drew you to the word Mother when naming the collective? 

Farah: Mahoyo came to exist through a shared desire to start something me and my best friends could call our own. Mahoyo started as a blog and a web shop; carrying small and selected streetwear fashion brands from around the globe, and then it has evolved to what it is today.

We played around with a lot of different words, Mahoyo just sounded right, and I think that, for me at least I saw it as a tribute to my mother. I always want to make hooyo proud, and I hope to do so through the work of Mahoyo.

IA: What was growing up in Sweden like for you and how did it influence your creativity?

Farah: I grew up in a small city, southeast of Sweden and had from an early age been very active both within sports but also singing and dancing. It wasn’t the most inspiring environment, but I was lucky to grow up during the 90s when black sitcoms were mainstream and MTV showed music videos. THANK GOD FOR BLACK ENTERTAINMENT!

 IA: We know that in the past ya’ll have expressed feeling like outsiders in Sweden or challenging the narrative of what it means to look and be Swedish. How has fashion helped you challenge this narrative? Do you think fashion served as a survival tactic for you?

Farah: Yes, in a way I think that it has. When I started to get into fashion and style I started to care less about fitting in and more about being myself. 

IA: Much like your experience with being told that there is only one way to be Swedish, Somalis in the diaspora are told that there is one way to be Somali. How do you personally re-define and disrupt this notion of what it means to be Somali woman?

Farah: I grew up with very few Somalis around me, and even then I have always been perceived as a bit "too much” or "too alternative”. Very often people; especially Somali, mistake me for another ethnicity and that has a lot to do with the way I look and express myself. This bothers me because it’s like saying all Somali look the same or should look/act in a certain way to be as a "real" Somali. I am so happy to see the growing number of young Somalis daring to be whoever they feel like popping up everywhere on social media. 

IA: What motivated you to get into DJing and who are your do or die favorites? 

Farah: We (Mahoyo) always get inspired by other women. It was during a trip to Tokyo 2009 we got inspired by the djs there, and when we got back to Sweden we decided to start learning the craft of djing. This was also during a time when there was a lack of women in the dj scene, and we wanted to change that. My do or die favorites when spinnin tracks has for the past few have years been “come to me baby” by Verse Simmonds,  “Sous les cocotiers” by Bab Lee and Busta Rhymes “Put ya hands where my eye can see.” I have also come to love the new Missy Elliot remix for “I’m better”.

IA: So, we know Mahoyo is a creative duo. We also know that Mahoyo engages in other work, often around the idea of empowering women. How has feminism shaped you and your collective?

Farah: Mahoyo used to be a creative collective consisting of me, MyNa Do and Pia Do, but since a year ago we have become a duo (Farah and MyNa). Mahoyo is our creative space, where we can do everything we love, such as DJ, styling, photography and The Mahoyo Project documentary. For us intersectional feminism has helped opened open our eyes, it has made us understand so much about ourselves and about the world we live in. It has become a lifestyle, a way for us to see structures and also a tool to change it for the better.

IA: In terms of identity, you are Somali ethnically, Swedish nationally, and a sort of citizen of the world with all of the traveling you do. Do you identify as a third culture kid? How has the exposure to so many cultures challenged or inspired you?

Farah: I feel comfortable defining myself as a third culture kid. The exposure has been extremely inspiring because I don’t have to be just one thing and I can and will define myself as whatever I want, but also hard because I often feel that I don’t belong or rootless if you will. Through the travelling I have been blessed to meet so many amazing souls out in the world with similar background to share experiences with and that has been very empowering.

IA: In the past, Mahoyo visited South Africa to connect and work creatively with some of the local women. How did the idea to go there come about and can you speak about the work that ya'll did?

Farah: It all started after a trip to South Africa early 2013. We were inspired by the vibrant street culture in Johannesburg, and we felt the need to share what we experienced with the world. We also felt like it was important to uplift the women within the scene as they often tend to be forgotten. 

We were in Johannesburg to make a documentary called The Mahoyo Project. It is a collaboration with production team Flip Flop Interactive (http://www.flipflopinteractive.com) that explores the urban youth culture within dance, music and fashion in Johannesburg and Stockholm. We touch on subjects like gender, race and location and our goal is to break stereotypes. We have worked with people that inspires us, and stories we want to uplift. The whole experience was so amazing and something that I will never forget.

IA: What motivated ya’ll to film a documentary of your experiences and efforts in South Africa?

Farah: We saw this as an opportunity to contribute to a more nuanced image of South Africa (Africa in general) and also people of color in Sweden. The Mahoyo Project is basically a tool to tell stories and illuminate people that normally are marginalized, it's a reaction of the current narrative of minorities. We use culture as a weapon. Our goal is to take the concept of The Mahoyo Project to other parts of the world. It is a big dream of mine to go to Somalia and capture beautiful stories from our people. Insha'Allah it will happen soon.

IA: What role does mentorship play in the structure and outlook of Mahoyo? Who mentored you or had an influence on you? 

Farah: Someone who has had a really big influence on me is my dear hooyo. She is the bravest and strongest person I know. Her story is just unbelievable. 

IA: What advice do you have for Somali women who are seeking to be their authentic selves?

Farah: This is a hard question, and I don’t really have a perfect answer. But what has helped me feel comfortable with being myself is my lovely friends who always got my back but also understanding social structures. Since I started to study black feminism and postcolonial studies I see the world with different eyes. From this a strong sense of self love and pride has emerged. 

IA: What do you have in the works for the future both individually and with Mahoyo?

Farah: This year started off really nice for us, we had the pleasure to show case a teaser from the documentary at the Gothenburg film festival. At the moment we are in the middle of planning and researching the second destination to shoot the documentary, hopefully it will happen before year is over. During this year we will also explore more of our artistry as we been invited to do an Artist-in-Residence for Grafikens Hus. We are so excited to see where this journey takes us. As for me individually, I relocated to another city (Malmö) so I’m busy exploring and enjoying my new city to the fullest.

IA: What's on your summer playlist? 

Farah: Here comes a short list, enjoy!

dawn

east african wave
drake

missy elliot

jojo abot 

fat Joe & remy ma

cherrie

kendrick lamar

dvsn
sammy & johnny bennet


Ifrah Ahmed is an Editor of Araweelo Abroad.

Marawa The Amazing

Araweelo Abroad got a chance to speak with the globetrotting ball of energy that is Marawa the Amazing. We talked to her about the Guinness World Record, being a television star, fashion, and the circus. 

IA: Hello, Marawa! Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us especially considering how many different time zones you fly through each week! If you were asked to define what you “do” in 2 words or less, what would you say?

Marawa: Professional hoola-hooper (it’s kinda three words…but kinda two.. is that ok?!) 

IA: Is it true that you are a 5 time Guinness World Record holder and hold the world record for spinning the most hula hoops at once? How did that happen and how does it feel to hold a world record in something?

Marawa: It’s true! It’s my favourite thing on my resume - I read the book as a kid - always trying to work out what I could do. I spent nearly 2 years working on the record for most hoops so I was super happy when I finally made it! 

IA: You’ve collaborated with some big names in the fashion world. Everyone from Opening Ceremony to Kenzo to Monki. What form do these collaborations usually take and what do hulu hoops and fashion have to do with one another?

Marawa: It’s just a great fit with any fun brand that uses interesting design, stretch fabrics, or bright colours. They just kind of work well together. All the brands I work with are young fun brands so it seems to make sense. We have done everything from shows instore to workshops with the brands. 

IA: What has the reaction been from both loved ones and strangers regarding your career?

Marawa: I don't always tell people what I do because it always leads to lots of questions and always the same questions! Which gets exhausting or boring. “WHAT ?! You are in the circus?!” “Your full time job?!” “Hoops?...hula hoops?!”, etc. But I get it- it’s not something people hear about normally as a day job. My mum has been super supportive at every step of the way. My dad is still slowly coming around. It took me a long time to come clean about what I was doing to him - I don't think he planned on sending his daughter to private school to have her then study at clown college.

IA: You’ve been on both Arab’s Got Talent and Britain’s Got Talent. How have you dealt with the fame that has come with being on TV? What is the strangest thing that has happened to you as a result?

Marawa: With so much social media etc, it’s weird seeing what people say, write, and discuss online I try to avoid it pretty much – It’s great reading emails from fans that tell you stories about how you inspired them - that’s the best stuff ! The strangest things to me are the photo-shopped images! People will insert me into their pictures - or put their head on my body that’s hooping - so weird?! But funny! 

IA: You have also taught all over the world. Everywhere from Paris to Poland. But we are curious to know how you were able to get into and teach in North Korea and what that was like!

Marawa: It’s amazing! It’s not THAT difficult to get in there, you just have to go on a tour. So the tour people help you organize all the visas and then you have to really stick to their itinerary - you don't get to go off by yourself, ever. But it was an amazing opportunity and experience. I wanted to see the mass games - that was my whole reason for going. I took the hoops because I figured it was too good of an opportunity not to! when we had a day in the park I brought the hoops out and taught the local kids and adults it was so nice. I don't think they had ever seen anyone like me before so we were all smiling at each other, unable to communicate apart from smiles and laughing. But it was so sweet!

IA: What was your experience teaching hula hoops in Somalia? Any plans to do more teaching in Somalia?

Marawa: I would love to but I can’t say I felt totally safe there. I don’t know - it’s tough. There are amazing people out there trying to make it happen, rebuilding a country and I admire that big time. I took 120 hoops with me that a TV show had given me for a performance. I didn’t need them so when I went to Somalia with my dad I took them and we split them between an orphanage and 2 circuses. I didn’t even know there would be a circus there. I had never heard of them! But I was so excited - I sent them some more circus equipment when I got back to London.  I hope they are still going and YES I hope to teach there again in the future!

IA: Who are the Majorettes and how did they come to exist?

Marawa: The Majorettes are my troupe of hoopers! The performance troupeare based in London but I am planning on starting a troupe in the US later this year. We started the troupe in 2012 when the girls performed for the London Olympics torch relay and they have been going strong ever since! Most of the girls could not hoop at all. But now they perform, teach and hang out together. Last year they all started skating too! I want to expand the group internationally - for performance - but also just for girls that want to get fit, have fun with their friends, and hoop!

IA: You just came out with a new book called "The Girl Guide" which is about learning to love your body. What inspired you to come out with a book and what has the experience been like for you? Also where can we cop it?

Marawa: YES! It has been 3 years in the making. I have been thinking about it for a long time. Like since I went through puberty myself and really wished there was a book to consult that wasn’t all about periods = having a baby. I wanted answers to all the embarrassing questions! I feel like even with the internet around it’s hard to find real stories and information and that’s what this book is aiming to do - give a really realistic personal look at EVERYTHING that happens when puberty kicks in. It comes out June 1st and is easiest to order via amazon! Link below!

IA: What is next for Marawa the Amazing?

Marawa: Another summer bouncing between LA and London - I am trying to settle in LA but keep running back to the UK ! 

Marawa’s book “The Girl Guide” can be found here.

Ifrah Ahmed is an Editor of Araweelo Abroad.