Most entrepreneurs will tell you it is not easy running a business. You have to set up shop, hire employees, handle all the administrative paperwork and if you are like Ethiopia’s Grammy Nominated Wayna, you also have to build, refine and fine tune your music skills which keeps fans coming back for more. So, it is particularly sweet, especially for a small business entrepreneur, when you are recognized for all of your hard work on a national and global platform. LADYBRILLE is delighted to introduce Ethiopia’s Grammy Nominated Wayna to you in our signature indepth interview. We cover her growing up in “Little Ethiopia,” her career working for Clinton’s Adminstration and her music!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Wayna so you were born in Ethiopia.
Wayna: Yes. I was born in Ethiopia and then I immigrated to the States with my mom when I was a toddler.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: [laughs] Toddler? That doesn’t really count!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: [continues] Depending on who you talk to, they would say, “are you kidding me? She is as American as they get.” [laughs] But you have said on so many [platforms] that you were deeply entrenched in Ethiopian culture. Can you explain a little more about that?
Wayna: There are a couple of things. [W]hen we first came here [D.C.], there were not a lot of Ethiopians. Now, there are Ethiopians everywhere. [W]hen we first came, it was like a group under a hundred of Ethiopian citizens so we really had to stick together to preserve our sense of community. It was a different time and people were less tolerant of other cultures. Being an immigrant, we were more of the novelty. I think that coupled with the type of woman that my mom is. There are people who come here and kind of absorb parts of American culture that they want to integrate into their personalities.Then there are some who are close to their upbringing and their values. My mom was definitely the latter.
If you met her and spoke with her today, you won’t believe she has lived in the United States for 30 plus years. She is very much the same person she was when she first came here. So, those two things created a bubble for me where I felt like I was living in Ethiopia in America.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: I am very familiar with the DC area and yes indeed DC is dominated with Ethiopians. [Laughs] From under a 100 to total domination, Adam’s Morgan, the associations, conferences and soccer tournaments. I think you guys did a great job preserving the culture.
Wayna:[gives a hearty laughter]
LADYBRILLEmag.com: So, how did this young woman who was working as a writer for the Clinton Administration transition into music and why music?
Wayna: It was always at the heart of what I like. Anytime I heard music, performance on television, I was completely captivated. More strange is that I would venture into a professional world and try to live that world. I feel like I was pretending in that world. That was different for me than being an artist. Being an artist was always what I loved to do and did most naturally.
My culture also played a role in that my mom had given up so much to bring me here so I could get an education. Like many African [parents who have migrated here], her hope was I could go to school, have a stable job, become a lawyer. That whole dream was something I felt obligated to pursue and so that is why I studied English and started working in politics. But, I found out pretty quickly that I was not happy and no matter how proud I made her, I wasn’t happy. At some point, I needed to take the risk and at that point she had enough confidence that I could find my way and would be taken care of. It was a tough mental and emotional leap for me. Trying to find your calling is a scary thing.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: It is! So you have this stability and you chose to go into a more unstable environment. Did you have savings set aside you could draw on as you tried to establish yourself?
Wayna: I started initially working part time. I was a consultant. Then I started working with producers, trying to produce my CD. But I was a little naïve in terms of how much it would take to produce an independent project. I also went through a period where I was going through an independent label that collapsed. Instead of relying on them to fund the project, I had to come up with it myself. I had to go back to work [for] a year to save enough money to fund the project so I could release it on my own.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: That must have taught you a lot as a business woman and artist.
Wayna: Absolutely. [I] really wanted to be an artist but there were other muscles I had to learn to flex in order to be an artist. For whatever reason, my path was more complicated and I think God wanted me to learn different aspects of the business, even the production side that I would not have voluntarily taken on. For whatever reason, it has been my journey.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: But with that character development that you learned, I would think it spilled and applies to your work. So, how would define yourself as an artist?
Wayna: Oh my God! [pauses] I am a story teller. I am most inspired by telling the stories of people whose voices are not normally heard and relating it to other communities that otherwise do not feel connected to them. On a deeper level, that is sort of where I am as a writer and artistically. [I]t is the thing that is most enjoyable and rewarding for me to do.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: I see you do a lot of love songs and you seem to be doing quite well. Tell us where you are tying to go as an artist?
Wayna: I was just talking to my husband about it a while ago when we where driving in the car. I was saying a lot of people would have doubted that an independent artist could get a grammy nomination. I mean it may have been something even too big for me to imagine but I think that this shows that it is possible and it shows that, not only from the artistic side, but that on the business side, we are doing something right. So, I want to continue to build on that and grow. In terms of the story telling aspect, I have taken on [numerous] issues.
I have taken on AIDS in Africa, I told my mom’s story, domestic violence, police brutality, office politics, a wide range of issues. In the previous album, I talked about issues that I had experienced. This album, the issues I have not experienced but they are very important to me. My songs on domestic violence was, for example, inspired by an article I read in Essence Magazine about a woman who had experienced domestic violence. [She] lived in my community in Prince George’s county. So, I try to tell stories that are hopefully authentic.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Interesting. I am sure you are aware or on the pulse of pop culture. So, what is your take on Rihanna and Chris?
Wayna: Interesting you bring that issue up. The whole point of my song “My Love” was to show that domestic violence is so pertinent in our society and it does not discriminate even with class. The Essence article was about how Prince Geroge’s county was a very affluent county [dominated] by African-Americans. Yet, it had the highest rate of domestic violence in the country. So I thought about the irony of women who look like they have it all, yet they still struggle with this age old problem.
Rihanna is an example of that because she was sort of like the picture of confidence and cool for young women; and the fact that she too can be subjected to this kind of abuse is really sad. I think the lesson we can take away from this is that this is still a very prevalent issue. [her tone gets even more passionate] It is not something that affects only low income families. It is something that affect all of us.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Wayna, why do you think you are so passionate about socio-political issues and sing them in your songs? Socio-political issues that don’t necessarily get you to become a household name.
Wayna:[laughs] So funny. Well, that is the point of it. I don’t want to be an artist just do the sake of being famous. Trust me I would not mind having a good life for the rest of my life. But [being famous] does not get me out of bed in the morning. It does not inspire me. Last night, I stood out last night for forty minutes in the rain so that I could get an opportunity to speak with questioners. I am not going to do that because I want to be famous. I do that because hopefully I can help contribute to helping free somebody’s mind. That is the spiritual part that can’t get depleted but if my goal is to just be famous, I won’t last because that is not interesting enough.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: It is not interesting for your mindset and how you work?
Wayna: No not at all
Wayna: [laughs] No not at all. It would not be worth all of the stuff I had to go through.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Specifically, for the many young Ethiopian women who are trying to get to where you are, what do you say to them in how they can achieve their goals?
Wayna: Well I think you have to give them options through our own life examples, our successful ways of being in every field and endeavor. I think you are starting to see that. There are Ethiopians in every line of work: Aida Muluneh the photographer, Marcus Samuelsson, the Chef. I think that with every new generation, they are going to see Ethiopians doing it representing our culture in a dignified way and contributing to who we are and who we can be. When we do that, the young people will see that and feed off of that. They will be inspired.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Going back to your music, where were you when you found out you were a grammy nominated artist!
Wayna: [laughs] We were in South Africa for my girlfriend’s wedding. We were in this remote part of Capetown. We knew the nominations were going to be announced but because we were in this remote area, we could not watch the live telecast. So, my husband and I got up within the crack of dawn the morning after and went to a hotel and the lobby of the hotel to watch and there was my name.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Congratulations! So what happened after that, walk us through your excitement.
Wayna: [laughs] Oh God! We had to hire the right people to help us get the most out of the experience. We had to deal with all of styling issues and finding the right people who are familiar with the process and could walk us through what we needed to do. It was really a whirlwind. At that point, I was still operating more on an independent level and I was just thrown into the national level.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Oh my God are you serious?!
Wayna: Yeaaaah! As a small label, we were doing things fairly well but we were thrown into a situation where I had to try to do for myself everything that major labels do for their artists.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Okay so hold on right there. I thought at this point you were signed on a label as an artist.
Wayna: No. Everything, I have been doing on my own and it is called Quiet Power.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Wow. That underscores the significance of you being nominated for the Grammys awards, even more. You go from a one woman shop to a national, global platform. That is impressive!
Wayna: Yeah. That was one of the things people said when we were up for nomination that, “whoa you are going up against Will.I.am, the Neptunes. These were big artists, labels and big producers and they were all well funded. We were one of two independent labels and the other independent label had big producers and it was very well funded. This was literally my small tiny independent label!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: That is so, so impressive. That is super impressive. I can’t believe it.
Okay so you have this frenzy, I have been nominated against all these amazing people. I have to get my hair, nails, face done and pick an outfit. Who do you end up wearing to the Grammys?
Wayna: [laughs] I ended up wearing a Georges Hobeika, a Lebanese designer. The fabric was so beautiful and the intricacies of the design were amazing.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: How have you been able to convert that to something concrete since the Grammys?
Wayna: I had a show called R&B live and the audience was every celebrity that was in there. It was so fun and exciting to see how people were so excited for us. We had a series of press. At that point I was ready. You don’t know when you are there whether you will seek or swim and I found out I was ready. All of the hard work, growth and development I have been these past four years really paid off. It really paid off because when I got to that stage, I was excited!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: I am so excited for you. I don’t know if you realize it but you mention your husband often. When did you guys get married and do you have any kids?
Wayna: It will be eight years this year and we do not have kids yet. It is one of the many sacrifices we’ve had to make to get me on solid footing as an artist but we will do that soon!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Thank you so much this has been really good.
Wayna: Thank you.
~Republished July 2nd, 2009