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Aya Nakamura

Meet Aya Nakamura, the French-Malian singer putting fuckboys on blast

Her recent hit ‘Djadja’ took her from parties to protests

Paris has been quite literally burning. Over the last couple of months, France’s capital city has been gripped by passionate riots and rage. In some shocking scenes, the air filled with smoke from burned out cars and tear gas against protestors. In November, feminists arranged Nous Toutes, or “all of us (women)”, a march made up of tens of thousands of women who gathered to protest violence against women. Banners held were emblazoned with on-the-rise musician Aya Nakamura’s face, and the lyrics to her track, “Djadja”, an uptempo takedown of lying men. It’s even been interpolated for other protest songs online to criticise the president, some of which have reached over five million views.  

“Djadja” is a middle finger to a boy the French-Malian singer used to be friends with, who presented himself as a brotherly figure before pretending to others that they had had sex. “A Djadja is basically a guy spreading false rumours about a girl he couldn’t sleep with,” she says to Dazed. “It’s my story”. The song hit number one in France this summer as her autobiographical anthem resonated with women nationwide at a time where women are tired of men feeling entitled to our bodies. In English the chorus translates to “There’s no way Djadja/ I’m not your whore Djadja / As if you ever had sex with me”. But the confrontational lyrics are paired with sunnier melodies and an infectious beat that means you’re as likely to hear it at a party as you are at a protest.

We caught up with the singer to talk about her journey so far.

Tell me the story of how the track came together.

Aya Nakamura: I wrote ‘Djadja’ after I heard a rumour about me. A ‘Djadja’ is a liar. The name itself does not mean anything, I could have picked any random name. I invented the term Djadja to refer to a guy I looked up to… and was eventually disappointed in. Unfortunately, people often tend to believe the man’s side of the story. Why should we assume the girls are mythomaniacs? It’s also about an upfront girl who tells it like it is.

How has it felt to see your face and music used in feminist protest?

Aya Nakamura: Seeing my face on banners during feminist protests was very reassuring in the sense that I realised there were many women like me.

You’ve been outspoken about colourism in the French music industry, is it true someone suggested you bleach or wear lighter make-up?

Aya Nakamura: When I hadn’t started a career yet, people from the industry were arguing I would reach a wider audience that way. It was appalling to me, I was in complete shock and really stunned for a while. Completely. It made me realise this business was going to be very tough for a dark-skinned woman like me. But it also made me more determined. I got over it and I strived then to surround myself with the right people who I can trust, and we prevailed eventually.

Is there unity between black musicians in France who are coming up against prejudice?

Aya Nakamura: I honestly don’t see unity in France on those topics as there might be in the UK. Instead, artists are paving their path and pushing boundaries on their own.

“It made me realise this business was going to be very tough for a dark-skinned woman like me. But it also made me more determined” – Aya Nakamura

Tell me about your background.

Aya Nakamura: I was born in Mali, but grew up in the projects of Aulnay-sous-Bois in Northern Paris suburbs since the age of one The only place I call home is my family. I’m very close to them. I often travel back to Mali where I still have the rest of my family, aunts, cousins… I have yet to perform there. At home, I would grow up listening to great Malian singers such as Oumou Sangaré with my mother. On repeat.

Is there any advice your parents passed down to you?

Aya Nakamura: My parents taught me wisdom and patience, two things I don’t really have (laughs). When I was little my mum would call me “the president’s daughter”. I would argue about this and that, I was just very rebellious. With time, I grew up and my temper improved. I think. 

How did all of this influence your approach to your own artistry?

Aya Nakamura: Naturally, I would never have followed this path and found this specific voice if my mother was not a griot. Her singing is very much part of my own story. Griots are messengers of the oral culture in Africa. She also funded my very first studio lesson. It was a real asset for me.

Will you come to the UK? Are there any UK artists you’re into?

Aya Nakamura: Well I’d definitely come over if I’m invited. I usually listen to music from everywhere but I’d say I resonate with music from the likes of British-born Nigerian Maleek Berry or the East London scene such as Kojo Funds. And on the R&B side of things, Ella Mai. Ah oui.