Back in December, I had the pleasure of interviewing Senegalese-American artist Akon. It was a rare opportunity for me to speak to someone from the entertainment and music industry.
As a senior presenter for Al Jazeera English, I have had the opportunity over the years to speak to many politicians, leaders, Nobel laureates and authors. But I did not know what to expect from an interview with a musician who has sold over 35 million albums around the world.
We met Akon in Dubai where he had a concert for his fans in the MiddleEast. When he showed up for our interview, he did not come with a big team or entourage as some would expect for a musician of his calibre. Instead, I found him to be quite friendly and down-to-earth. Even agreeing to change his blazer because the first one he wore did not suit our camera lenses. We talked for a long time, but unfortunately we could not fit everything in a half-hour programme. Akon was candid and he did not hold anything back. At times it felt like I was speaking with a friend over coffee: It was a relaxed atmosphere and I hope that comes across when our viewers are watching it.
What struck me most about our interview with Akon was his honesty. To my question about mixing business with music, I thought his answer "I’m a businessman first, musician second" was quite forthcoming. That is in contrast to some of the politicians I have interviewed in the past, whose every word and answer is carefully considered and planned for maximum impact. Akon spoke from his heart – and that showed when we discussed at length the issue of development in Africa. He is passionate about the continent and country from which he comes. He is proud of his African roots and not afraid to speak out for the causes he holds dear.
To some, some of his answers may seem simple or even naïve – but it was interesting to see a hip hop artist, who many people only see in flashy music videos, talk about and show interest in politics and global affairs. Not only show interest, but actually make an impact through his philanthropic work in many places across Africa.
And I have received a lot of feedback about our discussion of the issues facing African-Americans and Africans in America. Akon genuinely believes the systems that are in place in the United States – which were put there many generations ago – do not, for the most part, benefit blacks. Many disagree with that statement and point to the success of many African-Americans and others of African roots. But that is what made our interview so interesting for me – the opportunity to hear an opinion that is unique; even if some don’t necessarily agree with it.
I thoroughly enjoyed the time Talk to Al Jazeera spent with Akon. It was an engaging and refreshing interview for me, and I hope our viewers continue to appreciate it as much as I enjoyed being a part of it.
Source: Al Jazeera