Recently, I caught up with Tanzanian multifaceted artist and creative, Vanessa Mdee aka Vee Money for a lovely chat that lasted 30 minutes. Most of you may know her as the first ever Tanzanian MTV Base VJ, but there's more to the ambitious young lady.
I see her as one of the movers and shakers set to elevate the East African music scene to the next level. She's the epitome of dynamites come in small packages.
She shared moments about her work, Africa and so much more. Her warm demeanor and sincerity were the highlight of our conversation.
How did the name Vee Money come about?
Well, it started off as something I wanted to articulate as an artist.
In America when you say something is money you mean it's quality and worthy hence 'Vee Money'. But also as an artist, I have to eat as well; I've got to be paid for my work.
What appeals more to you, being an artist, radio/TV presenter?
I think I've never stopped being anyone of them. Also, because TV presenting happened first that's what most people know me for, then radio but I've always been a singer and wanted to sing. Now I want to take on my role as a performer and artist because it's the most recent journey I'm embarking on. They're all interrelated.
You are well traveled. What influence has it had on your career and life in general?
I've used that in my career and work as well as my lifestyle. That's a big quality I really picked up from traveling. Also appreciation for all things different and all things special. You know every time I visited a new place, I was like that tastes different but still tasted good and beautiful.
I appreciate things, people and culture more which also comes from being well traveled.
You studied law at the Catholic University of Eastern African, was that your passion or was it something to fall back on?
I did.... First of all, I don't do 'fall back plan'. Have a plan, not a fall back plan. Put in the hours for whatever it is in order to succeed. My father had wanted me to have a plan, I wanted to have a career in music but I also took on my degree, accepted all the challenges and told myself I had to kick ass and do this to the best of my abilities. It wasn't hard, it taught me so much that I know.
I'm able to understand contracts. I also have a number of advocates around me; people who I went to school with so, I get to consult for free (laughs) hence there's a lot of positive and legal advise around me.
What’s the scene like in the Tanzanian music/entertainment industry?
The Tanzanian music industry is blooming like never before. It's gotten to appoint where artists are starting to understand what it means to be a brand.
Corporate companies are also coming on board and investing in these artists. There's money actually generated from revenue sales of art work. Apart from that we rocking such fresh unique sounds from East Africa. The current time in the TZ music scene is going to dedicate what's yet to come. I feel so blessed to be part of it.
Generally it is Bongo Flavour (Bongo Flavour means Swahili pop music). The beauty of Bongo Flavour is that it's not a particular genre.
My music is a mixture but also influenced by the fact that I listen to really good music. Be it hip hop R&B and soul, Afro pop, you name it. But I don't want to limit myself. Really and truly, I just want to make GOOD MUSIC irrespective of the genre.
Thank you. Honestly, I went there only to be nominated because the other women in the category are sensational and I've know them all my life. I've interviewed, spent time with. I really respect them and you know it's hard out there for the girls. So you know I was there to honour the association that found me worthy and also my fans. Yes, I was overwhelmed but also I was challenged and I was like now I need to put in 150000% in my work.
What inspired the concept and styling? Boogy Mabooi was on point with the styling!
Well the video was meant to be fun but not too much fun, having fun with my Mama. The paint represents how someone would throw something at you that you wouldn't expect. At the end of the day, it's how you choose to respond.
Boogy has been someone I've had my eye on, during her radio days. My friend Tumi From The Volume introduced her to me back then and said I should trust her with styling.
Hawajui is a Swahili word that means, "They don't know." And the song is about upbringing... so the chorus goes, "Hawajui tu nyie, alichonifunza Mama", which means you don't know what I got taught by my Mama or the lessons I learnt from my mother.
And this is why you can sit around and talk but I will not forget what I was taught by my mum or my upbringing. You know there's a lot of negativity around us in the world, a lot of people want to bring you down - so the song is about regardless of what you're trying to do to me, my mum taught me better and I should keep my head high.
Oh wow, I mean, I wanna be here for a while. I wanna do this as a career. I pay attention to many people who had long lasting careers, I'm emulating my idols and just putting in my flare; I'm taking a lot of responsibility and enjoying every moment. I believe that with everything I do it comes from a place of passion; from my gut. I'm just feeling the beat not faking it and rolling with the punches.
You mentioned trying to emulate your idols. Who are your idols, apart from your parents?
I have a very wide array of people I admire. From Billie Holiday to Miriam Makeba, Brenda Fassie, Lady Jaydee (you know she's someone I grew up listening too. She set the pace for us). You know I'm a hip hop lover so, Tupac, Biggie, Run DMC, Rakeem. There's A LOT of them.... Lauryn Hill.
I think what we are doing differently is consciously making sure that our music is a bit more cross over. It's also making sure you have the right network, right production and push creativity whilst using those networks. At the end of the day, It didn't happen overnight for me, for a long time I was asking why doesn't this video get played but Hawajui really changed it for me; I understood at that point that I had to do XYZ.
I really feel if you follow the right steps it will pay off.
I have some collaborations in the pipeline that I can't speak of yet. I'm really loving the South African sound right now which I've always appreciated. Being a radio and TV personality has made me aware of the sounds and music trends.
I'm really loving the new kids from SA. I also can't help but dance to West African music, I'm totally inspired by that. Really, people I'm hoping to work with I've already reached out and it is promising.
I think each one of them had something very honest that stood out for me, each eye contact we made, they remained themselves even though they weren't aware of it. Those moments for me are precious because I got to have moments where I felt privileged to be in that position. There are a lot of young people in Africa who would've loved to share a moment with Russell Simmons, some special advise he would've given them or the artists, footballers who featured on the show.
All the people I got to meet on the show were special in their own way.
Did you perhaps have any favourite guests on MTV Base Meets?
Oh, I would be biased if said I had a favourite. I absolutely enjoyed everyone of them.
Is there something you've always wanted to do but never had the guts to?
Skydiving. I'm still mastering everything I have to do. I'm scared, especially because I had of traumatic experience from someone close who told me the chances are 1/1000. And I'm like, oh my Lord, I'm number one. Ha ha.
Well for me it wasn't really about giving back but at first it was about educating myself, deal with the ignorance around me and topics that should be talked about more with people my age and understanding. I really stumbled upon it all, more like by chance but nothing is ever by chance.
So I was like let me educate myself and learn a little bit more and use it to educate others. Also in return I just created a network of people who shared their dreams and goals which changed my life through their life stories and experiences.
There are young people in the world who are doing great things especially with regards to social awareness.
Traveling is part of your job description, what’s your favourite country on the continent apart from Tanzania and why?
Oh my God! I absolutely loved Ghana, it really felt like home away from home, I loved Cape Town. It's beautiful! Kenya, that's home away from home and Ethiopia .
I have so many beautiful places that I appreciate across the continent. Their development, history and rich cultures you know.
3 Africans people should know…
That's an interesting one .... dead or alive?
My mother - she's a blessing.
Nelson Mandela - He's someone everyone shoulder known.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - I'm really appreciating her.
3 things people don’t know about Tanzania?
- Well, Tanzania is the cradle of man kind. The first remains of the oldest human are found in the northern Tanzania. So you, me and everybody, y'all originated from Tanzania.
- Tanzania has large water bodies, I think people may know this but we have a large capacity of the continent's water.
- Fred Mercury, lead singer of rock band, Queen was born in Zanzibar. You know he's Tanzanian by birth and British by passport. Lol.
Oh wow, it depends on how I feel.
I think I'm like a lovechild between Cheryl Salt from Salt-N-Pepa and Madonna; something in between. A twist of pop and hip hop. I love accessories. My friend Nomuzi calls me the hat hunter. I've got hats and sun glasses for days. It's all about accessorizing.
I couldn't tell you about African fashion but I'm loving young individual stylistas, I don't know what you call the male version of a stylists. I'm seeing a lot tribal patterns and urban looks young Africans are coming up with a very interesting fusion. That gives us identity, everyday ready to wear garments which is ideally African. Everyday swagg. I'm loving it.
Who are your fashion icons?
I don't think I have one in particular. I like what early Gwen Stefani did back then, I'm loving what she's doing right now still. I think Brenda Fassie is a big fashion icon, if you look at her stuff; she was very creative. It's funny I was looking at Boom Shaka videos the other day, they have a lot of really cool fashion that's coming back. Early 90's fashion, if you use it wisely you can rock right now.
Yeah, I'm working on a new album called 'Money Mondays'. That should come out hopefully by the end of the year. I don't want to rush it at all.... jamming and obviously the collaborations that are in the works and I can't wait to drop, that should be in the first quarter of 2015; that's really exciting.
More shows, I can't wait to perform across the continent.
Watch Vee Money's Hawajui video
Follow @VanessaMdee on twitter, facebook and instagram.
Photo Credit: Afronaut | Vanessa Mdee
Stella is the founder of WaAfrikaOnline. A Pan-African at heart, passionate about Africa, human rights, women empowerment and girl child education. She's also into broadcasting.