Be willing to do the work. Maimouna Youssef
She did the work. More than grabbing a mic with a beautiful Melody, Maimouna was determined to go places. Not only did she go places, she has accomplished many things on her journey. From performing on stages alongside artists such as Common, The Roots, Nas, Sting, Jill Scott, Mos Def, and countless others to becoming Grammy-nominated artist, as well as a music feature to the hit TV show Queen Sugar on Own, Maimouna definitely has some #GloUpGirl moments. I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with her recently at The Prevailing Woman Conference in Durham, NC.
How did you get your start in the music business?
“I was always singing. I remember going to open mics in Baltimore trying to figure out “how to do it”. Even though my mom was a singer, she was a singer in a different time period. It was a whole different industry. So I frequented open mics and started asking questions. I talk to teen girls and tell them start with where you are with what you have. I would walk up to strangers and say I love what you have, so how did you make a cd? Where do you record at? (laughs). I was in an art school and started a band with musicians from the school practicing in my auntie’s house. One of those people I asked was Raheem Devaughn. He invited me to open mic night and he had a big fan base. We became really good friends soon after that. He told me I needed an album. One of his producers actually produced a song for me. I graduated a year early from high school at 17. I got a job at a nonprofit to buy my studio time. I would rehearse at my aunt’s house, get it tight, and go in. I turned on the radio one day and heard they were doing auditions for Baltimore’s version of American Idol. I didn’t really want to go but I heard they was giving out cash prizes. Then, I went to LA and it was a whole different ballgame. I was told I was too “ethnic”. Everyone else was too cookie cutter and looked the same. I ended up winning some cash prizes and was able to create an album. Close to 300 people showed up for the release concert to support a teenage band. It was cool when the album came out. Now what? Then I learned how to market, got with a publicist, then received a music deal. I wrote for groups, eventually was grammy-nominated and the momentum started from there.”
Where did that courage, that boldness come from?
“There was a desire not to be poor. Growing up in Baltimore, you don’t see a lot of people doing well. I didn’t want to live in poverty. I done really well in school, but I thought it was for nothing because I didn’t have a lot of support to go to college. I was a 4.0 student that graduated early that had nothing to do. I was like okay, what’s next? What’s the point of this? The best thing I could think of was how do I get out of this city and go elsewhere because I know there’s more opportunity our there? I didn’t know how to start so I started asking questions. I tried it to see if it worked. It wasn’t so much as courage but more so desperation. I asked myself, what am I doing here in my aunt’s living room? People of color are not really prepared for the real world. It’s like, you become 18. Go figure out your life. No one taught you about credit, savings, buying a home, or having a family. I had to figure it out. I was determined. I just wasn’t going to waste my life. My parents instilled a lot of purpose, self-esteem, and faith in God in me. I had confidence that God was going to pull me through. They did all they could and that was enough. I learned the rest of it.”
For the up and coming girl that’s trying to do what you accomplished (singing, Grammy-nominated, etc) for her to #GloUp?
“You have to be really good at your craft. Know every part of it. Especially for women. It’s a male-dominated industry. I’ve been a band leader since I was a teenager. I would walk into a place, and they would rather speak to anybody but me. They wanted to speak to a man. But when you know your music, a writer, a producer, an understanding of the tax side, setting up your own equipment..then they have to pay attention. You will get more respect. You have to know the business, the craft, and the technical side. I dabbled in a little bit of everything to be apart of the conversation. If you’re not knowledgeable to be apart of the conversation, then people will talk at you. You won’t be apart of the creative process. They will look at you like a blank piece of paper and write all over you. It will show who you are and how you stand out in the world. When I wasn’t getting the respect I deserved, I went back and learned some more. It’s not enough to be pretty. It’s not enough to be talented. Educate yourself on how things work. You will get more respect that way. Do some work. Be on time. Be professional. Those things make a difference. Be spiritually grounded and be clear with God. Many times, people think they want it but not ready for it. Many can’t handle what comes with fame. You see kids taking their lives left and right. You get on the road and get off the bus to be offered all kind of drugs. Will you have the discipline to say no? Be clear about why you want it. Value your life enough to make it through. You have to really want it. This is not for the faint of heart. There will be ups and downs.”
Keep shining through and persevere! She’s definitely an example of a #GloUpGirl
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