By KEMI YESUFU
Once you meet Kadiatu, you will get the feeling that she stepped out of Vogue magazine. The Miss West Africa UK 2008 is just like the leggy models whose pictures dominate the international monthly. In fact, she is one of those elf-like girls who make the runway burn.
Now an actress, Kamara started out as a model making it into highly prestigious events like the New York Fashion Week. She was also a catwalk activist as she was the face of a European campaign to stop discrimination against dark skinned models. Her decision to fight discrimination is traceable to her childhood. As a kid, the actress who stares in the soon-to-be-released Nollywood film, The Choice of Aina witnessed the brutal war in her country, Sierra Leone. After the war, she relocated to the United Kingdom to live with her father; unfortunately their relationship became estranged. Now based in the capital of her country, Freetown, the delectable model was in Abuja for holidays when The Entertainer caught up with her.
Life as a kid during the war
Models, especially those who have walked the runways in the fashion capitals of the world are known to be tough and rugged. Not Kamara, she fights tears each time she remembers a sad event. But an experience makes the model-turned actress the saddest and it is the nine-year-long civil war that took her country to the brink. “I remember I was dressed up ready to go to school when the announcement came in that the rebels had entered Freetown and we were asked to stay in-doors. The experience was scary for a young child like me,” she recounted.
Her family lost all they had but Kamara is thankful that none of her family members was killed. “My mum had just given birth to my younger brother and the invasion of the rebels happened around the date that he should have been christened. Our house was burnt down, and like many other families, we lost everything we had. But what kept us going was that we had each other. My mother was strong during that period. She ensured that the family remained together. We pulled through that period,” she said.
By divine intervention, Kamara missed being taken away as a sex slave by the rebels. Help came from an unlikely source with a female rebel talking out her male colleagues from taking her away. “In 1999, the rebels returned to Freetown with a vengeance because of the way ECOMOG drove them out. They were more inhuman. They committed atrocities that left people scared. I was nearly taken away by the rebels. But a female member of the rebel group saved me. She is someone we knew and I guess this is why she saved me. She pretended like she didn’t know me when she told the other rebels that I wasn’t fine enough or mature enough for them to take me to their camp,” Kamara narrated as she wiped off tears from her face.
Like most people that survived a brutal war, Kamara can’t talk about her experience without wearing an apprehensive look. “I didn’t realize I had been through a horrendous experience until I got to London. I had to undergo counseling,” she admitted. “The thing about war is that you just want it to be over. But the memories and the consequences come up from time to time. For me, when I relocated to London to join my father and I saw how children are treated, I felt sad about by wartime experiences. It was then I understood that I experienced something that no child my age should be put through.”
Model as advocate
Aged 18, Kamara moved out of her father’s house after falling out with him. It was her friends who ensured that she started a career in modeling. “I lived with my father but I moved out at the age of 18. I started modeling at that age. My friends helped me put together my photo portfolio. I couldn’t afford it at that time,” she confessed. “I posted my pictures online. The responses I got were overwhelming. I was surprised that a small girl from Sierra Leone was getting so much attention in England where there are many women. I never used to smile because I felt that it made me look un-pretty. It was during a photo shoot that the photographer told me to smile that it made me look beautiful. I didn’t believe him, but he convinced me and I started getting my confidence back.”
Fully confident of her looks, Kamara led the battle against racism in modeling world. She was the face of the highly successful ‘black but invincible campaign’. Hear her: “I had to pinch myself many times because here I was as a girl from Sierra Leone being chosen as the face of a campaign that was used around the whole of Europe. There was a time Vogue Italia had a black issue where only black models were used. It was the first time that a black model appeared on the cover of Vogue Italia. It all happened during the time I was the face of this campaign. It was the big names that were used for the Vogue issue but I didn’t mind because I was part of the process that made it possible. After the campaign, I started doing fashion shows. I can say my career kicked off after the campaign.”
Emerging Miss West Africa UK
Though, she never wanted to participate in a pageant, Kamara accepts that winning the Miss West Africa crown was the turning point in her life. “Once I accepted to participate in the pageant, I told myself, I must win. I put in everything I had. I knew I couldn’t disappoint because of my aunty who told me about the pageant and lots of my friends had told me that I have something special in me, that I have what it takes to make a difference,” she said. “As soon as I was crowned, I knew that I had to use my face and voice to make some kind of difference. I travelled around West Africa, ending up in my country. I decided to set up a foundation to help kids get an education. However, I understood the fact that not everyone has the ability to complete their education, so I also worked on helping talented people in fashion and the arts start up something. I love fashion, arts, films, and because of this, my goal is to have an academy that will produce every kind of fashion personnel. It was after my reign that I decided to settle down in Sierra Leone. It hasn’t been easy bringing my dreams to life in my country, no thanks to people who love back biting, but I am determined to impact on my people.”
Acting in Nollywood
There are many girls who would love to appear in Nollywood films and this is because of the huge following of Nigerian films in Africa and the Diaspora. “Are you kidding me? Nollywood is massive in my country. We only started producing our own films in Sierra Leone, so Nollywood films are the closest to what looks like real life to us,” she said with excitement. “Back home people know about Nigerian actors. They can tell you their life history and what they did yesterday. They know about the directors and producers, they know everything. Of course, you should know that Nigeria and Sierra Leone have a strong relationship. We still remember what role Nigeria played in bringing peace to our country. So, I am happy to appear in a Nigerian film.”
Speaking on how she was cast for a role in Choice of Aina, the lady from Freetown is sincere as ever. “I had spent close to a year in Sierra Leone before I checked my page on the Modeling Mayhem website. It was then that I noticed that I had a message from a Nigerian film director telling me about a project he had. I responded though I was alert because I didn’t want to be a victim of 419,” Kamara said, adding. “What attracted me to the project is that it was about the exploitation of African women using Nigerian women as a case study. I was even more drawn to the film because of its characters. There was the character of a dark skinned model that had to resort to sleeping with industry power brokers because they preferred to cast light skinned models. Remember that I was the face of the campaign to stop racism and discrimination against dark skinned models, so I could relate with it. There is also the character of young woman who dated an older man because she believed that he was providing everything she needed. This character believed wrongly that the older man’s generosity would help her take care of her family. But most times these men give just enough for a girl to survive. They never support women to grow. In the case of the character in the film, the older man was always bringing her down, sucking up her creativity and beating her. He abused her sexually because a woman doesn’t have to sleep with you everyday just because she lives with you.”
Dating old men
Very much unlike Nigerian celebrities, Kamara is refreshingly honest about her life. For her, people make mistakes and they can prevent others from taking a similar route by sharing their experience. “I have been a victim of the erroneous believe that a young girl is better off with an older lover. Most of these older men may give you the things you need but they take away your self-esteem and sense of self,” she said. “My case was even peculiar in the sense that the man I dated felt I was too much for him. Here was I a beauty queen and top models yet, I chose to be with him. He couldn’t understand it even more because I met him when he was down financially. Unfortunately, he changed soon after he became successful.
“My character, Aina was faced with the challenges of either bending to circumstance by using what she has to get what she wants or sticking with the love of her life who she convinced to return to Nigeria despite his fear of the difficult peculiarities on ground. The film is a reflection of our reality in Africa. Women have to choose to bend to demands of powerful men or go hungry. I know that similar stories have been told but we have done this film creatively. So, I am happy to be part of a film that exposes the sufferings of African women and the things they go through.”
In the trailer of the film, Kamara had romantic scenes with her co-star, former Mr. Nigeria, Kenneth Okoli that was a little explicit. There was also this scene in which her clothes fell to the floor exposing her naked backside. But she refused to accept the daring actress tag. “I love acting. I love film. I am critical about what I do. So, whatever I do I like to do it excellently. I have to interpret my role perfectly well,” she posited. “Then, the scene where I had the whole of my back exposed was professionally done. I wasn’t completely nude because my front side was covered. Sure, we will have to edit some parts of the film to suite the Nigerian/African market. But I was just doing my job.” About her future in Nollywood, Kamara said: “I would love to do more films in Nollywood. I enjoyed my time on set. It was fun working on set; I sure would like to do it again. But I am more interested about making an impact on lives than acting even in a Hollywood film”.
On Nigerian men
The Sierra Leonean brightens up each time she’s asked about Nigeria. But she was the happiest when asked her opinion of Nigerian men. She didn’t have a negative word to say about Naija guys. “I spent a lot of my time in the United Kingdom with Nigerians. Though, I broke up with the Nigerian guy I dated long time ago, we are still good friends,” she said. “I love the Nigerian swag. I definitely will marry a Nigerian if I find one I like. One thing I like about Nigerians is that they are confident about anything they do.”
My low cut
Kamara, like Sudanese super-model, Alek Wek spots a low cut. She loves the look though it is the product of a tough period in her life. “I have been wearing this look for about 10 years,” she disclosed. “I used to wear single braids before. But the last time I wore braids was the period I had problems with my father. I was moving out of his house so the last thing on my mind was making my hair. After carrying the hair for over a month, I looked at the mirror and knew I had to deal with that problem. I was scared about cutting my hair. But deep down inside I never enjoyed making my hair. I never fancied sitting down for hours to get my hair done. Really, my look is completely shaved or blonde.”
Though, she lived in Europe for a long time, Kamara’s fashion sense is influenced by African style. This much she admits. “As you can see, I am wearing earrings made from ankara. I love creating things like what I am wearing. We are Africans and it is our duty to project our culture,” she said. “African women are chic. We love bright colours. We don’t like walking into a room unnoticed. We know how to turn a simple attire into something unique.”
On her fashion must-have, Kamara said: “I like tank-tops and jeans. For me, they are a must have. With jeans you can accessorise it and turn into formal or casuals wear. It is the same thing for a tank-top, you can turn it around into just any style. I also love shoes. I buy amazing shoes. Then I love gowns because I wear them to events and I attend events a lot. Gowns give you that classic, elegant look.”