Naala - Alien Fairy on managing chronic illness with HOPE
Naala Lartey's energy for life is infectious. From her colourful dancing presence to the chorus of song and poetry that passionately flows from her lips, there isn't anyone quite like Naala, aka Naala Alien Fairy.
As a multidisciplinary artist and founder of HOPE - a mental health organisation that benefits the diaspora within the Black community - Naala leads by example, pushing against the silencing of creativity that she sees limiting others.
Tune in to hear about Naala's unwavering mission to encourage others to be themself, and share how her experiences of managing a chronic illness have shaped her relationship to God and praying.
It's my last day in Ghana, and I'm heading off to interview Naala Lartey. We first met in London at a Popola party and bumped into each other on a hot buzzy night out dancing in Accra. Instantly I felt Naala's magnetic joyful energy, and as I spotted her little fluffy dog in hand, smiles broke out. Naala told me she'd moved to Ghana a few months before, spending time with her dad's family, and working with herbal approaches to better her health - something she's been managing for many years. It's not been easy but Naala is shining.
Combining her artistic excellence and dancing light with lived experiences of chronic illness, Naala advocates for fostering a mentality around liberated self expression and the security of creative wellbeing. Over the past decade Naala has facilitated sessions for communal growth, support, and expression through therapeutic tools and ancestral knowledge. The language Naala uses when discussing her work reflects the nuances of respecting identity and cultural roots, void of colonial ideas, telling us "I don't like to say Black, I like to say melinated.” But for this conversation, as we hear more about her project HOPE, she says she will use the word Black.
My main aim with HOPE is to bring hope back into the Black community
HOPE is "an organisation that benefits the diaspora within the Black community. And I say diaspora because from London to Ghana to Senegal to Croatia, we'll look after you." She explains how alongside CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and meditation "we do a lot of mental health and wellbeing work based on culture and heritage - incorporating tribal and ancestral ways to heal." This incorporates "screaming, shouting, chanting, breaking things - rooting back to self through dance and theatre shows". This expansive and rich way of expression is something Naala explains keeps her own mental health thriving. From theatre to dance to body painting, Naala is all about finding ways to engage with creativity and self expression.
Before founding HOPE Naala ran a company called 'Hear The Motion' which she started when she had turned 18 and become homeless. Despite being knowledgeable, Naala tells us "I wasn't respected in any of the professions when it came to psychology, art therapy or mental health because I was young and didn't have experience." In the face of this barrier, Naala started running free open mic sessions, dance classes, sports days, naturally incorporating wellbeing and building community together. "I realised a lot of people wanted and needed mental health support but didn't want to go through traditional therapy routes, especially in my community of melinated people because we're culturally raised to not look into that." Naala reflects on how this is a repercussion of slavery, being "told to be quiet, not care for ourselves, to push through, work hard and not think about how we're feeling because it's dangerous - we'd realise out struggles". For Naala, getting her people to open up and be expressive became a core mission. She took her experience of being a musical theatre student, dancer and artist and used it to encourage others to do the same and heal. "I feel like a lot of people can communicate better through art forms rather than just speaking". For Naala, opening up and expressing is something she advocates for, wanting everyone to be themselves, telling me "it is our natural birth right."
I feel like a lot of people can communicate better through art forms rather than just speaking
When discussing her upbringing, Naala explains how her Mum was playful and her father was strict; "that guided me in terms of knowing myself and being strict about my direction, my business, my drive towards what I want in life... a lot of influence from my culture and upbringing is my playfulness, my loudness, my freedom, my music and love for food'. To engage with this joyfulness, Naala tells us how she walks into a space as if she's never seen it before, feeding her desire to be surprised, to learn and allow things to resonant beyond what she already knows because "ultimately, everything is new and refreshing".
For Naala, this ability to be present and grateful resonates with the guidance of multiple religions, telling us how her connection to God has been a continual dynamic relationship accompanying her through the most difficult periods of her life. "God challenges me...it does get hard, especially when I'm being told that I'm terminally sick (*in air quotation marks*) and going to die". A search flr alternative medicine and methods of treating herself is what brought Naala to Ghana. "I was giving up and when the herbal medicine wasn't working... I generally thought whats the fucking point. But God guided me, brought me to the right people and reminded me of my light". In the light of this belief, Naala strongly believes that anger is important, that expressing all emotions alongside praying and meditating is healthy and necessary. "I give myself all the spaces to be in the spectrum of emotions... to be in darkness, and to be in light...speak to God honestly, you don't have to be polite". Recently, Naala has been rebuilding her relationship to Islam, explaining how it is a beautiful lifestyle for her and one that resonates deeply despite the fact that "As a gay person I still had a battle, being queer...it's been a rollercoaster".
We are human beings, not sexualised beings, not cooks or cleaners, we have choice
When we lean into the sassy conversation of gender and sexuality and ask Naala about feminism, she tells us how witnessing the patriarchail mindset in Ghana has made her aware of the divsion between men and women "thats were feminism should come into play - we are human beings, not sexualised beings, not cooks or cleaners, we have choice. But when it comes to the western term it's so fucking toxic I hate it. I'm an anti feminist feminist. I believe in justice, rights, equality, everyone should have a choice no matter who they are... but I do not incorporate feminism into my work, I incorporate respect and love and expressionism". Pointing out how many movements are like little cults that cause division within themselves, Naala eloquently states why she is not a user of terminology referring to the LGBTQ+ movement or gender. "All these labels are hindering. I get that some people need that to feel safe and be themselves. But why do we have all these flags - it's causing so many divisions".
Let's all bind together and fight for one right which is just justice and freedom from the shackles they put on us
The ability to recognise all of our differences as a unifying factor is something that Naala centres in her perspectives. "Ultimately we're very disconnected, we think differently"? It's thanks to this that we are all special and unique, because "there's no such thing as individuality if we all think the same and that's not fun at all".
Being oneself and allowing it to be an ever transformational journey is what leads us to discussing Naala's sassy side. She tells us it's her expression of sensuality and strength, in opposition to the ideas of sexyness that society enforces "Sexyness to me is a picture of you in a alien suit, doing art, or you being yourself, mmm that's a vibe." Naala fills us with joy by sharing her erotic turn ons of watching a lot of Disney porn of giant animals with massive penis's fucking robots. However, in the past few years Naala tells us how she's moved away from physical sex, finding it challenging alongside her chromes disease and health difficulties. "All these things happening to my body, my vagina, my mind, [means] sometimes physical sex can be very painful and traumatic. So exploring others ways is beautiful." This has included trying more sensual, creative, tantra inspired approaches to sensuality and pleasure. Telling us how "when it comes to sex I want to howl at the moon, dance, and massage you." This sensual, connected way of engaging in intimacy is always something to be encouraged.
I'll let people be who they want to be...I love seeing how honest, how natural, full, and whole people can be around
Ending the interview by asking Naala to descirbe how she is motivated to achieve, she tells us "I want to feel nourished all the time, wholesomeness, I want to explore, see everything, do everything, know my limits and push them, challenge myself and contradict myself". The energy of life in that sentence bis something we feel sparkle out of Naals. When we ask about her fears, she shares how she's sometimes scared of not meeting that person who will match her energy of life or accept her. "Because I'm so in my flow, so confident, I fear I may never find that in a relationship, that I may be too overwhelming for a partner or that they'll try to become me which has happened before, or they see me as an idol." This desire to meet her match is something that Naala takes to God, asking for guidance to move out of her fear.
It has been a truly sassy experience to be in Naala's company - her energy moves through you inspiring a confidence to be loud and proud. To know that Naala will continue to shine in her own element, her own power, in HOPE, is an uplifting thought. She leaves us with this:
"If you're wanting to express yourself more but don't know how, start with the small things - your dress, your voice and tone, your movement and hair, your words. Start from a place of honesty. Keep exploring, keep trying and the best thing you can do is have fun with life, allowing others to be themself too".
When do you feel most confident?
When I'm being honest, it's fully me, I feel confident in this shit
What key experience has shaped you positively?
Overcoming family trauma and generational trauma and understanding what that means to those individuals. And then letting go
One dream you wish to come true?
My Mum's happiness - that whatever she wants and desires, I want that to come true. She puts everyone before herself and I wish that every ounce of love she's ever given to come back to her tenfold
One law you want to change or a cause that's close to your heart?
BORDERS! Get ride of borders, I don't understand - what do you mean there are borders around this world? And anti-LGBTQ+ laws - any law that stops someone from being themselves should go.
What's the best thing about being you?
That I'm me wherever I go. People think I should adapt and change but I don't have faces, I don't beat around the bush. I respect cultures and if something is hindering my safety then I'll adapt but I'm not going to change myself. I will shine and I think I bring that out in others and that's what I love
Name your Sassy tracklist
Lauryn Hill - To Zion
India Arie - Brown Girl
Pip Millet - Avar
Amy Winehouse - Rehab