Singer and producer, MeaKoom, is living a duality of identities. For alongside her music, Kemi Akinbola is also known for her inclusive styling and ever-creative Khair for hair.
As a musician, MeaKoom has been captivating audiences with her spine tingling sound that speaks directly to the soul. Cruising atop lofi hip hop beats, MeaKoom's songs are lyrical lessons of love, life, and poetic patience. In the same breath, this skillful artist is known to many as Hair Stylist Kemi Akinbola. Revamping women’s locks, and building a client list that celebrates individuality and self-confidence. We asked Kemi, and MeaKoom, about the balancing act of being a multi-tasking creative, and how self-expression feeds into all that she does.
Juggling two successful creative paths as an artist and a hairstylist has been a fairly recent evolution of Kemi’s journey and one that she hasn't always found easy. Having worked as a club promoter, before turning her hand at performing with a band, it was in 2015 that MeaKoom arrived on stage, solo. Launching her debut EP (For Me For You) was followed by the hypnotic and philosophical 2019 album, Mi, confirming the soulful sound that this artist has established as her own. MeaKoom explains that her musical identity and sound evolved from a moment in her life that opened a new chapter of creativity. “Taking up the name MeaKoom was quite metaphorical; it’s symbolic of me and the turning point that made me who I am today”. Having been in an unfulfilling relationship, MeaKoom stepped away from her past to walk a new path of creative confidence, something that shines throughout her songs. “All the crap I went through in that relationship is one of the reasons the lyrical content of the music I make is affirming that I know what I’m about, and I know what I am doing.”
There are so many ways to live. You have to live your own truth, don’t live through other people’s
Using music to tell her stories of experience, MeaKoom’s sound has the ability to transport you into a multi-sensory world. Through steadying lullabies and trance-like melodies, we hear relatable narratives of change and transition, dusted in an uplifting light. “Everyone goes through trials and tribulations, I would say I’ve been through a lot. But any difficulty in life is a lesson, it makes you resilient, it gives you more of a story to tell, it makes you real”. With this accepting philosophy comes the evolution of MeaKoom’s sound, something which she is committing to developing today. “I’m rediscovering my artistry, having a bit of a reset - I’ve grown and I want to see how this evolved me will impact the music I will make.”
Finding confidence in herself as an artist, as well as a hairstylist, comes with a newfound assurance that MeaKoom is expressing herself for herself. Joyfully inviting others to join her world with a sense of trust and grounding, she explains “I’ve had periods when I’ve been obsessed with Soundcloud and Instagram views, but now I’ve got to a point where I just want to express myself, and If you want to listen, then you can.” When mentioning how MeaKoom’s sound resonates on a prayer like level, she proclaims “I’ve never heard that before! My Dad’s a Preacher and I’m a very spiritual person, so it feels nice to be able to share. I suppose in that way I’m following my Dad’s path, with a different approach.”
Having spent over a decade working in the music and events industry, alongside juggling a 9-5 job, Kemi recalls getting to a point where she felt trapped. Deciding to quit her job left her uncertain about what she was doing with her life. On the advice of her Aunty, who used to run a hairdressing salon out of her family’s laundry room, Kemi decided to put her attention on developing her skills as a hairstylist. “I was told it was a lucrative business so I started doing hair to make money and continued doing music to keep me expressive”. The success that Kemi has experienced at a stylist in the past year was not what she expected, but as ever, staying level headed is something which has paid off.
Embracing the cross over of her careers is something which Kemi, and MeaKoom, are managing with a sense of steady harmony. This is assisted by her undeniably pure attitude; “I have the same approach to hairstyling as I do with my music. I want you to feel nice, comfortable. Which is perhaps the reason why people come back to me. I keep it real and honest.” Working with all hair types from Afro, Asian, to Caucasian, Kemi is knowledgeably aware of the different issues and difficulties that may be affecting and felt by each individual. “It’s working with what the client has; their hair’s texture and style”, noting how it’s important to recognise the amount of time needed depending on each varying hair type.
I’ve always wanted to be as authentic and honest to myself as I can be... I have the same approach to hairstyling as I do with my music. I want you to feel nice, comfortable
When discussing the segregation between communities of women based on their appearance, and their ethnicity, Kemi explains how she wants to promote spaces for inclusivity. “I like to do all hair types, I don’t have a preference and I’d like to see all these different types of hair being put in one place, in all salons”. Something which has been spurred on by the Black Lives Matter Movement, forcing salons to recognise the lack of inclusivity regarding training and communication between staff and clients.
Discussing the way hair can make women feel, and the insecurities we can attach to our appearance leads us to discuss Kemi’s own experiences of coming into her self. “When I was younger I had straight hair (from chemically relaxing it). I thought I looked a bit pudgy, I had spots and I felt bad about myself. I then shaved off my hair and, through that journey, I organically embraced my full natural form.”
Hair gives you confidence...I’d like to see all these different types of hair being put in one place, in all salons.
Reflecting on this growth, Kemi recognises how having her natural hair encouraged a sense of self-acceptance; a willingness to express her personality fully. “I believe you should take pride in your appearance for yourself. And that, in itself, can be a guide. For example, when I’m dating someone and I feel I can’t be authentically myself in terms of what I wear, and how I do my hair, then I know that relationship isn’t right for me. Because you shouldn’t be dimming your personality for anyone”. With experience comes wisdom, and the wonder of Kemi is that, be it in her styling or her music, she is finding ways to share what she has learnt along the way.
The partnership between Kemi and MeaKoom’s careers has provided safety for her to be true to herself. Something which, as a freelancer pursuing her passion, has allowed her to continue to grow in her own direction. “I feel like I'm constantly going against the grain in some way, a bit left field. There are social norms and beauty norms; not to say I don’t fit into some of those, but I feel like I’ve created my own wave.” In doing so, Kemi is giving herself the opportunity to continually learn and practice her skills, “I’m going to keep doing things the way I want to do them, to have creative control, and continually build my knowledge. Because the more I learn, the more I can make”. Feeding us with an inspiring sense of self-awareness to grow for the better. This is especially true for Meakoom's latest venture to learn the piano, (one of the blessings found during long lockdown days) fueling her musical sound, and providing further skills for the next stage of her journey. Something which we know will bring an abundance of visions to life as Kemi and MeaKoom continue to whistle along to their own tune.
And witness Kemi's hairstyling magic on IG @khairsforyou
Words and Portraits by Bx Sassy