Getting to know Naima Mclean

By Drum Digital
15 July 2014

I was named after a song called Naima by jazz musician John Coltrane. The name means blessed one in Arabic.

Naima Mclean (30) is fast making her mark on the international and local music and movie scenes. In between her busy schedule, DRUM caught up with her to talk about her new single, Ride, and her upcoming performance in Norway for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons where she’ll be representing SA.

At first, we were confused because you’re not the only Naima who is a musician. Is that a coincidence?

No, sadly it’s not a coincidence. The other Naima (K) was named after me. We were with the same record label – Universal – and the month I left, she was named Naima. It’s sad because it’s created a lot of unnecessary confusion in the music industry. But this is my real name –

How did you get the movie gig with Paul Walker in Vehicle 19, and what was it like working with him?

I went for auditions and after four call backs my agent sent the auditions to LA and I later got the job. We didn’t talk much prior to shooting, but once we got going I got to know him better. The movie is shot in a car, so we got to spend a lot of time together. We only had about seven weeks to shoot the whole movie. His energy was large, so you either meet it or you cower. He was a great guy, really chilled and down to earth.

Was this your first action movie?

Yes it was, and it was shot in Johannesburg. I even did all my own stunts, but one of the stunts was a car accident, I remember I cried and cried because it was really traumatic. Paul on the other hand wasn’t freaked out because he has done those stunts before.

Where are you from and what was your childhood like?

I was born in New York – my father is American and my mother is Xhosa. As a kid we moved to Mafikeng, then to Pretoria, then I went to Cape Town, then back to New York and finally I’ve settled here in Johannesburg. My father, Rene, is a musician and my mother, Thandiwe, works in higher education, so I was always surrounded by musicians and academics.

You’ve travelled and performed all over the world, how would you compare South African audiences to other countries you’ve performed in?

South African audiences are very receptive when they understand and like your music, but sadly because of our history we have been excluded in many ways. If you do something that isn’t indigenous to South Africa, then it’s seen as ‘other’ and international. I don’t understand why we limit ourselves.

Being of two different nationalities, do you feel connected to one over the other?

No, I’m proud to be both Xhosa and American. I would, however, love to learn isiXhosa. In South Africa people want to box you. They feel the need to ask a lot of questions about my nationality. I’ve always been clear about my multicultural background – living in different countries has made me adaptable and I don’t fit into a specific box.


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