Akeza.net is showcasing Burundian models evolving abroad. The fashion world is a small closed circle, not easily accessible to black models, especially when they come straight from Africa. Nevertheless, some Burundian models manage to make their way to the steps of the most popular runways.
After Liesse in Australia, Michael in China, Nicole in Uganda, we spoke to Karen Bengo from United Kingdom, who is not only a model but an actress and a professional dancer who has already performed for her Royal Majesty the Queen of England at the Royal Albert Hall.
Akeza.net: Who is Karen Bengo? And why “Bengo”?
Karen: I like to say I am an artist because I do manythings in the Arts but I am most known for acting ,modelling and dancing. I am from the beautiful country of Burundi situated in East Africa, where I left when I was very young; around age 10/11years old. I am a self-taught dancer who has worked with artists such as Gossip, Rita Ora, MIA, Pixie Lott, Whitney Houston, and Cheryl Cole. You can find it on my website and on my video channel:
Apart from being a professional dancer, I am working between dancing, modelling and as an actor. And “Bengo” is a family name. I am not sure where it’s from, it’s been passed down many generations.
Akeza.net: When did you start modeling? Was it something you always wanted since you were a little girl?
Karen: Unfortunately to disappoint No! Modelling is something that really presented itself to me when I shaved my hair off and that was around 2010 and 2011. I started testing with photographers who would approach then after a few shoots, I realized I could earn an income from modelling.
Akeza.net: What are the great fashion shows that you have yet attended ?
Karen: Well, I don’t do fashion shows. Really I am more of a beauty /campaign model. And I have shot campaigns for Camper / weAreAfrica/ whitnely Neil.
Akeza.net: What is the hardest thing in the world of modeling?
Karen: Breaking barriers as a new model. Well, no one want to shoot you or work with you as you are not experienced. So building a strong portfolio is tough. Also understanding there is a different / harder journey you take being a model of color.
Akeza.net: Who is your favorite model?
Karen: For I am obsessed with Coco Rocha, she is incredible as a model, her body or work and her business mind. I am also a fan of Naomi Campbell. I think to be in this industry for the length she has been incredible. It takes hard work and biting your tongue a lot! I also love Christy Turlington, her face is timeless.
Akeza.net: If u were not a model, you would be…?
Karen: Hmmm if I was not a model /actor/dancer, I would be a therapist. I studied clinical psychology at university and graduated. I love psychology!
Karen: Oh I always danced from a young age as a passion I decided to pursue it professionally in 2009.
Akeza.net: And what about your future projects?
Karen: At the moment I am working on various small films as I embark on my journey as an actor. I will also be visiting Cape Town this year where I hope to create with various creative people.
Akeza.net: You will go to Cape Town as a dancer, an actor, a model or just as Karen?
Karen: All the above , I will really go to create with amazing people /directors /photographers/stylists/MUAs etc. just to really create and see the city.
Akeza.net: Apart from being a model, do you have another life?
Karen: I am a trained dancer and have worked as a professional dancer for 6 years, I am also training as an actor in the UK and look forward to working on many theatre and film. And I have produced my own projects too.
Akeza.net: Any chances you tell us about your love life?
Karen: I am currently still waiting on “Mr. right” to be flown in from heaven/God. In the meantime, I am pretty busy with work and training as actor, but I am certainly dating.
Akeza.net: What should we know about you that we don’t actually even think about?
Karen: That I am a huge fan of out running and run an average 25-40 a week. I am clinical psychology graduate too.
Akeza.net: Which piece of advice would you give to young Burundians who have the same passion?
Karen: -Study the craft and keep studying /training in your field.
-Believe in you and your uniqueness that’s what separates from others.
-Get yourself out there, online. Travel the world.
-Think of yourself as a brand; ask yourself would I pay money for my services?!
-Always do it for the Art, surround yourself with people who feed your journey.
Interview by Miranda Akim’