Some people look at Issa and assume he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Try a wooden spoon.
Though his father is an engineer and his mother is a pharmacist – prestigious professions that would guarantee them upper-middle class status in America – Issa’s parents were not born in America. They’re from Senegal a country smaller than South Dakota where the average citizen earns less than $2000 a year.
Issa grew up in Dakar – the nation’s capital which is also unique for being the westernmost point in all of Africa. Even though his parents were considered well-to-do by Senegalese standards, they both grew up dirt poor so they encouraged Issa and his five brothers and sisters to excel in school, steering them into practical, high earning vocations like computer science and engineering. All of the kids followed the plan. Except Issa.
Issa loved the arts, loved music, which didn’t exactly sit well with his parents since the only people who made a living singing in Senegal were beggars. But the vision Issa had for himself was bigger than Dakar, bigger than Senegal, bigger even than West Africa. Issa saw himself as a man of the world, making a living singing in such exotic locations as Europe and the United States. Since he was a little boy, his dream was to come to America to seek his fortune.
As a boy, Issa used to tell his grandmother – a colorful, oral storyteller about his dreams of coming to America and she would encourage him, asking him to remember to buy her a cell phone and to bring her to America to visit so she could know first hand what the “land of opportunity” looked like up close.
But Issa had no hope of ever coming to America. His folks just didn’t have the money. The one hope poor West Africans have of coming to America is through a miracle network called the Diversity Visa Lottery. You submit and application and if your name is picked, you win free entry to America. Once you get there, you’re on your own but, bottom line, you’re in America. Issa’s four brothers and sisters had tried every year to win one of the coveted Diversity Lottery spots with no success.
In 2004, on his very first attempt, Issa applied to the Diversity Visa Lottery… and won. But before he could begin making his dreams come true, his parents had to sell everything they owned to raise enough money for his plane fare.
Since landing in the United States five years ago, Issa managed to earn a degree in Marketing from the Portland State University and is now pursuing his passion – music. That is what makes his new album, The Rules of Attraction, so special. It is the culmination of a lifetime’s worth of blood, sweat and tears that crosses two oceans and continents. His songs are about pursuing your dream, about love, identity, acceptance and achieving the type of success every young person dreams of.
Issa dedicates the album to his late grandmother, Coumba sy, for teaching him the value of storytelling; and to his parents, Mbareck and Maimouna Diop, for teaching him discipline and helping him to pursue his dream.
- Michael Ajakwe, Jr. .
(Emmy Award-winning TV producer)
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