With Alagie Manneh
Chilel Sarr has stamina. Staying power. Where many have tried and failed, this Buckingham University journalism graduate like the great Stoic lady, Fannia, never gives up. While many magazines in The Gambia do not survive their fifth edition, Elegance, which she publishes, is celebrating a decade in print.
This week, Bantaba’s Alagie Manneh met Ms Sarr and began by asking her to introduce herself.
Chilel Sarr: My name is Lady Chilel Sarr commonly called Lady. I am a Gambian businesswoman, the CEO and publisher of Elegance Magazine. I am the daughter of Alhaji Sulay Sarr and Aji Sira Njie. I was born and raised in Banjul. I attended Methodist Primary and St Joseph’s Senior Secondary schools.
What are your recollections of your childhood in Banjul?
My early childhood was like that of any average Gambian child. I was opinionated as a child and very playful. I was easy going, played a lot, danced and washed in the rain. The street was a place to connect with my friends and build strong bonds of relationships. Some of my friends even came to live with me in our house. That is how friendly and accommodating I am. Our toys were locally made, I believe many Waa Banjul will remember this very well. I remember my childhood with nostalgia.It was an experience I happily relives and it helped build my character, and fine-tuned me into a very caring, loving and compassionate woman, yet focused and unwavering.
How has your upbringing defined you?
I was raised by a set of parents and siblings who built in me a very strong sense of morality and respect for humanity. They taught me how to succeed and not give up my life’s pursuit. No wonder I always stayed on course until I hit my target (laughs). May the Almighty Allah continue to shower His mercies on them.My parents put me on a pedestal on how to be a goal-getter. So you see, that’s how rich my childhood was. It was the childhood life of an average Gambian child.
What was your experience as a student in England?
As a black African sometimes you might feel you are not treated fairly but I didn’t experience discrimination or racism based on my skin colour or sex. I was given an opportunity to strive on an equal platform to achieve my goals. You can see that it has translated into me living my dream and pursuing and succeeding in my passion.
What did you study?
I travelled to London and enrolled to study ICT at Southgate College and later Media and Communication at [the University of] Buckingham.
There was talk in the grapevine that former president Yahya Jammeh wanted to tap you for tourism minister. Did he ever ask you?
Haha minister deh! Well, I was not informed by anyone that he [Jammeh] wanted to make me a minister. I have a lot of expertise and have contributed my quota to the growth and development of The Gambia but I couldn’t be in any profession than publishing. I love this job.
You are a self-made young woman and an inspiration to many, what makes Chilel Sarr tick?
I don’t know what you mean by self-made as an inspiration? Yes, I know I am an inspiration to many because of what I have been able to achieve. And I am happy that young Gambians look up to me and want to be like me. It spurs me to try and achieve more in life. What makes me tick is pure focus and determination. Success does not come easy, I work hard and refuse to be distracted by anything. I face challenges yes, but I learn from obstacles and mistakes and turn them into stepping stones. I am simply a goal-getter.
But why journalism, what inspired you?
I was inspired by the famous philanthropist and media celebrity Oprah Winfrey. In addition, I have a media background. I was motivated to start my magazine Elegance in 2010 in the UK. The idea behind the magazine is to celebrate lifestyle, culture and success stories and create a platform of entertainment and education and promote the culture of reading in young ones. The importance of reading cannot be overestimated.
Elegance is today a household name in The Gambia. What do you attribute your success to?
Like I said earlier, the success of Elegance magazine is a result of sheer determination and focus. I had a passion to impact my generation and give out the latest and important information in showbiz. It is important for you to know that we also cover stories in politics and profile successful people in various professional fields. People learn so much from these professionals as they share their stories and the paths they followed to succeed. These inspire a lot of young people.
Elegance Magazine has morphed into Elegance Media Group, what informed that decision?
The world is changing very fast, and online is the most valuable asset now. This is what informed the idea of diversifying and therefore the establishment of Elegance Media Group. It will give us the opportunity to explore all the platforms necessary to carry out our mandate of informing, entertaining and educating our millions of audience across the world. Elegance Media Group is a conglomerate that is out to make a major contribution in the global media space by ensuring a high level of expertise in getting information to millions of people across the world via all available media platforms and with the latest technology. We are out to ensure that people find us dependable and trustworthy in information dissemination.
Your medium has covered some of the country’s most inspiring and informative stories on entertainment. Looking back over the years, how much has changed in the entertainment sector of the country?
I believe that Elegance has been pivotal in bringing life to the entertainment industry and ensuring that standards are raised. Because if you look at the stories and personalities we covered, people were spurred into raising their standards so as to be featured in our magazine. Hence, so much good has been happening in the industry since. We changed the dynamics and injected a desire for global competition in the entertainment industry because our magazine is read in many African countries and Europe.
The Gambia Fashion Awards conferred on you the “Eminence Achievement Award” in fashion. Did that spur you to promote African beauty and culture around the globe?
I think the reverse is the case here. But the award made me realise that my contributions in promoting African culture and lifestyle have not gone unnoticed. The award only gave me more strength to do more knowing that people are appreciating my efforts.
On a personal note, are you married?
God’s time is the best timing. Sai Yallah ko dorgal so joteh yomba (smiles).
Any final words?
I cannot finish this interview without thanking my team for being with me all these years. God blessed me with an excellent team. We worked as a family and respect each other. Their unrelenting effort and sacrifices made us reach where we are today. I couldn’t have made it without their individual and collective contributions. I thank them immensely for being available all the time. We will be ten years in November and the Elegance story cannot be completed without mentioning the late Harr Njai. She mentored and shaped me into publishing.
We did the first few editions together. We pray for her soul to continue to rest in peace. In the past ten years we have expanded to other African countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and in Europe. We are now on the international platform.We have had access and featured prominent personalities in Africa and beyond like some governors in Nigeria, ministers, diplomats, emirs such as the former Emir of Kano, HRH Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the Sultan of Sokoto, First Lady of Senegal Marieme Faye Sall and many prominent people I can’t mention for lack of space. I want to also thank and appreciate my readers in The Gambia, Nigeria, Senegal those online and all those who advertised on Elegance for believing in us. More to come. Insha’Allah.