If there is a celebrity who is equally inspirational as he is controversial, it’s Akon. Aliaume Damala Badara Akon Thiam, famously known as Akon, was born in 1973 to Senegalese immigrants Kine Thiam and Mor Thiam in St. Louis, Missouri. After his birth, his family relocated to Senegal where they lived until he was seven. Soon after, they relocated back to the US. Akon recalls having a hard time growing up in New Jersey as people perceived him as different due to his African-inspired clothing. Akon and his brother remained in New Jersey to attend school while his parents and the rest of his family moved to Georgia. Akon attended Clark University, but dropped out in his first semester and turned his attention to music.
Music Career and Rise to Fame
Akon’s parents laid a foundation for his love of music as his mother was a dancer and his father, a well-known percussionist. With his familial musical influence, he learned to play five musical instruments. Yet his music career took hold during his time in jail. After being released, he was able to launch his career, having been mentored by big names in the music industry ranging from Devyne Stephens, President of Upfront Megatainment to Jerome Foster (Knobody) and Steve Rifkind. His debut album was released in 2004 and was dubbed Trouble. This album featured his melodic style as a fusion of hip-hop beats and R&B-style vocals with hit works such as “Lonely,” “Ghetto,” and “Locked Up.” “Ghetto” was a major hit, topping the charts at 5th and 8th positions in the UK and US respectively.
His second album to hit the shelves was Konvicted in 2006. After six weeks, his album had sold over one million copies in the United States, achieving platinum status and double platinum status after just sixteen weeks. He released his third album, Freedom, in 2008 and this, too, earned platinum status in the United States. Throughout his music career, Akon has worked with various artists including Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Gwen Stefani, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, New Kids on the Block, Leona Lewis, David Guetta, Pitbull, and Lil Wayne.
Akon found empowerment in rap. He is famously quoted as saying “Without rap, I’d have been on a death row.” With the inspiration he found in music, Akon was able to move past his troubled childhood and youth.
Akon has two philanthropic organizations in Africa. Konfidence Foundation is an organization that caters to Senegalese children by raising money through concerts in Africa held by popular American artists. The organization promotes literacy and education, and provides clean water, scholarships, and meals for families during holidays.
Akon Lighting Africa, on the other hand, is the collaborative effort of Akon, Thione Niang, and Samba Bathily. The foundation works to bring electricity to eleven African countries mostly based in West Africa. The Akon Lighting Africa group is looking forward to the launching of a solar academy in Bamako, Mali. This institution will teach students about the use of solar panels to light up Africa. Both his foundations are fueled by his childhood experiences, he understood the life of swimming in rivers and being without electricity. He is aiming to empower his people through sustainability.