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Meet Ola Labib — the first Black Muslim Sudanese woman to perform at the O2

Photo courtesy of UTC Management

Happy New Year to all AWRA allies and members out there! We’re excited to start the New Year celebrating the accomplishments of African women. In this exclusive interview, AWRA co-founder Reem Abdellatif speaks with Sudanese-British comedian Ola Labib, who is known for her charming personality and edgy humor. Ola is currently the only Muslim, Black Sudanese female comedian performing in the United Kingdom. She’s smashed stereotypes with her comedy through stand up and has performed at top venues across the UK including The Comedy Store, Hot Water, The Frog and Bucket – and this is only the beginning!

Check out the full interview below:

Reem: First of all, congratulations for recently becoming the first Sudanese woman to perform at the O2 in London! What was that experience like for you?

Ola: “I don’t even know where to start with describing the experience! Exciting? Life changing? Motivational? It was a moment I will never forget! Being the first Black Muslim Sudanese comedian to perform at the O2 brings me so much hope that this will open doors for others with similar backgrounds to pursue their goals!”

Reem: You have a charming and warm presence that is very much inspired by your Muslim and African spirituality and culture. What else inspires your comedy?

Ola: “My comedy is inspired by my family and upbringing. My father is the most hilarious person anyone could ever meet (and I am not being biased either!) The way he tells stories can keep people listening for hours and hours; and the way he makes his stories so funny that not only do people love to listen, but also learn so much from his words. I hope to one day be able to have that same level of hilarity, elegance, and encaptivating way of speaking that my father has.”

Reem: As a comedian, who inspires you the most?

Ola: “Well my father is my biggest hero and influence. If I am as much like him as people say, then Inshallah this gives me hope that I will be where I want to be!”

Reem: As the only Muslim, female Sudanese comedian in the UK, you’re definitely smashing several stereotypes. How do you get ahead while staying true to yourself?

Ola: “People who know me, know that what you see on stage is what you see in person. The stories that I tell on stage are a reflection of me. Things that I have lived, things that I have experienced and things that I wish to experience. A lot of my material are things that I have said amongst my family and friends that have made them laugh and I’m thinking: ‘Hey! Let me write that down.’ I believe in staying true to yourself, being authentic and being humble; that’s what will get me far.”

Reem: On another more political note – we’ve been closely following the political developments and events in Sudan. Women and girls are a huge part of the movement for human rights and democracy and are inspiring the entire MENA and Africa region. How do you feel about the progress that Sudanese have made thus far?

Ola: “There have been a lot of positives in that the Sudanese people are more united and better organized. The Neighborhood Resistance Committees are an example of this. However, the revolution has yet to accomplish its core goal, which is a full civilian government.”

Reem: What advice would you give to young African women – up and coming artists, activists, or comedians – who are having to overcome stereotypes to fulfill their dreams?

Ola: “I would say use your platform to show the world who you really are. When people don’t know me and I step on stage, I can see the curiosity on people’s faces. They are probably wondering ‘What is she going to say?’ My advice is talk about your experience and don’t feed into the stereotypes that people have of you. It’s not about what you think the audience wants to hear, it’s about what you WANT them to hear and how you can make it entertaining. I think that’s where the art is at. Tell them about you so when they leave after watching you, they have learnt something new about you, your culture or your art that they didn’t know before. Let them take home a bit of you that they won’t forget, and would want them to see more of you.”

Watch one of Ola’s performances:

Reem Abdellatif

The Author

Reem Abdellatif is an AWRA founding member. She is the founder & director of Redefined, a digital communications consultancy based in The Netherlands. As a former foreign correspondent, her in-depth stories on women marginalization, gender-based violence, and domestic abuse are testament to her passion for creating social impact. Reem is Egyptian-American and is part of the first generation of women in her family to escape Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).