Soul and Afro Jazz singer Scarlet Mwana o Kondwela shares her hair story with us.
I have never considered myself a trendsetter or a “girly girl” or fashion conscious or any of those things. But I always gave a good goddamn about my hair. It was the healthiest thing I had once. As a child, long, thick, black and extremely difficult to deal with but my mum did all she could, the hot comb and the twists with the black thread all of that.
I had natural hair for most of my life. Thick, horrible hair I thought. The older I got the harder it was to deal with so we kept it in box braids and cornrows and “puffs” and ponytails. And then in the 6th grade I ate seafood and reacted and had to shave it all off. The humiliation when everyone laughed at me at school the next day was so extreme, I had to go home at second break. I vowed never to have short hair again.
Luckily for me, my hair grew like weeds, so by the time I was heading to eighth grade and boarding school, I had hair again. Packed up my stuff in my threaded twists, I looked like a villager next to all the ninth grade girls with their neat blowouts and tiny cornrows. That became my thing. The whole two years I was there. In between heat treatments with an iron in the boiler room.
When I came back home to do my O’levels I was ready for a relaxer. And boy, did I love it! Silky straight MANAGEABLE hair for the first time in my life! YASSSSSS!!! I could do WHATEVER I wanted *cue Beyonce’s “Grown Woman”* and it was GREAT! I cut and styled and colored it every year for my birthday for eight years. People commented on its thickness and the way it looked like a wig and I preened like the belle of the ball!
Halfway through uni I mastered the art of the partial weave. Tracks in the middle of my head and the rest of my hair surrounding it. It was the most versatile thing, I could tie it up, leave it down and because my real hair was so thick nobody knew where it ended or began. That became my staple.
Somewhere in 2008 I shaved my head again. In between graduation, my weight gain, my self esteem issues and a bad experience with a flat iron, I got fed up. So I cut it all off and started from scratch. I was nervous about it. It was so short! But it worked. And then when it was long enough, I braided it. And then when it was long enough, I relaxed it. Back to square one. And my epic weave game!
Its been round and round and in and out but I grew accustomed to the convenience of my tracks of any length and any color and the 16 inch black waves with the middle parting that I grew so well known for.
Then last year, I put in box braids and they pulled my front roots out! I had NEVER experienced that because I have always been so careful with my hairline, never letting it get braided or added to the weave tracks. It was horrible! I tried everything, fringe, bangs, gel you name it and it just didn’t work. Then my makeup artist suggested cutting it. CRINGE! I have a funny head, its flat at the back, my forehead sticks out, I CAN’T!!! And my boyfriend said, “You can!” I was not ready. But the situation kept getting worse and the hair was falling out.
So one Saturday morning I got up and dragged my sister with me. Found myself in the barber’s chair and as he buzzed over my split ends, I started to see my face and my youth and my bone structure and I thought, “WHY didn’t I do this sooner?!” I LOVED it! Made a little blunder and dyed it with peroxide in my excitement. The skin reaction wasn’t worth it so the moment I could I went back to black.
I have gotten more compliments than criticism since the big chop. However, all the problems my mother had with my hair growing up are now MY personal problems. Because my curl is so tight my hair is brittle, and my schedule gets so hectic that I have often found myself unable to do anything to it so I kept going back to the buzz cut. It was a little bit difficult to dress. My clothes and general style fit my 16 inch middle part waves PERFECTLY but they didn’t work so well with my little bare noodle. I have had to adjust to more jeans and add a little more attitude to the way I walk. I have never worn this many pairs of shoes. 🙂
However, I have to admit, its so much easier and less costly to maintain and I look five years younger than my actual age. I love that it brings out my eyes and that its MY hair. Its coming in at about 3 inches when blown straight which is good since I only stopped cutting it in January. Today I put in cornrows for the first time in 9 years and I LOVE them! So now my goal is to invest in the right products and get it to grow past my shoulders!
I don’t think I will go back to the relaxer ever again. Maybe the occasional 16 inch middle part wave but even that will take a while. For now I am feeling this authenticity and I think I’d like to keep it that way! 🙂
As well as being a singer Scarlet writes a blog. Check out her website http://www.mwanaokondewla.com , follow her on Twitter @Scarlet_MwanaOK , like her Facebook Page Scarlet Mwana O Kondwela and watch her music on her YouTube channel Scarlet (Mahogany Deep).