Mballa’s ‘Illegal’ Will Change How You Think About The Undocumented Black Women Living in America
The Cameroonian singer-songwriter is working to give a voice to the voiceless in this R&B-tinged cut.
In 2015, it was reported that there were 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States. While breaking down the statistics, such as how this number is actually lower than 2009's findings and how of that number, eight million contribute to the U.S. workforce, the image that comes to mind when one hears the word "immigrant" doesn't necessarily reflect the reality, or even the humanity, of the situation.
Most people automatically think "illegal" and write off the situation as one that needs "fixing" and government intervention immediately, without fully understanding what that actually means, what the process to becoming a legal citizen looks like in its current form and how the negative connotations against immigrants and viewing them as "other" may do more harm than good. One person fighting to change such misconceptions, regarding undocumentation specifically, is Cameroonian singer-songwriter, Mballa.
While the 21-year-old musician has been turning her pain into empowerment through her music since she first picked up a mic as a young girl, the battle she is fighting has become much larger than herself. By taking ownership of her story, one that she alone is best-equipped to tell through her artistry, Mballa is inspiring a community of those in a similar position to speak their truth as well, encouraging others to trade in fear of the consequences of their immigration status for solidarity and revolution, at a time when that is needed most.
Mballa's story begins with her father's, a hardworking visionary who was appointed Ambassador of Cameroon to the United States, a prestigious position and honor that brought him and his family to Washington D.C., a place that became a second home and one where Mballa first became enamored with the local arts and music scene. After being forced by a battle with cancer to place her dreams to pursue music on hold, she now has returned to her childhood passions, a heartfelt decision further fueled by her father's passing–a tragedy that struck before he was ever exonerated, after being held as a political prisoner in their native Cameroon.
With the visuals accompanying her latest single, "Illegal," Mballa takes listeners on what holds the power to be a transformative journey, presenting firsthand her experience of what it means (as well as what it looks like and feels like) to be an undocumented person of color amid extreme racial tension in the U.S.
"Strong, Black, feminine beauty is not what most Americans envision when they hear the word 'illegal' in regards to the undocumented," director Rebecca Ward says. "This music video was made to turn the stereotype of 'illegal' on its head, and challenge what most people interpret undocumented folk to look like."
As Mballa works toward de-stigmatizing one of the most politically complex realities plaguing millions of people residing in this country founded by immigrants in the first place, the brave singer has inevitably emerged as a voice for the movement. As exemplified with "Illegal," she is representing for those who, like her, have found themselves in a position where protesting for the equal rights of Black people is met with the risk of losing freedom.
Throughout the video's vibrant scenes, a group of diverse empowered women of different religions and ethnicities take ownership of their undocumented stati and cultural identities. Finding solace in creating their own safe space, the women also create their own layer of protection, something that society does not offer to those without papers. With Mballa's stunning voice juxtaposed with scenes of an abandoned self-made empire—full of women exploring activities that build on their identities, complete with a choreographed riot—"Illegal" not only shines a light on those who are only safe in the shadows but gives a newfound sense of purpose and community to the voiceless.
Over the P.A.T. Junior-produced cut, Mballa's dedication to authentically weaving empowerment and strength into her lyricism shines through, showcasing how this track is as much for others, as it is for herself. Embracing the power behind that is exactly why Mballa is well on her way as becoming one of this generation’s most impactful voices, captivating an ever-growing audience each aptly soundtracked step of the way.