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Haddy N'jie: The African face of Norwegian TV

From Cynthia Wamwayi, CNN
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A presenter and a performer
  • TV presenter Haddy N'jie is an instantly recognizable face in Norway
  • She was born in Oslo to a Gambian father and Norwegian mother
  • N'Jie is also a singer who has released three solo albums
  • She also hosted the Eurovision Song Contest this year

Every week CNN International's African Voices highlights Africa's most engaging personalities, exploring the lives and passions of people who rarely open themselves up to the camera. This week we profile Norwegian-Gambian TV presenter and performer Haddy Jatou N'jie.

Oslo, Norway (CNN) -- A woman of many talents, Haddy Jatou N'jie is one of Scandinavia's rising stars.

With a Gambian father and a Norwegian mother, she is both a successful singer with three solo music albums under her belt and a famous TV presenter, having hosted, among others, the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest from her hometown of Oslo.

"I can do whatever what I want, I can define myself in whatever way I want," N'jie told CNN from the capital of Norway. "As a journalist, as a writer, as an artist, musician, black or white, Gambian or Norwegian, and no one can tell me I can't be this, I can't be that."

N'jie's multifarious personality has earned her celebrity status in Norway -- the fun-loving and free speaking performer has grown to become one of the country's most instantly recognizable faces.

She says she needs to live "an asymmetrical life," one that embraces all the different elements that have shaped her upbringing.

"People always ask me, 'What is the most important thing for you? Is it the music, the journalism, what's most important for you?' I need all of it. If I just do music, I get so tired of myself after a while that I have to do something else, and when I'm just a journalist I really need to sing and write music or express myself in a more subjective way, so I need it all."

Hosting a fundraising telethon
Indulging a passion for performing

Born in Oslo in 1979, N'jie says her life has been much the same as anyone else's but she's quick to admit that growing up as a black person in Norway has impacted her in many ways.

"When it comes to my identity as a Gambian-Norwegian, my knowledge is really more about being a visible minority in Norway and being black in a white country.

"From a very early age I started thinking, 'Who am I, where do I belong and what kind of person do I want to be?' So I started to make my own platform in a way, somewhere I could be without people, without having to defend myself in a way...I have my own room where I can be Gambian, Norwegian, black or white."

One of her jobs as a presenter is to host an annual fundraising telethon for Norwegian broadcaster NRK that raises money for noteworthy causes. This year's proceeds will be used to help and protect people fleeing from conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Sudan, among others.

Much of N'jie's knowledge about Africa comes from her Gambian father, but she's also traveled to the continent on a number of occasions. She recently visited the world's largest refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya -- a trip that she says had a profound impact on her.

"I met young people that are really ambitious, that really want to do something good with their lives. But they're just victims of a war that they have no way of resolving, they are just stuck in a refugee camp so they have no way of fulfilling their dreams."

I can do whatever what I want, I can define myself in whatever way I want.
--Haddy Jatou N'jie

N'jie says at this year's telethon, she wants to use the experience drawn from this trip to highlight the challenges faced by refugees.

"When you are a refugee you don't always get your education. You are ripped out, you have to leave everything. And that's the same if you are in Colombia, or in Dadaab on the Somalian border, or if you are in Gaza.

"As a young person you need education, you need hope, you need somewhere to go, so the project they have regarding education is something I'd like to talk more about at the telethon this year."

When N'jie is not presenting shows on Norwegian television, she likes to indulge to her other passion -- performing.

A talented singer in her own right, she has toured Norway several times both as a solo artist and as a member of Queendom, a comedy group of five like-minded women.

"People really tend to think of Queendom as we are just black Norwegians but we are a very international group. Because one girl is from Norway-Nigeria, one from Trinidad-Norway, one from Uganda, one from Ethiopia and me from Gambia-Norway.

"We make fun of Norwegians and we also make fun of Africans. And there is so much humor in the meeting between the different cultures. So to me it was about telling people about my experience as a black Norwegian woman but in a fun way."

N'jie's musical interests led her to another project -- hosting the latest Eurovision Song Contest. It was an offer, she says, that she just couldn't turn down.

"I love a good challenge, that's it. So when they asked me I couldn't say no. It's the biggest TV show in NRK history. I had to do it. How do you create that kind of show? With three shows, with 18 000 people every time. And it was just a big challenge, I loved every minute of it."

Teo Kermeliotis contributed to this report.