The new brand of slashie is here, and her name is FlexMami
Speaking with Lillian Ahenkan is a lesson in what it means to be in the creative industries in 2018. The 23 year old known as FlexMami is a self-confessed "ultimate slashie". But not in the classic artist/waitress sense - that common stereotype carries a now very old fashioned air of being a slave to the business. Rather Lillian is in full control of her creative endeavours, and loving every minute.
To date, Lillian has worked as a DJ, an online beauty guru, a radio host for FBi radio, a television presenter for MTV, a publicist, a social media expert, and a fashionista. She's enterprising, talented, confident, and most importantly, flexible.
Just last month, Lillian opened for five-time GRAMMY nominated artist SZA (pronounced "Scissor" - you're welcome). "[Supporting SZA was] super life affirming. It was one of the best gigs I did, ever. She saunters around stage like she's in her own bedroom. She sings like she's talking. Everything is so effortless," she says. This incredible opportunity came to be not because FlexMami (henceforth, let's interchange the stage and birth names) is an artist being pushed on the same label or because she knows SZA, but because, "I put it out there. Everybody knows I love SZA. And I did what any passionate person would do. I spoke to the promoter, but these things come down to her management so it was out of everybody's hands." And then the invitation came. "I was elated. When I got the call I didn't know what to do with myself."
Yet as exciting as the news was, Lillian is quick to demonstrate how grounded she is. "It's a huge deal, but not the biggest of deals, like I'm not gonna be next to her on stage."
It is this balanced outlook that makes FlexMami so attractive in an artist sense, but also a business sense. Take, for instance, how she came to be a DJ in the first place. She was working at a club in Kings Cross and realised that management was paying so much money for a support DJ who played to very small crowds and that the bigger audiences were only showing up for the main acts. "Why don't a bunch of us learn to DJ?" Lillian asked. And the rest is history,
Herein lies her philosophy. "You don't have to be the biggest or the best. Not everyone is going to be Diplo." FlexMami, however, is an excellent DJ and her music knowledge is formidable.
Which is why Lillian has also landed gigs at MTV and FBi Radio - two roles that any aspiring music buff would envy. A producer at MTV had contacted Lillian to be part of a new series, however that producer left and the opportunity disappeared. Except, because we are talking about Lillian Ahenkan, it didn't. "I could have easily cut contact with MTV when my only contact was leaving." But she pushed on, and says, "I put it out into the universe." And then the call came, "How would you feel talking about music every week?"
Again, with FBi radio, Lillian took the unconventional path. Normally presenters undertake training and then do overnight time slots, but this was not what she wanted to do. Instead, FlexMami pitched a podcast that was picked up for their digital streaming channel, hosted a self-help segment and co-hosted another program that played R&B.
"Nothing seems impossible to me. If I can think of logical steps to get to anywhere I'm gonna try it," is FlexMami's attitude.
Where most would be grateful to have experience in all of these roles that would bring little income, FlexMami has business savvy and knows her worth. She has partnered with brands like Samsung and has also started making beauty tutorial videos, and says she will be teaming up with international beauty houses in the near future. While Lillian understands the business, she again affirms that she knows who she is, and won't be swallowed up in self image. "The make-up itself is not integral to my being." Lillian is creating this content because, "There are people of colour who don't have this reference."
The beauty thing didn't come out of nowhere. After school, Lillian studied fashion, fashion business, as well as PR. With each new educational endeavour, she found the teachings to be very hypothetical, and as soon as she got a job in a PR company, Lillian saw no point in continuing the course. Working in PR for a couple of years took its toll. "You're doing a lot of grunt work for other people. You get in early and stay late. My successes was directly associated with someone else and that's soul sucking." To know Lillian is to understand that self-love is her schtick. "What motivated me was being myself and being affirmed."
But her generosity and love for others is just as strong. She lists her favourite women in music with enthusiastic affection. George Maple - "the epitome of a curated pop star" - Nicole Millar - "a consistent voice who allows herself to move through trends" - Miss Blanks - "she always encourages women to the front because that's where her place should be" - Kimchi - "I LOVE her" and Mallrat - "Mallrat! Of course! I love Mallrat."
FlexMami has been born out of practicality as much as she has been born out of passion. And she's infiltrating your clubs, your screens and your headphones in an economically sustainable way by, "finding a way to capitalise on things I like to do. I have found for myself ways to monetise my interest. But also not sacrifice the things I want to do."
She's the ultimate example of what it means to be a multi-platform artist and business woman, and the world is FlexMami's oyster.
"If theres any time to give it 110 per cent, it's now when I'm 23 and I'm moderately interesting to look at."
FlexMami plays Sunset20N at Sydney's Barangaroo on 23 February. (Make sure you check out the other amazing DJs and artists, Caiti Baker, Thandi Phoenix, Ebony Boadu, Mama Kin Spender, Thelma Plum and more. It's free, set against a beautiful Sydney backdrop, and details are here.)