Chilel Sarr, founder and chief executive officer of the Elegance Media Group
Friday, April 20, 2012
Born in Banjul, Chilel Sarr, daughter of Alhaji Sulay Sarr
(late) and Aji Sirrah Njankun Njie is the founder and chief executive officer
of the Elegance Media Group, publisher of the Elegance Magazine.
Madam Sarr first came to prominence two years ago after publishing her first edition of the Elegance Magazine, which features fashion and lifestyle, society, as well as culture.
Having studied communication, media and journalism at the University of Buckingham, Sarr who graduated in 2010, has since been active in promoting her native country, The Gambia, through her journalistic work. She has been an emblem of innovation and creativity in redirecting the country’s media industry in the area of magazine publication in view of its nature.
Please enjoy the rest of the Bantaba.
Bt: Thank you Chilel Sarr for accepting to be interviewed by the Daily Observer. You came to prominence when you started your quarterly Elegance Magazine. But before we get to all that kindly introduce yourself more?
Sarr: I am Chilel Sarr, the chief executive officer and publisher of the Elegance Magazine. I lived in Europe for nearly 10 years but I lived in England for six years where I studied communication, media and journalism at the University of Buckingham and I graduated in 2010. I started the magazine in my third year of university.
I am the last daughter of the late Alhaji Sulay Sarr and Aji Sirrah Njankun Njie of the 29 Primet Street in Banjul. I attended Methodist Primary School in Banjul and from there I proceeded to St. Joseph’s High School in Banjul.
Bt: Coming to your magazine, I must say that you ventured into a business that is not easy given its constant urge for creativity, innovation. But may I ask what first inspired you to come with such a work?
Sarr: It has always been my dream to publish a magazine but
now with the support and the encouragement I get from people, I refuse to say
that Elegance is my dream and stop there. I wanted it to be what take Gambia
forward vis-à-vis to contribute to the development of the country. Like I said
in my introductory remark, I started the magazine in my third year in
As I said studied communication, media and journalism, and in one
of our modules, we have publication where we used to compare two magazine
covers, their contents and things like that and that where I had the idea. Whilst
during the time I was at Southgate College in London, I have always wanted to
publish a magazine because there was a time that I discussed with one of my
friends in London whom I told to be the marketing manager – things like that
because then we were young and it could not materialize by the then. But when I
proceeded to the university with this media thing, it gave me the courage and
the force to do it. So basically I think it is just my feeling, dream and the
desire to contribute to my country.
Bt: Talking about journalism, why did you decide to focus on magazine publication instead of other areas of the profession because it is a very broad field?
Sarr: Yes I can say that journalism is very wide and
publication of magazine is part of the media. But why I focused on magazine
publication is because it was something that I wanted to focus on 100 percent
because even the time I was doing communication, I had all the time in mind
that when I come back to the Gambia, I would work in a GSM mobile company,
which has also been one of my dreams.
But you know sometimes you will start
something and it will develop and reach a stage where you did not expect. When
I first published the magazine, I sent some copies to His Excellency, the
president Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh and he welcomed it very well
and gave me an audience. So with all those encouragements I said to myself that
this no longer a joke. In the beginning, trust me it was a joke because I just
went on Facebook and open Elegance Magazine page where I said the publication
is going to be purely Gambian.
But I was surprised with the support I got on Facebook as the page got 5000 membership. So everyone was telling me Chilel this is not a joke any more – you have to implement it. So from there I built a website, which was amazing and I can’t imagining the comments I got on the site; everyone was excited about the initiative. So with all that I cannot take this and join it with something else because I want it to be my full time job.
Bt: Will there be any turning back in the long run?
Sarr: No there is no turning back because it is too late for that.
Bt; But do you have any regrets venturing into it since
working for one of the GSM mobile companies in the Gambia was actually one of
your initial dreams?
Sarr: No there is no regrets at all because even if I was working for a GSM company, the interest and joy I have doing this magazine will never be the same. This is because when you are working for yourself and putting your reputation, you tend to protect it no matter what. Sometimes even if my designer messes up with the designs, I feel not happy because I always want the best.
Bt; This brings me to ask what is your role in the full publication of the Elegance Magazine apart from being the publisher and chief executive officer. Basically what is your role when it comes to the content and design of the publication?
Sarr: I can tell you that I do everything and I am the
managing editor of this publication. I have an editor but I am everything in
the magazine. Without me it will not go and that is why I don’t have problems
anyone working with me and leaving because its my initiative. Whatever topic we
discussed in the magazine, it’s my idea.
Sometimes I tell the team that I think
the workload is too much on me although I have a better team that is very
supportive and willing. Whenever I come up with something new or an idea, they
will help me and make it into a real thing but everything is my idea. Even this
Tourism minister’s interview [Front page lead story of the third edition] is my
Bt: A close look at the magazine indicates that you focus more on lifestyle and society, fashion, culture and entertainment etc. Why do you focus on these areas when you have other interesting areas that could be also featured?
Sarr: Like you said this just something new – the third edition for that matter. We are not going to focus on one thing because we even surprised everybody when we [feature] tourism because everybody thought that we were going to focus on only lifestyle or fashion. Maybe [we will be] featuring models and fronting them but it has to be diverse – so every time we come we just try to focus on different thing. But when we were starting the magazine, we said it is a fashion and lifestyle magazine and no matter what we do or who we front, it must capture those things.
Bt: But how important is it to focus on the lifestyle or the society?
Sarr: It is very important because it is a society magazine. When you talk of society, you talk of fashion and events as well. So the Elegance is known for lifestyle, fashion and so on.
Bt: I am going to quote a phrase that I picked up from the
publisher letter in which you said “this magazine was designed as a means to
reinvent the demand or quality entertainment while supplying the talents and
information positive for our readership across the globe.” With the third
publication, are you sure that you are on track towards achieving this
Sarr: Yes we are on track because this third edition was long awaited – it’s long overdue because we said it is a quarterly magazine but we have little bit of problems with advertisement and everybody knows that publication is expensive especially when you want to do something quality. But we are definitely on track.
Bt: Chilel what is the strength of your market in terms of circulation and so on?
Sarr: We produce 2000 copies per publication and it is circulated in The Gambia, Senegal, London, Sweden, Norway, USA and recently Nigeria.
Bt: You earlier mentioned the team that is helping you in the publication. Do you employ them on a permanent basis or they are freelancers?
Sarr: They are all freelance for now but in the future I am hoping to take them all on full time basis because I haven’t got an office yet so we are all working from different places.
Bt: Talking about an office where do you do the printing?
Sarr: I published in Senegal now; then it was UK but now it
Bt: Why not in The Gambia?
Sarr: I would like to do it in the Gambia but I have not seen the quality I am looking for. This is Gambia magazine and I would be more proud to print it in the Gambia but with the quality that I look for, is not available. So when we have a machine prints this quality of course I will print it here. It is Gambian and I want everything to be done here.
Bt: Chilel printing and sustaining a magazine requires more financial resources. Are you bankrolling everything by yourself or you are banking on outside help?
Sarr: I have outside help but it is mainly through advertisements
– we financed our magazine through advertisement and the money realised is what
we use for publication.
Bt: But how much are you committed to sustain this venture in view of the fact that we have seen several magazines coming in strong wave but failed to stay?
Sarr: I am very committed to the course because I said it is a quarterly magazine but when we are more settled, we want to even do it monthly. This is our long term goal. We are now working on the next of having a base to ensure that we can come up monthly. But I want to appeal to companies to at least give us a contract.
Bt: Still on the expensive nature of the business, has any support been forthcoming from the Gambia’s private sector?
Sarr: Not yet…….not yet.
Bt: What do you think could be attributed to that?
Sarr: Maybe it is something new but I am sure they will come up.
Bt: You are definitely trying but what are the most pressing challenges facing your publication?
Sarr: Number one is adverts – sometimes it’s hard to get advertisements because I think most companies don’t know the importance of advertisement. For example you will have a company that advertise with you for two editions but they will haste to say they don’t think there is the need to advertise in the third edition because they have not seen the impact whilst they don’t know that for the readers to be seeing your company all the time on the magazine will enable them to be more attached to your company and know more about it. But you cannot expect to be there once and get the impact.
Bt: Aside from business talks lets now focus on your
personality and your social life beginning with your political allegiance.
Chilel, you didn’t hide your political affiliation when you were spotted in a
convoy of vehicles after President Jammeh was nominated for November 24th
Presidential Election. Many views have been advanced as reasons for rallying
behind the Gambian leader, in your case what is the basis for supporting him?
Sarr: Like you said I did not hide during the Presidential
Election because “Loubakh, loubakh reka koi Faye”a wollof parlance meaning in
English “one good turns deserve another”. When I first came back in to this
country it is the president that made the magazine to be more recognised. That
audience at State House granted to me by the president sells the image of the
magazine a lot because it was not known before my meeting with the president.
So that support means a lot to me.
Bt: What preoccupies your social life apart from business?
Sarr: I am a very sociable person, I eat out a lot – I guess that I got that from Sweden. I am not that a club type; I go to club once in a while but what I love most is to chill out to bars where you go to have soft drinks to sit and chat with friends. Apart from that I spend a lot of time online on these social Media like Facebook because that is where I interact more with my fans and friends.
Bt: Why don’t you like clubbing?
Sarr: Is not that I don’t love clubbing but I am somebody that you will not see in club every week – that has never been me since high school. Maybe is just my personality. Laughs!
Bt: How about your status – married or unmarried?
Sarr: Not yet but I want to because that is every woman’s wish.
Bt; But how soon?
Sarr: Very soon.
Bt: This means you already pointed your finger at somebody as your fiancé?
Sarr: Big laughs! Anyway I am committed.
Bt: But to who?
Sarr: I will let you know when the time is right.
Bt: Is it going to be anytime soon, for example this year?
Sarr: It could be end of this year or next year.
Bt: Chilel how old are you?
Sarr: I am 29.
Bt: May I ask one fundamental question – why did you wait until 29 and then plan to get married?
Sarr: Because the thing is all the time I am saying I want
to see myself through university first before anything like that. But after the
university this magazine came up so I said let me promote it first – just one
thing after the other.
Bt: Personalities like you obviously sometimes you scare men due to your status. Most men would actually want to knock at your door but perhaps your nature chases them away. Has that in anyway been the case for you apart from the reasons you advanced?
Sarr: Men being scared of me is long time even before I started publishing this magazine. They will just say I like Chilel but I will only welcome you if you see it in my face. If I feel that I like youthat is the time I will be open to you but otherwise I don’t want these too much men talking to me.
Bt: What type of man do you hope to share your life with?
Sarr: I want to settle with a guy who is responsible, a
guy that loves me for me, a guy that knows my quality, one that understands me,
one that knows my worth in the sense that when you are a woman and know that
you respect yourself around the society that you live in and carry yourself
with class and dignity, you need your partner to know that. There are many
women now but there are few of us who know our worth. So I want a guy that is
obviously good looking, ambitious, focused, respectful.
Bt: Does it have to be a man of high, middle or low class?
Sarr: It doesn’t matter if you are high, middle or low class because we made our men. When I date you, I can make you how I want you to be and the same apply to a guy – he can adjust me to a status he deems fit. But you need to be just good to good.
Bt: Again does it have to be someone who is older or younger than you and also a respectful person in the society?
Sarr: Basically I want somebody who is older than me. In fact I don’t date guys of my age but I also don’t want old guys too; just middle something.
Bt: Chilel looking at you, don’t you want to be a second wife? Do you share this view with me?
Sarr: Second wife – you know nowadays you have to accept
polygamy because most of the good guys are taken because it will determine who
you are if you have a wife and you have full respect for that woman. Sometimes
you see married men who have so much respect for their wives to protect their
image. So I think there is no harm in being first or second wife. The only
important thing is the understanding of who you want to go with.
Bt: My final question Chilel. Who is your most admired or favoured media practitioner both within and outside the Gambia?
Sarr: In the Gambia, I would say is Neneh MacDuoall-Gaye, Fatou Show (Fatou Camara) and Oprah Winfrey. They inspired me a lot.
Bt: That does it for this edition and once again thank you so much.
Sarr: Thank you too for the opportunity.
Author: Hatab Fadera