By Amanda Sandström Beijer
Photos: Tim Wolf & Jim Kroft / Lumona
If anyone knows what it’s like to become famous overnight it’s Oumi Janta. Staying connected to the ground she’s using her global megaphone to encourage us to rethink ourselves and to break societal norms around age. In the end, it’s all about not giving to much of a fuck.
In Berlin you’ve seen her for years rolling in Tempelhofer Feld, and we are many who got obsessed. There’s something calming, liberating, joyful and it’s completely unpretentious watching her jam skating on the field as well as Instagram together with good music. If it’s any energy we want to keep, lift and spread this summer, it’s definitely hers.
Born in Senegal, Oumi Janta came here when she was just two months old with her family, so her view on Berlin as a local is pretty refreshing, and it’s good hearing that the pandemic is not at all the essential change she’s seen in in the city. Actually, it was the World Cup, but more about that later.
”The best thing about living in Berlin is that you’re able to be free. In other cities people tend to be more ’in boxes’. It’s not that Berlin doesn’t have any of these boxes, but more so that people are free to do their thing without other people making it their business. I feel that I can be myself without having to explain myself.”
One year ago, her life changed over-night when one of her jam videos went viral. That said she hasn’t gone unnoticed for local Berliners before, and her vibes have been spreading joy all over Tempelhof for years already.
”My general life view during the pandemic has changed a lot. I’m an outdoor person and I love to surround myself with people, but since Corona I have noticed that I’m actually also an introvert, or at least I enjoy being by myself as well.”
”It was a bit difficult in the beginning, but I have never felt like, ’Oh my god the world is ending’. I just realized that there’s not so much to do right now, but I can always skate - and since we’ve always been allowed to do sports outside, it has been alright.”
Having lived in Berlin always, except for seven months in Oslo, and two months in Senegal, her view of this city is not the same as for people who have been here for the past ten.
”The biggest change isn’t the pandemic, but a lot has happened these past ten years. Berlin in the ’90s wasn’t very crazy. Everything changed after the city hosted the World Cup in football in 2006 at Olympiastadion.”
”Before that Berlin was completely different, everything was in German which they had to change because the tourists didn’t understand where to go on the trains or nothing. This was the first time when I started seeing a lot of different and new people in Berlin for the first time and heard people speaking English around me. It was the first time I was conflicted with more diversity. This moment actually stands out more to me than the pandemic does. From that moment and on, Berlin got more diverse. So, it’s basically thanks to the World cup”, she jokes.
Although speaking of this past year, now that we’re (knock on wood) at the end of the tunnel, Oumi doesn’t necessarily think it was all bad.
”There has also come some good stuff out from this past year, I have seen how people start trying new stuff, and start seeing life from a different perspective. People have had time to think about their lives. For many of us it has been the first time we’ve got more time, which in one way is also freedom, even if you’re not allowed to do certain things.”
”Many people have started new projects even if they have lost their economic security. That is very challenging, but it’s also very rewarding to be brave and discover what you’ve actually been dreaming of and to work towards that goal.”
”It can feel horrible when you’re in the midst of it and lose touch with the way you used to live - your routines changing, but when you give it some time you will also see that it gave you a new perspective on life. For example, ’I have no money, what can I do now’, instead of being stuck in your bubble or your ’wheel’ without enough time to question if there is something else, you’d rather put your time and energy to. Dare to rethink your life. Because even if you’re 40, 50 or 60 there is so much time left to discover new things and passions.”
For Oumi herself she found her joy for doing roller skates when she joined her friend to a Roller Disco as a teenager. Although her first interest was lit when she was watching the World Cups in ice skating on television years before.
”I really enjoyed the way they were gliding, and then being a teenager and wanting to be cool or whatever, skating on wheels was a bit more rad. So, when we went to the roller disco, I was like ’what in the name of… is that’, and I got hooked. People were rolling around and the thing that amazed me was that they were dancing on the skates, without it being stereotyped or anything. It was just cool. And it wasn't limited to teenagers - all ages and genders were doing it together.”
” When you’re young, you just hang around with people your own age, but this was the first time that I started to hang out with 60-year-old people, skating together. This is when I stopped caring about age. It was simple, ’you skate, I skate - let’s skate together’, without questioning anything but the fact that we had the same interest.”
”I just want to skate, and nothing else is really important. Maybe their names, but honestly a lot of people that I know I got to know through skating, I have no clue about what they work with, their family situation or whatever. A girl I have skated with for over four years told me that she was a lawyer, and that is nothing I ever knew, because when we’re just humans who love to spend time on roller skates, and that’s what we care about.”
The blurred lines when it comes to gender identity, age, clothing preference or whatever - is something that is easy to recognize in Berlin generally. The same goes when it comes to the club scene. When Oumi lived in Oslo and studied industrial design, she noticed a cultural difference there compared to Berlin, especially socially.
”Over there I had to be very aware of ’opening the can slowly’ although, once it was open you have them as friends. But people had a bit harder to open up, and it took more effort to become friends with them.”
”Me as a Berliner I am very open and sometimes I had a feeling that I was way too much for them, but it was a nice experience for me to get to know the cultural differences. But seriously, I would probably not have any friends if I wouldn’t have been as annoying to them as I was”, she laughs.
”I banged on their doors like’ hey, you wanna have breakfast with me’ and I thought that the person I tried to befriend, didn’t really like me, but all of a sudden we talked about boys and she totally shifted and opened up. I was like, ’alright, if that’s the topic, let’s go there.’ In many ways it’s not as complicated in Berlin.”
Oumi moved back after the studies ended, and is loving life in Berlin at the moment, although optimistic at heart - she’s a bit scared it will change.
”You kind of have to be optimistic to get the energy to move forward. But of course, a lot of things have changed, and one thing that worries me in Berlin is the housing situation. The more popular Berlin gets with the people who have lots of money the more it changes the market and prices. To me, if this changes too much, and if Berlin becomes as expensive as London for example, it will really hurt the culture scene and it scares me. It wouldn’t be Berlin anymore.
”I’m really concerned about the culture and hope the decision-makers take this into account - to protect Berlin as a capital that supports culture.”
Oumi is a big symbol for Tempelhof, and today she is recognized, not only by the locals, but by tourists too.
”I love being associated with Tempelhof and using my platform to show the world that Berlin is a city that prioritizes common spaces like this. An empty airport that is used for everybody as a huge public park in the middle of the city centre is just the kind of spaces that we need to protect. It feels good to raise awareness of a spot that is for everybody as a way to promote spaces like this in Berlin.”
”If you want to change something in this world you need a big megaphone, and now I have that. I am very thankful for being able to reach out to the broad mass that includes investors as well as people like myself who also want Berlin to remain what it is today.”
This past year has been intense for Oumi. For her it meant getting famous over-night - in June 2020.
”It wasn’t super easy to get used to it, I had a feeling that it came like a bomb and I couldn’t prepare myself for it. I had no time to but had to function in my new reality right away and was totally confused. Now, a year later I am used to it and have adjusted and cleared my head. So, I’m much more chilled than last year. People didn’t see it, but on the inside, I was in shock last year.”
One thing that probably everyone can agree on is that fame hasn’t changed Oumi. Even for this shoot, the production team brought all kinds of clothes from Versace to second-hand pieces, but Oumi felt most comfortable in her own pieces of clothing, and so - decided to wear that instead.
”I love this with Berlin, that people are down to earth. When I meet with people who might know me, even if I don't necessarily know them, I feel respected and that there it’s no ’barrier’ between us, so there’s still a possibility to live normally here even if people ’know you’.”
Berlin, being a city that attracts many creative people - famous as well as unknown - makes it a space that supports and lifts each other up, instead of competing.
”Everyone is doing creative stuff in this city; if many fishes go up - you go up too. I mean if you’re surrounded by people who are curious, brave and try new things, it’s easy to follow.”
”Being creative means attracting other creative people, which attracts even more creativity. It’s magnetic. But at the same time, when the city has all this potential, investors will follow. Something that we have to deal with in the right way so that the city continues to be cultural, and not gets ruined by only seeing the economic profit in everything. Because then we lose everything that we have put into it.”
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– Hidden fact: My middle toe was probably broken as a baby and it stopped growing - therefor it’s tiny and I’ve got a baby toe in the middle
– Best vintage shop in Berlin: The flea market in Neukölln and on Warschauer Strasse in Kreuzberg
– Playlist: Type ’Oumi Janta’ on Spotify
– Favourite Berlin restaurants: Pretty much all Berlin vegan or vegetarian restaurants
– Favourite Berlin lake: Stechlinsee
– Best roller disco in Berlin: SchwuZ
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Early mornings or late evenings?
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