As you might imagine, budding pop star Waffa Binladin is having a hard time convincing people to look beyond her family name.
Yes, that bin Laden. The 26-year-old lawyer — whose family changed the spelling of their last name several years ago — and who is the estranged niece of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, has been meeting with producers and managers in the United States and England over the past year in an attempt to launch a career as a pop singer. But, despite renouncing her Muslim past, distancing herself from her infamous uncle years ago and logging time on the English club scene, Binladin has yet to shake the stigma of her surname.
"She [renounced] her family name long ago," said Jonathan Nash, the business partner of well-known English music manager John Benson. Binladin recently sought out Benson's advice on breaking into the music business, Nash said.
"She approached John about wanting to start a music career and John did not agree to manage her, mainly because he was a bit dubious about how the press might treat her," he said. "But John was intrigued because he likes the idea of people seeing someone for who they are and not for what their name is. It's a nice human lesson."
Benson is best known as the man who found and managed the English girl group All Saints. Nash said Waffa Binladin most closely resembles Australian singer Natalie Imbruglia, and that she possesses a good singing voice and is "a very attractive girl." Waffa, born in the United States, had been living in New York "just a stone's throw" from the World Trade Center towers prior to their destruction, Nash said.
"She's asking the right person for advice," Nash said of Benson. "She's a genuine artist who wants to make good music and not be political because she had nothing to do with [9/11]. She hangs around in the nightlife of London with a group of the top players in the entertainment industry, but in some ways, she's impossible to manage." The singer hopes to release a single by year's end, he added.
Her mother, Carmen, recently told the London Sunday Telegraph,
"The Bin Laden family have condemned my daughters because they were brought up in the West and have Western ways, but I support Waffa's freedom. The girls are in a very difficult position. People associate them with the Bin
Ladens, which they are not. This is very dangerous." Carmen Binladin added that the family considered changing its name entirely, but worried that "people would think we had something to hide."
Though the British press have reported that Waffa has worked with everyone from Wyclef Jean to Soul II Soul mastermind Nellee Hooper, the spokespeople for both artists took pains to say they are not involved with the singer. Wyclef's spokesperson said he's never met her and Hooper's manager, Michael Lippman, said, "There is no truth to the claims that Nellee and Ms. Binladin are working together at this point. Nellee is considering action against the tabloids because of these allegations."
Waffa Binladin's father, Yeslam, is the brother of Osama bin Laden, and the young singer is said to have only met her uncle one time. It is likely that her reported proclivity for smoking, drinking and shunning traditional Muslim garb might raise the ire of her strict Muslim uncle.
Despite her rejection of her family's legacy, England's Observer newspaper recently quoted "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell as saying her hopes of success are slim. "There's only one worse surname you could have to launch a pop career," Cowell reportedly said, "and that's Hitler."