Cleo takes a bite of the Big Apple

Athina May

After matriculating from Melkbosstrand High School, young Cleo Dampies immediately packed her bags, said bon voyage to South Africa and set off for the Big Apple to pursue a career as an actor and performer.

The “new” New-Yorker, who moved abroad in January, has her sights set on the prize of becoming a household name in the performing arts industry, and she spoke to the Tabletalk during her staycation in Cape Town, promoting her music at home.

“I moved to New York in January, and I asked to come down for six months to promote my music at home. You can do that there, it’s a two-year course which is very flexible.

“My song Old Potions will be featuring on Kfm this week, and I am doing a lot to make a name for myself in South Africa,” says Cleo.

Although she is a mere 1.59m tall and has a figure which seems to have not touched pizza in years, the petite 19 year old has personality and charisma that’s bigger than her size-four shoes. Brushing aside her natural brunette curls, her dark eyebrows raise as she explains her belief that anyone can accomplish anything when putting their mind to it.

“I knew I wanted to go to New York, but I didn’t know how I would get there or what I would do there. I came across an article on social media for scholarships to the New York Film Academy, and I applied.

“You just have to do things, put it out there and see where it gets you,” she says.

Cleo, or Norma Dee as she is known in the music world, applied for the scholarship while in Grade 11.

“At the end of Grade 11, I found out that I got in. Nobody knew about it, but eventually news spread. I found out how to get the full amount and travel fees paid through financial aid. It was a long process, but I managed.”

Cleo plays the guitar and piano and is enjoying the jazz scene in Brooklyn, where she is renting a flat with another student from Johannesburg, whom she met through the school.

In her velvety maroon dress topped with leather-trim denim jacket, Cleo exudes rocker confidence and is not shy to be who she wants to be.

“In primary school and high school, I got made fun of, so at a young age I became mature and realised that there is a bigger picture.

“Every well known person out there got made fun off, and it pushed me to be like them. I used it to my advantage, and it worked out.”

Cleo’s music now reflects her life experience, and her songs, which she labels as pop, have gained many followers online.

“I have three songs. My song Learning Revolution is about people who are bullied in gender and divided by religion. I have a lot of friends dealing with sexuality and are told that God doesn’t love them because of who they are.

“I didn’t expect the song to be showed on Expresso, but it was at the end of 2015.”

Cleo already has 4 000 supporters on one of her social media pages and says her name change to Norma Dee has had a good reception from her online following.

“I changed my name because a lot of people couldn’t pronounce my name and surname. Norma is my second name, which I got teased about, but you need to love yourself and everything around that. The Dee is from my surname.

“I’m super blessed, and I’m excited to see what the future holds. My goal as a musician is to perform with Jessie J.

“Anything is possible if you believe it’s possible. If people tell you it is not, it’s because they believe they could never do it.”