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Breaking the Ice with Zambia’s Hip-Hop Reigning Queen Cleo


Born Clementina Mulenga – Cleo or rather Cleo Ice Queen is a fierce Zambian-born and based recording hip-hop artist (television and radio presenter too, by the way) signed under Def Jam Africa that is arguably Zambia’s reigning queen within the hip-hop music genre. Besides making music she is also a wife and a mother but this interview isn’t about that…

After dropping her Def Jam Africa debut, Leaders Of The New School, Cleo Ice Queen made her way to South Africa approximately during that release window and had an intimate listening party at Universal Music where I got the opportunity to have a chat with the ‘So Cold’ creator…

So, we took the lift to the secluded Universal HQ that’s situated in Rosebank. We then walked into a very quiet and cozy space with Cleo’s “On My Own” (feat. Towela Kaira) playing in the background and had some welcome drinks for vibes, courtesy of Johnnie Walker…

And after waiting for a couple of minutes, she wrapped up her current press work before we were allowed to enter the room and there she was… Cleo Ice Queen in the flesh – Posing for her final pictures.

“Hello, my name is Cleo Ice Queen and your name is?” she asked before both my writing partner and I introduced ourselves and then proceeded to sit down. I then started asking her a couple of questions about her fresh out of the studio project…


Your EP titled, Leaders of the New School just dropped, what chapter of your life is this body of work ushering you into?

Well, all I could say is that it is quite an exciting chapter…

How was the creative process during the making of the EP?

Quite dope and it was a lot of work, because we started in July of 2021 and we were battling with COVID-19 so studio would sometimes be out and sometimes we would battle with loadshedding and getting so many artists, there’s about sixteen of us on this EP including the producers… All in all it wasn’t easy but I had great support so that made the journey a bit easier.

The opening song titled, “So Cold” addresses the pressures that young artists face in the music industry, why was that important for you to address in the beginning?

Umm… Because the EP is titled Leaders Of The New School, I felt like the opening song had to be vulnerable so that we can get to the youth as the leaders of the new school. Sometimes, to get people to open up, you have to open up first. I opened up about the battles I face, my sleepless nights, the insomnia… How i was sipping (alcohol) a lot (it’s regulated now) and being a regular cigarette smoker which I have now quit.


Moving on to the fifth song, “On my Own”, it broke records, how rewarding did that feel for you?

Yeah… I’m just excited that I have one of my favourite artists on it, Towela Kaira. I am just happy and proud for her and she actually was my backing vocalist when I traveled to a huge concert in Livingstone, Zambia and collectively we killed the performance as she was the lead vocalist. She is hardworking and gets the work done, when I wrote this song I had her in mind and she brought the soulful R&B element into the song which balanced out by raps. I love what “On my Own” is doing in my country and what it is doing for women, knowing that they can boss up and be their own bosses.

Now, let’s talk about the features of this EP, how was the selection process?

The selection process was based on obviously the new school “cats” who I felt were similar to me or to my journey when I started out when hip-hop in English was not dominant in my country. For me, it was bringing authentic emerging artists together that are hardworking.

So, when are you most creative?

I am mostly creative in the studio, outside all the noise with my phone on airplane mode not expecting a call from my nanny, my husband, my mom, my sister or anyone else… The creative juices kick in when I’m in the booth with the producer playing music with the Johnnie (Walker) flowing… I am also creative late at night when my husband and kids are asleep and I have the time to myself.

I love what “On my Own” is doing in my country and what it is doing for women, knowing that they can boss up and be their own bosses.


How do you jungle motherhood and your career?

There’s really no juggling the two, you just have to flow with it, but in all honesty, I pray a lot and other than that I have a good support system. My husband is great for allowing me to be me and be a boss on my own. My kids are also quite a blessing as they understand that mommy has to work and aren’t fussy… My 2-year old is now able to even say “goodbye” when I am leaving the house, well.. most of the time.

Do the kids rate or have opinions about your music?

Umm… Not really. they just listen and ask if this is my new song or if this is my new music video. They are mostly just always excited about it.

And what is your favourite song from the EP?

All of them, It is very hard to pick one because at each moment my favourite song can change which is why I say all of them. One day I could be in the mood for a particular song and the next day it might change but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it. Same thing with the listeners, it’s not that everybody is going to love everything but everybody is going to love something.

Because the EP is titled Leaders Of The New School, I felt like the opening song had to be vulnerable so that we can get to the youth as the leaders of the new school.


What would you say to young African girls that have ambitions of making music, particularly hip-hop?

I would say just keep doing your thing, keep believing in yourself, keep practising, keep harnessing, keep growing your talent, keep perfecting your craft and don’t listen to the naysayers. If you know you’ve got it in you then you’ve got it in you. Also keep your focus and have your blueprint and work ahead of time but also remember that we are in Africa, yes we are getting eyes and a lot of attention but we just don’t have the same type of constitution as other musical artists in different part of the world so always have something to fall back on. If you’re also able to further your education do it and have the best of both worlds.

Lastly, what is your motto for the rest of 2022?

WE ARE FORCING THING THIS YEAR.. I’m joking [laughs]. I think my motto would be always go with an attitude of gratitude. You always have to remember what to be grateful for, because if you don’t take the time to be grateful for the things you have, It’ll be very difficult for you to see the things that are coming into your life and that end up becoming borderline greed… You need to take time to give thanks every single morning and every single night.

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