By Paley Martin
“The more you are yourself, the more you can create that luck that draws that energy,” Ghanaian hip-hop artist M.anifest tells TIDAL. “It’s the energy of the work.”
With this attitude, the Accra, Ghana-based rapper holds true to his name and has been able to bring both his energy and work into studios around the world, working with the likes of Tony Allen, Erykah Badu, Damon Albarn and more. Yet M.anifest’s overseas accolades are just as important as his efforts at home. Working with up-and-coming acts like his frequent collaborator Worlasi, he embraces the rising generation, giving them a platform to share their work while expanding his own creative potential.
Fresh off the release of his new short film, Simple Love, a poignant video named after a song on his 2016 album, Nowhere Cool, M.anifest looks ahead to more video endeavors and two upcoming albums. In this interview with TIDAL, the prolific artist shares the behind-the-scenes efforts of the video and shares insight into his journey, upcoming projects and even offers a playlist filled with artists to watch in Ghana.
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Introduce yourself? Tell us who you are and your story.
My name is M.anifest. I’m a hip-hop artist from Accra, Ghana. That’s in West Africa. My story and my journey begins in Ghana, continued somewhere in Minneapolis and currently back in Ghana. The music I do is a fusion of Ghanaian music and hip-hop. I take influences from both and try to mix it up to bring a unique blend somehow, someway. It’s lyrical, it’s musical and it’s progressive.
You just released this beautiful short film for your song “Simple Love,” off of your 2016 project, Nowhere Cool. Tell me about the making of this and why visuals are so important to you as an artist.
Over the years, I’ve had a stronger connection to the visual aspect [of the music] we do and also realizing that it’s a whole different realm of the creative work we do. I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with a lot of African creatives since I moved back home, especially a lot of South African ones. So this short film is one of those fortuitous ones that comes about because I just happened to be talking to my South African creative friends who were in Ghana to shoot some corporate video but wanted to do something cool together. So the director, Makere Thekiso, and the DOP Motheo Moeng were in town for a couple of days and were like, ‘We have to do some dope shit.’
I’d just released the album like a month or two ago, gave it to them to listen. I go, ‘Let’s figure out something that comes from and is inspired by one of these songs.’ ‘Simple Love’ is what the director picked, and we began discussing it with a producer in Ghana, who’s also a stylist and has an outfit called Afro District. He came up with this idea of an African ballerina in this very tough environment.
When we began doing it, we were like, ‘Let’s try and go beyond a music video. Let’s try a short film.’ And we did that and went back and worked on the music on the score, and it was so thrilling for us to do it. We didn’t know where it was going to end [up] or what it was going to look like. That one shot was either going to be brilliant or terrible in that environment we did it in.
It was a fish market, and that environment is tough. When you enter it, the smell could knock you out, and we had this ambitious project to do this there. And we had a very short time window because before people fully recognized me and got distracted by it, we did not play the music while filming and we had it pre-planned but we had a lot of spontaneity about it, and we managed to pull off this one shot thing that had so much meaning but a lot of spontaneity as well. It was an ambitious project that we needed luck for, and we got lucky. [Laughs] Everything happened in just a couple days. We woke up at 4 a.m., I picked the dancer up myself. We ended up maybe spending the equivalent of less than $200. It was a passion project for everybody involved.
You’re working on two other videos, right?
Yeah, two videos and a short film with the same people I worked on the ‘Simple Love’ video with. Two of them make up a short film so it’s two different visual contents coming out. One is a video from ‘Me Ne Woa,’ and the second is a film we’re stringing together. We shot with all three in mind — two videos and the short film. It was an interesting challenge. We have two songs that are seemingly unrelated because one is kind of a difficult song about love, and you have this other one which is like, ‘I’m too tired to conform.’ But we figured out a way to thread them together because that’s what life is. You wake up in the morning and you go through your frustrations and you come [home] at night and you might be feeling a different thing. At the end of the day, they’re seemingly unconnected.
And you have these two projects you’re working on as well?
I have two projects that are next up. One is my next solo project that is going to really try and capture the heartbeat of Accra, what is going on in our minds, our ears and how we’re feeling — like the soul, the spirit, the physical aspect of it. I have another project, which is a collaboration with a young artist called Worlasi, somebody I worked with on Nowhere Cool. Whenever we work together, it’s magic. We’re years apart but it’s like we’re so connected. It’s one of those projects that needs to happen. We are both like-minded people. We are coming from different stages of our career, and that’s what’s so exciting. We got into the studio one week and got over ten songs but like every day of the week. We might be there four hours, we might be there ten hours. One of the things I’ve always been big on as somebody who moved to Ghana and represented doing something left-field but with mainstream sensibility [was] champion other people I see coming up, who are also bringing something quite left and new. I find a lot of synergy with those young guys coming up who are doing that and he’s one of those. Even the song ‘Me Na Woa’ is with another one of those young guys. This loosely affiliated creative circle, I like to champion because I think it’s important and it allows for the music to have more meaning.
So earlier you mentioned Minneapolis, which must have been completely different from where you’re from. What initially brought you there, and how did being an artist there shape your career?
I went to Minneapolis because I went to college there. I got a scholarship. It was a great reason to escape from Ghana. You’re blossoming [at that time], and you want to build your own life without every adult you know in your ear. It definitely shaped me. I got more of an exposure to different creative circles from theatre to indie music and all of that. I definitely developed that D.I.Y. way of making music from there, and it was very important. Minneapolis was definitely a big part of my musical and life story now. If I was in Minneapolis, there’s no telling if I would have had the courage to have taken this journey with music.
It seems like you’ve worked with artists from all around the globe and have been able to do some incredible collaborations.
That’s one of those things where I think sometimes the testament to being authentic and original and that energy, fortunately, creates these opportunities that have made me be able to create with legendary people that I would have had no access to — not email, not a phone call. It’s the work that brings something interesting that allows people to be generous enough to invite you to certain spaces like, ‘Come over to London for a week. Let’s record.’ And the next thing you know, Tony Allen is there, Flea and Erykah Badu. The more you are yourself, the more you can create that luck that draws that energy. It’s the energy of the work.
Who are some artists in Ghana that we should know about over here?
The new wave right now in Ghana. I think it’s a great time. It’s diverse. It’s current. It’s worldly but it’s still quite Ghanaian. We have Worlasi, King Promise, DarkoVibes, Amaarae. This is a bit sad, but one of the leaders of the new school just passed. She was called Ebony. She just had an amazing ear out of nowhere. There’s a lot of them. The new wave is heavy now, and they know the Internet. They’re not just being influenced or comparing themselves to the people around them but to the world at large. All it is is us being resilient and persistent.