Photo by Michelle Mentu
Myele Manzanza’s night at Woolwich works was dazzling, to say the least. The performer, bubbly and warm in personality, connected with the audience both musically and personally. The show was opened by the jazz collective NTBM (‘Not To Be Missed’), fronted by guitarist and composer Tjeo Man Cheung, whose performance featured smooth saxophone and refreshing percussion. Their song ‘Aubergine’ seamlessly switched their set from slow and sultry to uptempo and anticipatory.
Playing from his latest release, Crisis and Opportunity, Vol 2 - Peaks and its predecessor, Crisis and Opportunity, Vol 1 - London, Manzanza took the time in between songs to explain his artistic choices. Living in London over lockdown as a creative was tough for him, especially after moving to the city in search of further opportunities. Hence, a crisis was reached. How do you perform when you can’t perform?
Composer, beatmaker, percussionist, and producer Myele Manzanza took the audience on a journey through the highs and lows of his time during the pandemic, with tracks such as ‘Brixton Blues’ and ‘Coldharbour Lane.’ His proficiency was awe-inspiring as he moved with his percussion, expertly maintaining his rhythm even with his eyes closed. He was both playful and precise—truly a magnificent sight to see. After his show, I took the time to delve into his artistic choices in an interview.
First of all, I love your music. You said that you had an artistic dilemma, in that you were very interested in various sounds and trying to cram them all into your work. How did you resolve that?
I exaggerated slightly when I said I tried to cram all the different sounds into one song, but maybe cramming them all into one album. It's cool in some ways, but it can pull focus from others. I found that part of who I am is just being an eclectic musician who loves to make music, and also [trying] different styles and methods of making music. It was good for me creatively to focus those by composing an album with the ‘London jazz’ kind of vibe in mind, a beatmaker-ish, modern, semi-avant-garde jazz sort of thing. As opposed to trying to squeeze them all into one thing, just focusing a project on one kind of vibe, picking a band to play it, and composing with that band. So I think that was useful for me in terms of rewarding my artistic sense of being diverse whilst also focusing on the project, so I'm not spreading myself too thin.
I heard futuristic tones in ‘Peaks and Ferns.’ What type of sounds were you interested in during the making of Crisis and Opportunity, Vol 2?
I was trying to compose in a traditional sense of writing the chords and melody. I got a certain part of the way, but then I had a bit of writer's block and I realised I was listening to a bunch of other music. I found a bunch of hip-hop beat tapes that I was really into where it's really short instrumentals. Often, they're not made as albums, they’re made as things to pitch to rappers or singers and they'll pick a beat. But, the actual aesthetic of having a loop for one or two minutes, like a real quickfire idea, and then the next one, and so forth. That kind of opened me up a bit to think more about having an open jam kind of vibe. I’ll record an open kind of free jam, then pick the best couple of bars and turn them into loops and make something cohesive out of that. So that was the thing in mind for that whole project. Somewhere between live instrumentation, but using hip hop sampling techniques with my own band and turning those into little nuggets which could become more cohesive things.
That's so interesting. What’s it like performing in front of an audience, especially after COVID? The way you flowed and how your body moved in time was so captivating to see live. How does being up there make you feel?
It's my happy place. These kinds of things are why I do music; it's to share it with an audience, with fellow musicians, and engage in the interplay that happens there. It can feel like a heightened sense of consciousness when you're playing in front of people. It's different from rehearsing or even recording in the studio because there's a tightrope that needs to be walked and there's an audience there. Especially with music, which has a lot of improvisation as part of it, it can be a thrill for the musicians. I like to think it’s there for the audience as well, seeing the acrobat, walking the tightrope, and knowing there's a risk they may fall. It might turn into a train wreck, but they do their daring backflips and land. That's an exciting thing to see. Musically, there's an element of like, we don't know what's going to happen every night. There’s space for something to happen and there’s room for error in some ways. The thrill is working within that and trying to move forward with all of that in front of me from one night to the next, creating something in real-time with people there to see it. Yeah, I guess that's why I do music: it's for moments like that. It feels really good.
Photos by Michelle Mentu
Edited by Talia Andrea, Deputy Music Editor, and Josh Aberman, Music Editor