Up Next with M.anifest

The Ghanaian musician, rapper and producer reflects on the “humanising” vision at the heart of his work for Re-Edition’s music column

Looking for the soundtrack for your next adventure? Be wary of the algorithm and let yourself be guided by the entrancing vibrations of Up Next – Re-Edition’s long-awaited music column – where arts and culture writer Gilda Bruno sits down with some of the most inspiring names on the up-and-coming and established music scene to delve into the inspirations, sounds and dreams of a new avant-garde of musical talents.

Today Bruno speaks with Accra-born eclectic music artist M.anifest to get to the bottom of his latest project, Madina to the Universe: The E.P.ilogue, and explore how the concept of community echoes through his collaboration-fuelled artistic production.

As the grandson of the late ethnomusicologist and composer J. H. Kwabena Nketia, one of the pioneering scholars of African music, Ghanaian musician, rapper and producer Kwame Tsikata (aka M.anifest) looks at his practice as a means of celebrating his honourable roots while simultaneously embracing a genre-spanning understanding of the musical universe.

Having moved to the United States in 2001 to attend college in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, M.anifest first tried his hand at music with Manifestations (2007), his debut solo album. Entirely produced and released with the royalties earned by lending his voice to a nationally- aired jingle for Pepsi, the project rapidly gained him recognition within the local rap scene as well as the motivation necessary to continue working his way up as an independent music artist.

Since then, the Accra-born talent has dropped six more albums, launched his own annual music festival, and boasted collaborations with leading figures from the contemporary music landscape, including Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Flea, queen of neo-soul Erykah Badu and rising stars Kojey Radical and Burna Boy.

Below, we sit down with M.anifest to learn more about the influence that Ghana has on his creative production, the inspiration behind his new EP, Madina to the Universe: The E.P.ilogue (2022), and how music allows him to amplify “the plight of the people”.

Photography Rogers Ouma. Image courtesy of the artist
Photography Rogers Ouma. Image courtesy of the artist

Re-Edition: Since the release of your first album, Manifestations (2007), you have continually strived to reshape African pop music and hip-hop through powerful lyricism and high-profile collaborations. When exactly, and how, did music come into the frame for you, and what led you to it? What made you choose this specific medium over other forms of self-expression?

M.anifest: I grew up with my grandpa, who was a legendary composer and ethnomusicologist. It took me till my first album to truly comprehend how much I am of his tree, how that privilege of being privy to not just popular music shaped me: while hip-hop drew me in and compelled me so much as a medium, I have always found footing in the music and culture of home.

RE: Think of the way your music has evolved since you first started working with it, and even more so since your debut release. What drives your musical experimentation today and what is the vision behind it?

M: For me, innovation is fulfilling: being able to make music that is untamed – truly free from the exigencies of business and trends – is what drives me. Until I reach the “zenith” of what it looks like embracing that idea completely, I keep pushing.

RE: How does your work address the diasporic experience? What function should music have within the current socio-political scenario?

M: My music isn’t centred on the diaspora per se, yet it acknowledges and connects it, and that’s one of the most gratifying differences I find between my earlier work – the music I was working on while living in the US – and what I have come up with since moving back to Ghana in 2011. My mission is humanising us as a people. I wouldn’t be the person I am without making groovy jams that are unafraid to be Pan-African and reflect on the joys and ills that plague us. I can’t claim to be progressive without creating music that advances us and amplifies the plight of the people: that is why I will always drop songs like Someway Bi and We dey manage.

RE: This year was a big one for you: not only have you toured across Europe and the US, but you have also given birth to a new 6-track project, Madina to the Universe: The E.P.ilogue (2022), which is a continuation of your extensive album Madina to the Universe (2021). Featuring Anik Khan and M.I Abaga with production coming from Drvmroll and Rvdical The Kid, the EP invites listeners on a journey to the “furthermost parts of the universe”. How did this album come about?

M: Madina to the Universe: The E.P.ilogue was born from the process of making a deluxe version of my previous project, Madina to the Universe. Somewhere along the way, I realised that what I wanted was to expand the album, furthering the journey and the story which informed it. Funnily enough, the project opens with a track called GPS, which deals with finding direction in the journey.

Photography Rogers Ouma. Image courtesy of the artist
Photography Rogers Ouma. Image courtesy of the artist

RE: Throughout your career, you have joined forces with global talents such as Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Flea, Erykah Badu, Kojey Radical and Burna Boy. Many of your projects, including your most dated ones, see a multigenerational network of artists come together in a celebration of music. What does community mean to you and how does this idea permeate your life and work?

M: I find the myriad, unexpected ways through which my past collaborations came about quite intriguing: they were as accidental as they were intentional and, at times, simply spontaneous. Creating art has always been a very collaborative experience for me, one that goes beyond music itself. For one of my album covers, I flew to another country to collaborate on a shoot with artist Kudzanai Chiurai. Recently, I teamed up with writer Nayyirah Waheed on a written introduction for The E.P.ilogue. I have also had the support of fashion designers Art Comes First, whose clothes I wore at major appearances, including one of my music videos. I have a strong sense of belonging to the global community of creatives and it is always a joy to connect and work with them.

RE: In recent years, more and more music artists have lent their talent to other creative realms. Whether music, fashion, cinema or art-related, what would be your dream collaboration?

M: I am definitely looking into making more collaborations outside of music. Some ideas include launching a capsule collection, creating bigger and more extensive partnerships for Manifestivities – my end-of-the-year festival in Ghana – the building of a performance space, and a lot more. I am also working on something with a car company… which will hopefully cleanse me of all the trauma related to being stuck in Accra’s traffic.

RE: What are your New Year’s resolutions for 2023? What can we expect from you in the future?

M: You can expect epicness this year! I make my resolutions weekly – the annual thing wasn’t cutting it for me. This week’s resolution is to fully commit to my personal trainer; last week’s was to remain useful without being used.

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