M.anifest exclusive interview with The Liberator Magazine / "There’s no need for me to make it a gimmick. I hold the flag high. I know what I’m trying to do & where I’m trying to go"

The Ghanaian-born M.anifest (which stands for “Music-Always Needing Illumination For Every Soul Today”) has received glowing reviews from most of the local press in his city of Minneapolis-St. Paul and a smattering of national websites. Along with Brother Ali, the buzz around him is the most for a Twin Cities hip-hop artist in recent memory. In a time where African artists are achieving success beyond the standard World Music record bin, folks like Akon, K’naan, and Emmanuel Jal are bypassing the stereotypical world music characteristics, and are firmly entrenched in hip-hop, rather than the often exoticized fantasies of diversity and hybridity. M.anifest’s breathless motto is to “represent Africa with a spectacular street vernacular,” and the emcee breathes, speaks, and lives all that his motto entails.

Liberator Magazine: How’s the reception been for the Manifestations album?

M.anifest: It’s been great. It’s been well received, I’m very appreciative of how things have turned out because people who listen to it want to play it to other people. Musically, I think it’s okay. I don’t think that I’ve done anything that’s musically out there yet, which is a problem -- well, it’s not a problem, but it should be a goal. We are trying to set new trends. I can’t complain because it’s a good start, but right now, the hard work begins: Doing shows -- good shows -- getting it out there and getting it in front of people.

LM: You were born in Accra. What was like it growing up there?

M.anifest: You don’t really think of your environment until you leave it. But it was very good. I think I had a good upbringing. I grew up mostly with my mom, I mean, both parents were there (not in the same household), but I grew up with my mom, mostly. My neighborhood is called Medina actually. Everything was real. I think I was surrounded with life as it is, and how different people experience it, you know? Experiencing music, experiencing funerals, experiencing marriages ... naming ceremonies. It was a near complete experience. So, I think if there’s any way I can describe it, it’s that I got to see many different perspectives.

LM: What brought you to the Twin Cities?

M.anifest: I went to Macalester College for Economics and a bit of African studies, so that’s why I came to the United States. But I was able to come because I got a scholarship, a free ride.

LM: You’d been rapping for a while before you came here, right?

M.anifest: I was rappin’ in high school and I was in a group called The Rebel Camp. We had no subversive content, we just thought “The Rebel Camp” was a flashy name. One of the guys I was rappin’ with actually came to college here, too, to Macalester. Throughout college I was rappin’, but not seriously. I took a much-needed hiatus. Sometimes, when you’re doing something, you lose the innocence and purity and you realize there’s so many other things to it. Some people, like me, needed to step away from it to be able to get it back -- that feeling of freshness, that energy. So, I wasn’t seriously rappin’ for a long time. It’s just recently, in the last two years, that I restarted. That’s why it just popped out, so everybody’s like, “yo, where’s this cat coming from?”

LM: What are some connections you see between Hip-Hop and things like West African griots?

M.anifest: The connection is truly profound. There’s the braggadocio: In Ghana, when the chief is coming, you have people -- the linguists, the griots -- who will shower praises like “nana eba ooo” (which means the king is coming). They’ll go on and say many things like, “this is the king who can conquer all nations,” etc. Or, you even have situations where somebody’s talking about their community [and] social things, but bragging at the same time. It’s so directly related, it’s ridiculous.

LM: Speaking of connections, Fela Kuti obviously means a lot to you. What was the motivation for channeling him on “Gentleman?”

M.anifest: When Fela died, I think over a million people went to his funeral. The man ran for president, for goodness sakes. People loved him, and not just for his music. Growing up, you always heard Fela songs. And when I wasn’t even old enough to understand the importance of what he was talking about, we all loved it still [sings snippet from Fela’s “Lady”]. You know, Fela has a song in Twi, my language. That’s the kind of person he was, he was like a pan-African. He would go to Ghana when he was being persecuted, so, the first time I heard that song I was like, damn. So, [to me] Fela means rhythm, the raw, the innovative. He went full circle. He started doing highlife and then he created something new out of it. He traveled, but he kept to his Africaness. It’s crazy, he’s great -- personality-wise and music-wise. Music-wise, it’s even enough for me to evoke him, because he really embodies a lot that we all want to learn from, at least the younger generation. And now, he’s getting even more powerful, his music is getting more powerful with time. That’s what’s even scarier.

LM: How do you see yourself and your music in terms of living between Minnesota and Ghana?

M.anifest: I have a worldwide mentality, you know what I mean? I respect the locality in which I come up in, but you have to think outside of those walls. I’m a travelin’ man. My music is for the people who understand it and for everybody who wants to enjoy it, so it’s not just for Ghanaians. The Ghanaian experience is the basis of my music, so most likely the people who enjoy it are Ghanaians. For instance, when you see Youssou N’Dour performing, he’s singing about Africa, but he’s not always saying “I’m an African artist.” He’s saying “I’m an African” maybe because the music is just an expression of our social thing. Being a Ghanaian artist, if somebody picks up Manifestations and they couldn’t tell that this guy’s from Ghana, Africa, then I’m not truly representing what I’m doing. But they should. There’s no need for me to make it a gimmick. I hold the flag high. I know what I’m trying to do and where I’m trying to go.

{liberatormagazine.com exclusive feature}
by Justin Schell {The Liberator Magazine 9.1 #24, 2010}

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