RBMA: Introducing… Myele Manzanza
Time for the fifth in our series of Red Bull Music Academy 2010 candidate interviews. This time it is Kiwi drummer and producer Myele Manzanza, who some people may have heard recently via the group Electric Wire Hustle. Don’t forget to check out the previous four interviews with Lunice, Kidkanevil, ANGO and Dza, respectively. But, here’s what happened when we caught up with Myele Manzanza…
Jus Like Music: Please tell us, who are you and where do you come from?
Myele Manzanza: My name is Myele “Manzilla” Manzanza. I’m a half Congolese, half NZ European musician currently based in Wellington, New Zealand.
JLM: What exactly do you do?
MM: I am a musician. Predominantly a drummer, but I’ve been getting my fingers into beat making and production as well over the last two years. As is the case with a lot of Wellington-based musicians, I play in a big variety of bands in lots of different musical situations with lots of different people. Some of those include; Electric Wire Hustle, Olmecha Supreme, Recloose Live, The Coffee Blaq Quartet and Sheba Williams.
JLM: Why do you do what you do?
MM: It’s what I love to do. My father is a musician, so there’s probably a bit of footstep following going on. Music is such an awesome way to convey energy or a message to people, even if it doesn’t have words. I couldn’t imagine not having it in my life. Oh, and it’s the only way I’m making any money at the moment too!
JLM: With regards to stepping up from being solely a drummer, to being a producer, how has that transition been for you?
MM: It’s been good. It’s a bit of a headspace change. When you are a musician, playing live in a band, you have to be totally in the moment. You are one part of how ever many people are in the group that are making music with you, in real time, in that moment. There is no stopping to re-edit that snare drum that lagged a little bit or quantise that synth melody you cant really play properly. Also, when playing an organic acoustic instrument, the rhythms, notes, sounds, dynamics etc. are controlled purely from your human body, as opposed to a volume nob or filter etc. So, there is a kind of life force in that. “Production”, in the beat maker sense, is different. In a live band, you are making one minute of music in one minute of time. Production could be four bars of music in four days! It’s probably more akin to painting. You have as much time as you like to work the canvas and get it exactly how you want. Spending hours on getting the bass to roll the right way, or that snare drum to crack how you want, is a whole different mentality that I’m still getting used to. It’s also a lot different in that you are making music by yourself, so there’s more personal control over the end result. I think I’m more used to collaborating in a band situation, so it ends up being more productive for me that way. But I still want to keep working up my production skills too.
JLM: So, what else is new with you?
MM: Just getting prepared for RBMA! After that I’ll be relocating to New York for a few months, and then back to Europe for the northern hemisphere summer. I put on an RBMA send off gig in Wellington with a 12-piece band. It was awesome, but trying to rehearse was like trying to herd kittens! I’ve also recently been into the mastering process of the new Coffee Blaq Quartet album. It’s the first jazz album I’ve recorded on, and that’s something I had always wanted to do.
JLM: What do you hope to achieve at RBMA 2010?
MM: Well, getting accepted is an achievement in itself, so I’m super thankful to get in this year! I want to get deeper into the production side of music. I’m sure there will be plenty of brilliant brains to pick on that tip. I wanna be as productive and get the most musically out of the lecturers and other students as I can, so I don’t anticipate going out of the studios much.
JLM: What music have you been feeling lately?
MM: I could go on for days, but I’ll just give you my recent iPod playlists; Charles Lloyd, Eric Harland and Zakir Hussein – “Sangam”, The Clonious – “Between The Dots”, Jeff “Tain” Watts – “Watts”, Jay Z – “Blueprint 3″, Robert Glasper – “Double Booked”, Karriem Riggins – “Music Kaleidoscope”.
JLM: Is it important to you that you study what your contemporaries are creating, or are you happy to just keep your head down and do your own thing?
MM: Good question. I’d have to say both. Seeing what your contemporaries are doing can give you inspiration or motivation to keep working on your craft. We just had the listening session at RBMA where we listened to all the other participants music, and it’s made me go “holy fuck! I need to put in work”. I’m in the deep end, at least in regards to beat making, and it’s motivation for me to improve. However, getting too obsessed with what other people are doing can a) distract you from what you are doing because you get too concerned about not being good enough and b) cause you to try to “fit in” with what your peers are doing to a point where you don’t really have an individual sound, and it becomes easy to lump your style into a group. For me, a balance between both is key.
JLM: Last, but not least, what’s the best advice you could give to an emerging artist?
MM: Well I guess I’m an emerging artist myself, so I can’t really say this from any platform of authority, but… if you’re going to pursue music (or any art for that matter) there is no point going halfheartedly about it, because there just isn’t enough room for mediocre artists. Most of the artists in the world don’t make a whole lot of money, so you better love what you do and know what you’re in it for. But despite that, it’s a privileged position to be in. You have the power to move people in a whole range of different ways, and that can be pretty intoxicating. But, if I was going to give you something a bit more specific, it’d be… learn the history of your craft, work on your craft really fucking hard, and be honest with yourself and to your audience.