The beauty of the African artist is the potential for creating work that takes the best of the West and infusing his/her natural essence into said work. It is about being able to navigate through the many influences available instead of staying within any particular genre or sound or look or feel. As a species, we evolve but maintaining a strong connection with the root will always ensure that we have reference point in time and place.
Emcee M.anifest epitomises this marrying of influence, culture, origin and progression and, with the release of his second solo album, Immigrant Chronicles: Coming To America, he builds on his debut album, Manifestations, and his free-for-download album/mixtape, The Birds and the Bees, which was recorded in support of the non-profit Young Entrepreneurs Africa. He was also part of the African Rebel Movement (A.R.M) with Uganda’s Krukid and producer Budo; their EP 2 Africans and a Jew (available on iTunes) continues to be one of my favourites.
What sets M.anifest apart is that, having been born and raised in Accra, Ghana, he made the journey so many Ghanaians make, travelling and settling in the US, in his case, Minnesota, and yet is able to create lyrics and music that brings the two comfortably together. If you don’t know where you are coming from, how do you determine where you are going? Lyrically, M.anifest seems to live this, his words laced with Ghana – its sounds, sights, smells and people – articulating the day-to-day challenges of not only immigrant Ghanaians but also those who are still at home – doing the best that they can.
The first track Ghana Must Go is as clear as it can be, introducing his first step as he explains “I dey go Yankee, I dey go make dough.” In a way, M.anifest seems to recognise that, as an artist, there is a certain responsibility; he has been able to work his way into spaces that allow him continue to fly the Black Star (and the flag for Africa as a whole). He has shared stage with an array of musical who’s who from across genres, including Amadou and Miriam, the Gorillaz’ Damon Albarn, Femi Kuti and fellow Ghanaian artists Wanlov and M3nsa (who I have profiled and am a fan of). He has also worked with artists like Brother Ali and SA’s Tumi (from The Volume) as well as connecting with his grandfather, a pre-eminent composer and ethnomusicologist, Prof J.H. Nketia. He has also been half of a duo S&M with singer/MC Sarah White. And he features on another favourite of mine, Richy Pitch’s Blackstar.
Immigrant Chronicles takes us on his journey. He has never lost connection with Ghana and, through regular visits back home and strong relationships, he continues to be relevant. Lyrically, he seamlessly shifts between English, Pidgin English and smatterings of Twi. While I consider the album one that you play from beginning to end, one of my favourite tracks has to be Blue where he lists his influences from Ghana music industry, both the forerunners and the current flag bearers, of which he is one – Reggie Rockstone, Tic Tac, Kweku T, Sammy B, Obrafour, etc are all listed.
The first single, Suffer, is also poignant, honest and gives insight into his life, creativity and perspective on the world. Life has layers and M.anifest explores all of them … Token Love Song is a beautiful recounting of the passage from boy to man … in a way it is an apology to those he may have wronged …. “Yes, it is true, love is so beautiful, and I wish that is what I gave to you.”
Over the last couple of years, M.anifest has built a following in both the media and with lovers of music and this album shows you why. I am grateful for platforms like twitter which exposed me to the music, the man and the artist.