“That’s what “Mirage” is. No-one is perfect. We’re all trying to find healing from things that have broken us or hurt us. And this is our journey.”
Mannywellz (nee Emmanuel Ajomale) makes music from and for the soul. The positive intentions infused in his creative process are tangible with every listen. The Maryland-based, Nigeiran-American artist blends R&B, pop, jazz and hip-hop with afro-beats influences, creating his unique sound.
His latest offering, Mirage was released on the backdrop of a tumultuous year. What
with the Covid 19 pandemic and the battles against violent oppression over black bodies, catalysed by the horrific murder of George Floyd and carried by movements
such as #BLM and #EndSars, his latest release unintentionally served as a respite from
the chaos. Over the course of 7 tracks, “Mirage” takes us on a rollercoaster ride through
the push and pull of letting go of a toxic relationship.
The project’s arrangement is soaked in intentionality as Manny crafts a fluid narrative from start to finish. Mirage opens with “Peace” featuring the alluring Tems. Manny’s soulful voice and Tems’ uniquely rich, mahogany vocals perfectly compliment each other. On this R&B and neo-soul-tinged song, Manny likens getting over a toxic relationship with experiencing withdrawal symptoms, expressing his desire to get out over the hook, “I wanna give you the peace sign forever”. However, he is drawn back in on “So Good”.
This slow, sultry, stripped down number creates space for Manny to display his vocal
range – from his tenor to his delicate falsetto – as he describes his intoxication with a
woman who is, “one in a million”.
“Danfo” is an expression of Manny’s unapologetic Naija-ness. The upbeat, afrobeats-
tinged track references Danfo’s, privately owned minibuses operating in Nigeria’s urban centres, and their reckless drivers. He repeats, “drive me crazy like a Danfo driver” the insanity he’s been driven to by his infatuation. His falsetto once again takes centre stage. “Dangerous” is tinged with classic R&B sensibilities. Manny croons, “Loving you is dangerous” over the acoustic-driven track and you can feel him contemplating the lunacy of staying in the relationship. He enlists VanJess on “Floating” as he regresses, expressing the cloud 9 feeling of falling in love. VaJesses dreamy vocals add an ethereal, timeless feeling to the song. “Sweet and Tender” expresses the sweet high that love elicits. The song sounds like what falling in love feels like.
Mirage closes out with “A Million” which features frequent collaborator, Wale. The
percussive, afro-pop influenced instrumentation perfectly matches the energy of the
lyrics. Manny finally takes off the rose-tinted glasses, finding strength in self love and
breaks free from the toxic relationship.
Manny and I connect over a Google Hangouts call. He’s out in LA getting some studio
sessions in but makes the time to indulge me in conversation. What mental space and creative environment were you in when creating Mirage? For this project, I wanted to take people on a journey where I express myself, mostly emotionally and when it comes to romance. I wanted to take people on a journey through this emotional roller coaster; this journey where I’m looking for a way to heal from a very toxic situation or relationship. I wanted to share that story so that people can find themselves in that
story and connect to it.
Is there something specific that catalysed the creation of the EP or was it something you
had in mind for a while, and found yourself in the right space to put it together?
I started the project December, 2018. And prior to that, I’d been in several relationships, but I don’t even know if it’s relationships – situationships – that didn’t necessarily go as planned. That’s how I was able to foster those sounds. Most of it was pondering on past relationships and then also being in a relationship or recovering from a relationship that didn’t go well. I’m kind of breaking free finally. But then, you know, you break free and you find yourself back into it, you know what I’m saying? That’s what “Mirage” is. No-one is perfect.
We’re all trying to find healing from things that have broken us or hurt us. And this is our journey. Why call it Mirage?
I decided to call it Mirage because I feel like when you’re in this world and in this relationship, you’re in lala land. A mirage is like an illusion. That environment, that world isn’t always the realest thing, but you just go into it anyway. Another big thing is we’re learning how to deal with emotions through this digital age. Prior to social media being this big thing, you get heartbroken, maybe you deal with it with your friends and your family. And now you get heartbroken, you can get on Instagram and see something that triggers you or you can see something that helps get you through it. It’s like you’re in this world and you don’t really even know what’s coming at you and we’re trying to heal through this digital world.
What was the creative process of putting “Mirage” together?
I produced the whole EP and I worked with a lot of dope musicians. I had a lot of conversations with my friends. Even on the credits, I credit my friends that I had conversations with. I want to say I wrote like 90 ninety 95 percent of it. But I still wanted to credit my friends for even being with just having conversations with me that sparked those other lyrics or second words. I was able to build from there and I really took my time with this project.
As we conversate, Manny’s lilting Nigerian accent is not lost on me. He moved to America at the age of 9, alongside his mother and siblings, spending his formative years in the US. Unlike many people who get lost in the diaspora (we all know a few), Manny has held on strongly to his Nigerian heritage, sprinkling sonic and linguistic influences from his home country through-out his music. Although a serendipitous turn of events, collaborating with fellow Nigerians Tems, VanJess and Wale proves that, even subconsciously, Manny is dedicated to his Naija roots.
Watching the atrocious police brutality against Nigerian youth called out by #EndSars has been equal parts infuriating and saddening. In light of #EndSars, how do you feel that artists could be better using their platforms to highlight social movements that need support?
I think artists, we’re naturally sensitive people, but we need to be more sensitive, selfless and honest. And also, I think we just live in a very interesting age where speaking about what you believe in has to almost go hand in hand with your artistry. Not even to give everyone the activist title but have to be selfish and realise, none of this is for us. Everything is for everybody else. And it’s for God.It’s about speaking up so that the kid in Uganda or the kid in Arizona gets connected. Artists, we’re more influential than we think and even more influential beyond just the music.
Your music gives off feel-good vibes despite themes of letting go or grappling with
toxicity. Is creating that soundscape something you are conscious of?
That’s who I am in general. I have this lifestyle brand, Oulala, meaning happy to be alive despite all the hardships you go through. Typically that’s the space in which I’m in….I don’t dwell on the darkness too much. When I start creating and I’m usually in that space, I can go from dark to light. And it’s like this is a dark topic. But, you know, we can talk about it and feel good. We can listen to it and feel good.
Reflectively, looking at who you are as a person as an artist, from ‘SoulFro’ to now, how would you say that you’ve evolved? And if you could look back to who you were when you first put out that project, what advice or what would you say to yourself?
I think I’d tell myself to be patient and enjoy the journey. Enjoy the ride. I’m a lot more patient than I was before. Even as I’m, healing, I’m practising patience.