MAU FROM NOWHERE + THE PROJECT
It was a full moon night when I got on a call with Kenyan artiste, Kamau Wainana (Mau from Nowhere) to talk generally about life, his experiences creating his latest released project, and you know, just talk about anything and everything, depending on where the conversation leads. He had just finished watching an anime called Fire Force when my call got through, and he sounded excited off just watching an amazing film which he described as ‘hard to stop once you’ve started’. Mau’s brand as an artiste (maybe subconsciously) presents him as a very approachable young fellow, one with a flair for enjoying the basics of everyday life, and I could recognise from our initial exchange of pleasantries that this reality is the truth he lives.
Transcending into a new phase of both his life and career, Mau made a decision to change his artiste name or moniker as you may call it to “Mau from Nowhere”, a name which in itself is a trigger for curiosity.
‘I had problem in the past with my name being findable on streaming services because there were just a lot of different Maus’ He explained.
‘Also I think earlier on in music I was kind of still testing things out, I wasn’t totally sure the direction I wanted to go and the exact narrative I was telling. This name came half as a joke, cause obviously I’m third cultural; I’ve never really been in a place that long – the longest I’ve been in a place is New York just now before leaving… and so leaving there, I kind of felt displaced and confused, and even being back in Kenya is really nice but it’s still like new, and I’m kind of navigating that… so Mau from Nowhere just kind of makes sense in that way of me trying to not put so much importance on where I’m from, but to be more present about who I am, where I am now, what I’m trying to do…’
In a bid to reintroduce himself in the light of this newly found realisation and knowledge of self, Mau put out a project titled Mau From Nowhere towards the end of last year, an Extended Playlist that houses four highly self-revealing tracks. The project doesn’t just serve as a compilation of songs, but also a recorded time capsule of moments in its creator’s life, one in which he had just taken a much needed U-turn, though still moving ahead.
‘Originally there was an album I wanted to put out for a while. I really hung on to the idea of what it was and what it was about – for a while I didn’t even realize I was moving in a different direction so when I came to Kenya, I kind of just hit reset on everything. Yeah, I was trying to reintroduce myself and make a shift. It came honestly from me making the first song, writing about how I was feeling and from there I got a better idea of the tone I was trying to set.’
In truth, Mau’s previous musical presentations have been in almost the same tone as Mau From Nowhere in terms of his constant desire to relate (both to himself and his listeners) the message of finding self, and I was quick to remind him of a short film I saw on his YouTube page which he had then made for a class project. This films was one in which through visuals and spoken words, he delved into analysing events and experiences from his childhood days. Maybe for him, Mau from Nowhere makes a more profound statement of this new found identity.
The tone of the project as Mau earlier said was set by the song Mau From Nowhere, one in which he reflects on his most humane experiences and conversations that he has had with friends.
A trait of Mau’s that can easily be noticed through his scope of lyricism is how much of a sucker for human interactions he is. I asked why conversing with other people is of so much importance to him.
‘I do think it’s involuntary. I definitely think I’m someone who overthinks – whether it’s a moment I have with someone, a perception or an idea – I think I love to analyse because honestly it does give me a sense of – it helps – yeah, it gives me a sense of better understanding. There’s a lot of beauty to be found when we look deeper, and obviously it’s tricky cause there’s the good and the bad when you kind of dig into things, and so I think that what’s cool about music – any form of art actually, even like the film you saw which was like an over analysis into my childhood but from there I got a lot of understanding as to where I came from, and also helping me make peace with things that are kind of confusing to me about my upbringing, and navigating different areas (of them) and stuff like that – so yeah, I think (human interactions) it’s a bit of a life’s mission, but it’s mostly for my peace of mind. Yeah, I think that naturally I think too much, so it’s nice cause there’s really no ending to it, you don’t just arrive at the answer and everything’s okay, but I think that when I’ve done that digging I just feel more comfortable and I actually do find the good things and I can be grateful for those, and also you know surf myself through the bad things.’
Still on digging things, Mau, somewhere in his self-titled track, the first one in his self-titled project said
Dug a place for Raffie’s soul to rest near the vegetables/so when they grow I know they’ll love me just like he did
I asked Mau about Raffie, who he was, and why he was so relevant to the song; his response?
‘Yeah yeah yeah that was my dog. It was in Kenya. I remember when I played the song for my dad and he was like “oh you’ve made a song for your dog” and I was like “it wasn’t really about him” but it was definitely a moment that hit me harder than I expected because my dog was old – like I’ve had that dog since I was like ten years old. I’m twenty three now, and I didn’t see him quite often because he was in Kenya while I was away, so every time I came back he was sort of a marker of home – you know when I come back I see my dad, I see my dog, I see my mum – so the fact that he passed away now, it was literally just when I came back, like as soon as I came back. He was already really old, and then he was sick; it was really quick. For me it felt like I was finally saying goodbye to my childhood because this dog was a representation of that. When I did live in Kenya as a kid he was a big part of that so it kind of just felt right to mention it. It isn’t supposed to be like a moral lesson compared to you losing people, but then you feel the absence in a different kind of way because he really was a part of the house so it just felt like I was coming to a different Kenya.
It probably was a confusing and then analytic period for Mau – the passing of his childhood pet. This experience, combined with some others must have made him make the assertion ‘take confusion, make it catchy’. The statement definitely refers to him harnessing the complications of his own life by translating them into music.
‘I can’t speak for every musician but for me when I make music I don’t necessarily make (songs) for the audience – like I’m not trying to think about what they’d like to hear as much as I’m thinking about what I want to say, and what I want to feel or sound like, but for it to feel right in a song, it definitely has to flow. For me it was kind of coming into that weirdness of song writing in general where it just can’t be stream of consciousness in a way – it’s very personal, but it’s not like a diary entry; it’s curated, and it has to fit a certain vibe, and a certain cadence, and all these technical elements that are a bit more second nature the more I practice the craft, but it still has to sound catchy especially while making a transition from doing music as a hobby to doing it professionally, you know, trying to get more established.
I have to put a lot more scrutiny on the sound. In the past I’d love to make these kind of songs that are densely worded, but you know still have a composition to it. I wouldn’t even have tried to make a chorus or something clearly structured it would just kind of be like “these are all the words” and it would have a beat, and melodic elements, but it’s much more like free flowing – like a song I had called Haba na Haba which was literally just like verse after verse, and not in a bad way, but it is definitely not as much as a song as much as it is a freestyle; but with every song on the EP there is more of a clear structure.
To me it felt like “Yeah, I’m kind of writing songs now” as opposed to just talking about how I feel over beats, and (scoffs) it has to kind of be catchy… and it’s not always a bad thing, it’s just an interesting thing. It also made me realise that though song writing is great and a beautiful tool of expression, it’s only half of it. You can’t just solve everything that you’re feeling through songs; you have to make the song, and then deal with it some other way.
Artistes talk about how strange and unexpected it is when a song or project in which they mostly talk about personal life experiences get to resonate with a large number of other people. There is a saying that that which is most personal is most general. Mau agrees with this. About his expectations and the reception the project has gotten since its release, he said
‘Honestly, it’s hard cause I try not to have expectations, but if you have plans you kind of have to have goals, and I think that is something that is difficult to navigate now because in the past I’ll put a song out, and if it does well that’s amazing, and if it doesn’t do really well, well, that kind of sucks but I almost liked the idea that I did not have to plan too much but now it’s like – I think it came with the manager – trying to be intentional about everything. Now there is like a secondary act to like ‘how do you marker yourself?’ ‘How do you promote yourself?’ ‘How do you package it?’ and ‘how do you make sure that this thing that you put all the work into actually goes somewhere?’ and I think that that’s something that I don’t want to neglect even if the songs are for me and my expressions, but overall I’m really happy and I’m really grateful. It’s hard because there’s a part of me that’s always going to want more, and hope for more, and keep pushing, but I’ve never had a response like this – especially with people resonating with it and that’s being the best thing honestly except for the really fortunate attention I’ve had; having people – Kenyans especially – hit me up and tell me ‘this kind of really spoke to me, and I identified with it, and It made me heard and seen’ and I think that’s a really beautiful thing.
THE INDUSTRY IN THE NOWHERE
“When I was a kid it was always kind of there – I loved to sing and play instruments, and I would perform at school things. The biggest hobby section was definitely in high school when me and my friends will just kind of jam… and one of us will play guitar and the rest of us will be free styling and singing, and then I ended up performing with some couple other people, but it never was that serious. It was all really fun and people around school knew me for it, but I don’t think I ever took it too serious until I got to college – I was at a film school – and I loved film, I still do, but it definitely like didn’t have the kind of beauty that music has to some degree where I can actually just get this out – like whatever I’m feeling, whatever I’m trying to say – and also, it’s a different part of yourself you’re expressing, and film is sometimes more the exterior, but then music is more like looking inward and then actually trying to get that out.
Around the end of my second year I started producing. One of my cousins had a crack of Logic, and I just started messing around, and then… it was like a summer when all I did was just make music. I just kept on making beats and beats, and there was so much music I just didn’t put out but it was a really good period for me just exploring it, and then I started putting songs out, and then eventually (it was all SoundCloud stuff) a distributor hit me up, I signed with them, and then I started putting them out on platforms – to be honest, even then it felt like a hobby but I was taking it a lot more seriously when I started really putting it out everywhere.
It all really started like diary entries; I would make music whenever I just felt a lot – when I was in college” Mau said dreamily as he reminisced on his journey into the music world.
His days of early beginnings feel now like light years ago, and the music “industry” Mau now finds himself in, and has been navigating for quite a while has had an effect on the young college kid who started out just having fun with his hobby.
Coming into the consciousness of the business part of music making could be a continuous process of expected and unexpected shocks.
Mau’s expectations from the music business world is almost similar to his approach to his everyday life – engaging with people through meaningful conversations, and being met with respect in reciprocation to that which has been given as he already stated in a line from the EP’s lead single, Mau from Nowhere:
And I don’t want the plays if I’m just finding hella ways to please some industry connects with no reciprocal respect/I’d rather die a thousand deaths than live a life for that ‘cause time’s the only thing I’m never getting back…
On the music industry Universally, in Africa and in Kenya Mau says
‘Honestly I haven’t been here (Kenya) that long, and I definitely see patterns; I mean that line was more much about New York, and just like my early experiences – cause that’s where I started making music – even now I’m just starting to get my foot in Nairobi, and I think wherever you go there is still the same kind of toxic elements, like it’s a lot like clout Olympics, and it gets very superficial like people are interested, and then they’re not, and it’s like high season and they care… it’s very difficult to form genuine connections and I think music being something that’s so personal to me, I definitely had issues with having genuine conversations with people about it, you know, those who are on the other side of things… and it kind of felt like – I mean to some degree their lives are very different from mine – but it kind of felt like I was another box to tick. I think I got tired of trying to adjust myself in a way that would fit, you know, what it looks like people wanted.
In Nairobi, I know that the industry is still very much growing, and there’s still a lot of gatekeepers, there’s still a lot of hurdles, but I think that in Kenya what’s cool is that there is a sense of community that is a bit more genuine compared to parts of New York.
But I think there are very good scenes, but I think once you begin engaging in the business side of things people can just be very – you’re kind of kicky in chat, but then it’s very on that level, you know, it’s not like “oh, I’m interested, I want to really hear from you, I want to help you” and it’s more sort of “Hit me up when you’re popping”. I don’t hate that, I just think I was frustrating cause I’m always like “okay be real with me if you really do want to help, I’m down, but if it’s very fickle and very fair-weather, then I don’t want that relationship” so being back in Nairobi, I’ve been very selective about who I want to engage with, and that can be hard sometimes too cause if I really like grinded, and we’re having this conversations I don’t want to have and trying to schmooze in way, then maybe I’d have more opportunities in that sense, but I just know that that’s something I really can’t do personally, and every time I try to do that it kind of takes a lot out of me personally so I’d just rather do my thing and if people come, cool. We can talk if we vibe and it’s a genuine mutual interest and mutual respect, but I think that overall that’s just something that frustrates me – and especially with like how I’m boxed or classified, or even packaged.
I kind of want to have the grace of intention when it comes to different things, and I know it’s kind of hard. In New York I did show after show after show, and you know I’m supposed to have people who are helping me out with this – and you know when you first meet someone, you have a relationship with them and they’re like “oh I can do this for you, and this for you, and this for you…” and then it’s like a month down the line and none of that has happened, and I always felt like as well as being Kenyan, my music is intrinsically Kenyan and intrinsically African, but it’s obviously going to be (more of) me, and that’s going to be a (mixture of a) lot of different things. It’s not going to come out necessarily as other music that you’re used to, but I think it can still exist in those spaces if it’s given a chance. I decided now that I’d much rather get there organically even if it’s hard work; I want to carve my place there, I don’t want to adjust myself to fit in.
CONNECTING WITH PEOPLE FROM EVERYWHERE, AND THE FUTURE
Following up with Mau’s musical career, there is always that point of realisation, where one finds out that Mau’s self-released tracks more often than not lacks features, but going by this fact to think that the artiste isn’t open to features and collaborations might be misleading.
Mau’s guest appearances on tracks include features on Swami Sound’s It is what it is and its subsequent Feel it Redux.
The project, Mau From Nowhere houses only one feature from TAHIR on the last track titled Habits. This is quite understandable since the project is self-titled, and is a medium through which the artiste expresses his own self developed thoughts and ideas in a way that is specific to himself.
‘There was an album built around the track Habits – I had an idea for an album called Habits. Some of the songs from it are on the project (Mau from Nowhere), some of them are new songs. There’s a different album in the works right now, and it has a lot more people involved – like a lot of more features… I’ve realised that with music as opposed to my other art mediums, it really can just be you which on the one hand is isolating, but also really freeing because I feel like when you’re making a film, doing a shoot, you really need a team; you need other people in the room, even multiple people at every stage… but with music I could actually do most of the creative back work myself, which is more work, but also I learn a lot more sometimes about myself – it’s a lot less filtered in that sort of way, or influenced by other people, and in the past at least, I don’t have a huge inclination to have a lot of other people involved.
It was really nice to have TAHIR on Habits. I was just so taken by his voice and soon as I made the beat I was like “this would be perfect for him”, and now I’m a lot more open to collaboration.
I do think it’s almost like when you’re worried about asking for someone’s opinion – you want to know what you want – and a lot of me making music for myself is about figuring what I want. Hopefully, I’ll start to get more cooks in the kitchen. Now, I’m definitely in the place where I want more people around’
For someone who overanalyses situations and yet doesn’t want to get so much into planning events, Mau’s approach to the future to me feels like a Pandora’s box, but one filled rather with positive outcomes, and my curiosity wasn’t totally quenched when I asked for his future plans, but to an extent I could understand that he definitely is prepared for what’s to come in his journey going forward.
‘Nothing is concrete’, He said
I’m definitely open to whatever comes, but I definitely want to know I’m growing. I think growth is the most important thing regardless of what it looks like. I don’t want to have a specific idea but I definitely want to get more people involved, I want to get more comfortable as well with – trusting what I have to say. It’s more like what you were saying about features, that people on a feature are just adding new dimension to what you’ve already laid a foundation on, but a part of me had to learn to trust my own voice, so now that I think I can trust my voice, I want to just like try and discover (especially) Africa’s music landscape in a way that helps me grow and help people around me grow, so I’d love to work with more artistes from the continent in general – definitely Kenyan and East African artistes – but I’m also very inspired by the music coming from West Africa at the moment, for sure some of my biggest influence creatively are coming from those sides’
‘Would you mind mentioning a few of them?’ I ask
‘Oh yeah for sure’ Mau says without hesitation.
‘I love Lady Donli, I think she’s incredible – I think she’s like so clever and unique, and just herself -being very authentic. I kind of love how the alternative artistes are just very true to home, and I think that’s a beautiful thing. I love Yinka Bernie as well, and obviously Amaarae dropped and she’s still killing it. I think when I look at that scene I definitely see a pride in everyone showcasing their culture and their weirdness… I think I’d love to do that more and not shy away from being myself, and then being myself in a way that relates to being Kenyan. With the album I’d love to do that, I’d also like to make less of a distance between film and music. I think I’d love to make bigger projects (scoffs) if the budget comes in, but yeah I definitely want to expand. Little by Little I’d love to create a larger universe with other people involved as well’
‘You recently got added to an alternative playlist and I saw that tweet where you were like “yaaayy so I’m alte now” I teased
(Laughs) ‘Yeah… I was just taking a piss. I love the Alte scene. I think it’s just so cool. I think it’s an aesthetic, and Kenyans love those artistes – I mean, they’re rock stars here. They are rock stars everywhere, but like I definitely see characteristics – the dyed hair – I mean I was like “all these niggas are with the dyed hair, the crazy fits – should I be on that wave?” (scoffs)
Before we hung up I decided to ask Mau that one question I ask every artiste in an interview; ‘what matters to you the most and why?’
‘That’s a tough one’ he says with a thoughtful phew.
‘A part of me wants to say honesty, because life’s too short and all we owe to ourselves it’s to just be honest. It’s hard because when we are honest with ourselves, especially because there are things we don’t want to hear, we don’t want to realise, we don’t want to tell ourselves, but again you can’t go through life like that. I mean, a lot of people have to, especially with older generations I think across all ethnicities, but especially Africans – I literally talk to my parents about this a lot and through my music because they are always like ‘damn you’re being very vulnerable publicly’, and I’m like ‘why would I hide this? I feel like everyone should be honest with how we are and are feeling maybe we can heal’. So I definitely think like honesty is key, and it’s a bit hard too because it’s not always helpful with how people receive you, or how people easily adjust to you, or them getting ahead of you even – because you have to choose yourself over what they want from you, so yeah, you have to be true to yourself, and I think that that’s just something I always want to keep close to me in everything I do.
Mau’s journey into finding self and giving out gems that he finds in his own mind through music (and film) continues, and only beauty seem to be in the horizons for him. Be sure to keep up with the artiste through Social Media.
Interview and Article written by Eni-ibukun J.T for DrummrAfrica. All images used in this article were shot by shutterdust and styled by afro.grunge.