May 27, 2024

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Interview with Myele Manzanza: That’s what music should strive toward: Video

Jazz interview with jazz drummer Myele Manzanza. An interview by email in writing. – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Myele Manzanza: – I grew up in Wellington, New Zealand. My father Sam Manzanza is a percussionist, guitarist, singer and bandleader, playing traditional African High Life and Afrobeat music, so in a sense I inherited the family business. He took me around with him on tour when I was young and would have me sitting in on percussion, and the foundation of music in my life just grew from there

JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

MM: – I guess the simple answer is that I just kept curious and followed my musical interests. When I was super young I was really into Michael Jackson, then I had a bit of a heavy metal phase, and a hip hop & drum-n-bass phase. Eventually I found jazz when I was 16 years old and that lead to wanting to study it formally at university. At the same time, I was gigging a lot with all sorts of musical projects across jazz, funk, hip hop, electronic music, avant garde improvised music etc and getting experience with musicians who were better than me. As I started to establish my own career, composition became a more important part of my sound and helped to find my voice as a drummer / instrumentalist too.

JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

MM: – To be honest I wish I had more time for practice these days. From the age of 16 to around 21 or 22 I was super diligent with my practice. Doing 3 hours minimum a day and working with great teachers, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve found a lot more of my time getting caught up in the administration of music. Emails, booking flights, coordinating musicians etc. and less time for real deliberate practice. If I have a recording or important concert / tour coming up then I’ll make sure I carve out time to practice and work on rudiment exercises that keep the hands in good shape, or coordination & independence exercises that are more of a mental challenge (always with a metronome in order to gauge my accuracy etc), as well as preparing the material so I can come to the project with confidence. I likely spend more musical time these days working on composition and developing material for my own projects than I do actually working on the drums.

JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

MM: – Haha, I wish I knew. Discipline I guess, though more often than not I fall into distraction.

JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

MM: – I generally like to do a bit of rudiment work on a practice pad to warm up. Just running through single strokes, double strokes, paradiddles etc. It helps to feel comfortable when you arrive at the drum set and feel centred when the energy’s running high. Meditation can be useful in that regard too. Helps to bring a little focus and calm and hopefully be in a mental space where you can deliver your best on the stage.

There could be talk or advertising about your CD

JBN: – And how did you select the musicians who play on the album?

MM: – The musicians on the album are all cats I had met since having moved to London in late 2019. They all have a sound of their own that I knew would fit in well with my concept for the album as well as having the chops and musicianship to navigate the musical terrain and make something good out of it.

JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

MM: – It’s a good question. I feel the best music has a good 50/50 balance between what we think of as ‘intellect’ and ‘soul’, and that’s what I aim for with my music as a composer and an instrumentalist. I’d say that I think music played soulfully, with good feeling and without a whole lot of intellect will go a lot further than music that’s super clever and intellectual without any ‘soul’ in it, however if you’re aiming for greatness then you’ve gotta have a good amount of both. All the great musicians and composers had a good balance and that’s what music should strive toward.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

MM: – I’ve never been a particularly ‘commercial’ musician and my musical decisions tend to be informed by my musical curiosity and what feels artistically genuine to me, rather than what’s going to be ‘hot’ or ‘trendy’ right now, so my career path is likely one that’s a long game rather than getting a massive hit quickly and then fading away. I guess each artist has to figure out his or her own priorities in that regard. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make music that reaches as many people as possible, but for me it’s important to retain a sense of artistic integrity around that and I wouldn’t want to lose that for the sake of appeasing the audience. At the same time, I do genuinely want an audience to enjoy my music and my performances so hopefully Im finding a way to strike a good balance there.

JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

No memories?

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

MM: – In my opinion, I think it’s important for musicians, music media & audiences to see jazz less as a genre and more as an ethos, method or philosophy toward music making, where the primacy is less about stylistic conventions (such as playing jazz standards from the American songbook) and more about the interactive process of musicians creating and improvising in together in real time, regardless of whether it’s over a more traditional 12 bar blues or rhythm changes, or over something that’s come from more modern present day influences that more directly connects with the experience and tastes of young listeners. That’s not to shun music that’s firmly rooted in the tradition, as it’s a very beautiful tradition that deserves respect and informs the music that we make today. However, I believe there’s more room for the music to be perpetually refreshed, regenerated and renewed for a younger audience when there’s room for artists to explore how that process can extend to music that they genuinely connect to, and hopefully that audiences both young and old can enjoy too.

JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?


JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

MM: – Retaining the open accessibility of music that’s come with the Internet age, whilst giving music a higher financial value that allows artists to retain a fairer slice of the pie from the revenue that’s generated from their work.

JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

MM: – A lot of house music. DJ sets from people like Osunlade, Theo Parrish, Marcellus Pitman. Wayne Shorter is always a go-to for me. Igor Stravinsky. Elvin Jones. J Dilla of course. A young singer called Rosie Frater-Taylor is doing exciting things at the moment. I could go on and on.

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

No message?

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

MM: – I’d be interested in seeing my father as a younger man in Kinshasa in the 80’s. I have a vague sense of what his life was like but it’s only really anecdotal. It’d be interesting to see and feel what his life experiences were like back then before he moved to New Zealand and had me.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

The Mixtape: Myele Manzanza | RNZ

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