“If nobody tells me the truth, I know my family will.”
Mannywellz is an Afro-Soul artist whose mesmerising vocals transcend geographical borders and speaks to the heart. The Grammy Award winner uses his life, love and passion as a muse to create timeless music. This US-based Nigerian, caught up with Pause Contributing Writer, Gracey Mae, on his way to the studio, to talk about the high and lows of his journey so far. Join us as we delve into a very honest conversation about art, religion, deportation and more…
Interview by: Gracey Mae | @_graceymae
Congratulations on your latest project, ‘Mirage’. The official definition of a mirage is an optical illusion but in your mini-documentary, you described this project as, “A work full of your thoughts, your ups and downs, it’s an emotional roller coaster”. What is Mirage really about?
Oh, man! Mirage is a bunch of thoughts. It’s me going through this emotional roller coaster as we live in a digital world. It’s me experiencing romance and romantic feelings as we live in this digital world. Getting on Instagram and seeing somebody will trigger you or have you catching feelings instead of flights. Then, at the end of the day, getting to a place where you realise that God’s love is the greatest and that you need to love yourself.
Is it true that you started putting this project together in December 2018?
Yeah, so in 2018, I just kept going to big studios and I was like, “I’m tired of these studios, man. I want a different space.” So I asked my aunt if I could set up my own equipment in her basement – it was sweet! When I was done creating, I’d just go to sleep. When I was hungry, I could go upstairs, eat jollof rice, eat eba, eat bread and egg stew and then go right back downstairs and create. Sometimes I would stay there for a week or two; Sometimes I would just stay for a few days and go back home, chill with my brothers and go right back. I wanted to get that different experience because I was always in a traditional studio setting. That’s changed now though! The other day I locked myself in the hotel for three days. I took my setup and I was just making music. You know, sometimes in LA, I set up in my Air B’n’B. I can create at night but I prefer to create in the morning, that’s why I’m heading to the studio right now. That’s just me. I’ve learnt to love that about myself.
You’ve touched on God and God’s love! It was really interesting for me to find out that your dad is a well-known Gospel singer. How come you didn’t follow in his footsteps genre-wise?
I feel like this space needs someone like me to be some sort of bridge. I think as a creative, I’m a bridge in numerous ways: between Afrobeats and R’nB, there’s Mannywellz; between Christians and the world, there’s Mannywellz; between Africa, the diaspora and the United States, there’s Mannywellz. Being undocumented and having friends that are citizens, I’m a bridge for that community as well. I started understanding that I’m a bridge in numerous ways so I let myself insert myself in these spaces. I accepted that as my mission and calling.
Do you know how amazing it is to actually know your purpose and your calling? That’s true fulfilment. You’ve got two brothers and a sister and you’ve said that no matter how big you get, you’re still going to be “sweeping at home, cleaning the bathroom and picking up your brothers during the school run.” How important is family to you?
I think it’s the most important because they’ve been there since the jump. They’re all amazing people! My brothers are different from me. My sister is super different from me. My mum is very different from me. It’s just cool to live in a space with people that care and love me for who I am before I even started growing as Mannywellz. It’s cool to watch them as they watch me grow because they will always tell me the truth. If nobody tells me the truth, I know my family will. They keep me really grounded and that’s important for me because I don’t want to lose myself when the lights come on.
Talk to us about your first performance as part of the church choir. Do you remember that?
Oh man! I was so nervous. I joined the choir when I was five or six in Nigeria. I was doing background vocals and singing in a mass youth choir. Then, fast forward to around 2017 when I got older and I moved to the States, I joined the choir in a new church. They gave me a solo, one song by Mali Music, and I totally messed it up. Well, maybe I didn’t mess it up but I’m just hard on myself. I didn’t like the way I sounded and you could tell that I was nervous. I remember some young kids chuckling, but that motivated me to do more, to get better and to grow. A lot of those guys probably don’t even remember. Some of them now look at me and ask, “How do you do this? How do you that?” Because some of them make music as well now.
You’re a whole musician! At what age did you pick up the piano?
I picked up piano at around seven, but I never took it seriously. I gravitated towards the drums and percussion. I didn’t really start taking the piano seriously until I started taking production seriously. I started producing at 15 years old. I keep growing, there’s something new to learn on the piano every day. It’s like that with music in general. I think when you get to a place where you feel like you know everything, you’re in a super dangerous space – life is about learning all the time. I want to continue learning: learning people, learning songs, chords, production style, techniques and vocal cadences. This is such an interesting world to me and I want to continue to grow in this space.
You’re definitely growing! 86,000 people currently listen to you on Spotify. When you see these kinds of figures and you get accolades, like a Grammy, how does it make you feel?
It makes me feel good. I’m having fun and I’m doing what I love but it takes time. It’s encouraging because it shows that my work is being appreciated. As a creative, I’m not one of those artists that’s like, “I don’t care about the public recognition.” It doesn’t define me but I care because we’re creating to impact someone. For me, I appreciate it and I appreciate the love. I just want to continue to grow the numbers and the people that are listening.
Being a creative is more than just music for you – I’ve seen your cool merch, Oulala. How did you transition into clothing?
I got some thaaangs coming. I like feeling good and I like looking good. Fashion and music are kinda like brothers and sisters, so that’s just me tapping into my fashion space. I like being comfortable, so a lot of the things that I wear are a loose fit. We came up with the Oulala crossbody bags because I got to a space where my pockets were too much. They were holding my wallet, my phone, my keys, my everything. I was like, “Okay, I need a bag!” So I created a bag, I found a problem that I needed to fix for myself and for other people. I’ve been wearing scarves and bandanas for almost two years. So, hint hint. we got some things coming and it’s about to fire.
If you need a plus-size model, you already know I’m in!
Back in 2017, you did a North American tour with Jidenna. It’s 2021, we are ready to see you on the road again! What’s the rest of the year saying?
More videos, we did a live version of the EP that’s coming out. After that, I want to hit the road. I want to get back to performing in person. I’m trying to go to Nigeria this year, trying to hit London and Ghana. According to the numbers, I’ve got people in Kenya and South Africa that like what we’re doing so we want to go see them. I’m ready, I got vaccinated so it’s just time.
If we want to find out what you’ve had for breakfast or your favourite selfie angle is, where can we find you online?
Oh, that’s a nice way to ask that! That’s a good question. @Mannywellz on everything: Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Triller, Facebook. No MySpace. Mannywellz.com! iTunes, Spotify… we try to make it really easy for people to find me.
Alright, do you have a last comment for the readers!
Oh, man, um… God’s love is the greatest, love yourself and do whatever you want to do. Don’t live in fear. If you want to do something, you have an idea, just try it out. The worst thing you can do is fail. You wouldn’t die. So, just do it.