Ghanaian rapper M.anifest is a serial collaborator. And he seems to have an obsession with South African musicians — he has collaborated with the likes of Pro-Verb, Stogie T, Zubz, Kwesta, Nomisupasta and DJ Clock. “I feel like I’ve collaborated with more South African artists than Ghanaian artists,” he says, and bursts into a sudden laugh.
It’s Sunday and we are chatting between shooting scenes for the music video for his unreleased collaborative song with Mi Casa, which is being filmed in Johannesburg — the first scene is in Troyeville, and the second in Yeoville.
Called Be My Woman, the song is infectious, with a catchy hook by J’Something. It’s playing in the background during the filming. “We worked on the song a couple of months ago,” he says. “We were in touch, around 2016 we spoke about collaborating, and I sent something over. We had a dope conversation and made magic.”
They sent the song back and forth until both artists were satisfied, and eventually made the decision to shoot the video in South Africa. The director, Makere Thekiso, is a fan of M.anifest.
“The beautiful thing about working with M.anifest is that you get to try different things,” he says. “He is down for whatever. I will even shoot his music videos for free. I love his music, and also, he’s always willing to be creative.”
It’s clear he pays attention to detail. From the costumes to the aesthetic, there are signs of Afrofuturism. Take for instance the video for Jigah, his collaboration with South African rapper HHP, where the two rappers masquerade as African dictators, dressed in military coats and colourful kufis. The collaboration itself is intact — the two rappers go back and forth, exchanging bars.
M.anifest says he makes sure collaborations are never forced, and it’s clear he doesn’t just go for a popular artist for the sake of the name. “Even if I admire that artist,” he says, “the song I’m working on has to call for them. Sometimes I might be working on a song and I hear a particular voice in it.”
The collaborations don’t stop at music videos and songs. The cover of his latest album, Nowhere Cool, which was released in late 2016, was designed by Zimbabwean artist Kudzanai Chiurai.
“We need to deepen the level of collaborations because right now it’s very surface level,” says the emcee. “We need to go deeper. It should also be cross-disciplinary. Those kinds of things create more opportunities than a song, [they] create a bigger cultural exchange of sorts.”
M.anifest’s love for collaboration comes with travelling the world. His rap career started taking shape while he was in Minnesota in the US. He was studying from 2001 to 2005, and stayed after graduation to pursue his music dream until 2012. He released his breakout album, Immigrant Chronicles: Coming to America (2011), his third, after Manifestations (2007) and The Birds and The Beats (2009).
The artist has since been one of the most respected lyricists on the continent, winning multiple awards — most notably Best Rapper of the Year at the 2017 Ghana Music Awards, an award he also won in 2013.
M.anifest is an experimental artist — his music, though grounded in hip-hop sensibilities, fuses genres, something several Ghanaian artists including Sarkodie and EL do.
“What has always been interesting about Ghanaian hip-hop is that from the beginning it was always adaptive,” M.anifest tells me. “It has high-life, Afrobeats, Afropop. So hip-hop has maintained a connection with all the popular genres of music. [This] makes it interesting, and the lines are blurred. But there are strong underground cats there. I still maintain that South Africa and Ghana have the best emcees.”
The fusion of genres culminates on Nowhere Cool — his most progressive album to date. The song B.E.A.R boasts high-life horns, patterning 808 snares, cloudy pads, a droning bassline that meanders in and out of filters. Some acoustic guitars and piano keys find their way into it. It has multiple layers, but surprisingly doesn’t sound at all clumsy. And the rapper doesn’t sound out of place —he raps with his usual charisma, cadence intact.
The song Hand Dey Go, Hand Dey Come is a dancefloor-ready party-starter with high- tempo percussion and a selection of sinewy synthesisers.
“I had a vision for the album both sonically and conceptually,” he says. “The theme is ‘nowhere cool’, which basically means the grass is always greener somewhere else. So
I applied the same vision to the music — there’s no one thing that’s dope or terrible. When you put different things together, it’s always explosive. And I’m a product of that in terms of my life. I spent 10 years in America and came back to Africa, and travelled the world. I’m excited by music that brings different worlds together.”
Collaborations among artists on the continent have led to some of the biggest modern songs ever to come out of Africa. Songs such as Tchelete (Good Life) by Nigerian popstar Davido and the South African Afropop group Mafikizolo, Coolest Kid in Africa by Davido and Nasty C, and The Sound by Davido, Uhuru and DJ Buckz, among others, are seriously huge, raking in millions of YouTube views. As clichéd as it may sound, there’s magic in unity and collaboration, and M.anifest is one of the artists on the continent who are aware of this.
The West, as usual, has been taking note. Canadian rapper and singer Drake remixed Nigerian pop star Wizkid’s 2015 hit Ojuelegba, which began a working relationship that led to the two artists’ collaboration One Dance, which was on Drake’s 2016 album Views. The song, co-produced by South African producer DJ Maphorisa and featuring British singer Kyla, became the first song ever to be streamed one billion times on Spotify.
Nigerian pop star D’Banj inked a deal with Kanye West’s G.O.O.D Music imprint in 2011 and released the global hit Oliver Twist. Black Coffee was featured on Drake’s latest release More Life and Jay Z’s label Roc Nation has shown interest in African artists such as Ice Prince, Don Jazzy, Tiwa Savage and Nasty C.
Whatever you make of it, it’s clear that contemporary African music has managed to grab the West’s attention without physically crossing oceans.
M.anifest believes this is a result of Africans embracing their own music. “If we think we are dope, we think we are the shit, then other people will gravitate towards it,” he says. “Which is partly what is happening a bit. We have much more self-belief now. You can travel to Ghana and hear Ghanaian music the whole night — which is also happening in South Africa.
“If we do that, the music travels far. But we have to understand that everything comes in waves and trends. When people hop on our wave, we have to own it. We have to be how reggae is — with reggae it’s never mattered what someone else thought of it.”