Drummer Myele Manzanza shares his most influential tunes and finds more positive reasons to make music.
Drumming is in Myele Manzanza’s blood, thanks to his father – Congolese drummer Sam Manzanza, who has been a vibrant and visible ambassador of Afrobeat rhythms since emigrating to New Zealand in the 1980s.
“I think he’d prefer to refer to himself as the African President,” laughs Myele, who accompanied Sam as he taught African drumming workshops and performed on New Zealand stages.
“My Dad isn’t cocky, but he is very sure of himself. He will get on the stage and he’ll say, ‘This is my stage. I’m taking you to the moon. Right now. And that’s where we are going.’ There is no fake humble in there.”
“Growing up in that kind of upbringing, music was around ... and I may have had a quicker understanding of it than if I was brought up in a family that wasn’t musical”
"[Music was] never something that I had to do. It was never, ‘You must practice. You must follow in my footsteps,’ it was just a thing that was around.”
Even thought Myele wasn't forced to follow in his father's footsteps, his natural talent did draw attention.
“I wasn’t the most overt child prodigy, but music was definitely a thing that made me stand out from a relatively young age all the way through to present day."
Although being "one of those 'talented' kids” has been a complicated experience for Myele, who, thanks to his Dad, didn’t lack in self-confidence and belief.
“The 20-year old me looking ten years into the future assumed I would be in a different place to where I am now.
Now is juggling a full-time job in addition to being a musician, as opposed to his youthful projection of living in a “penthouse apartment overlooking New York’s Central Park.”
“It might be a disadvantage in some ways to be the special kid...Sometimes it takes a minute to shed that old skin. And sometimes shedding skin hurts.”
The older, more considered Myele has played across RnB, hip hop, pop, electronic and afrobeat genres.
He's been behind the kit with Electric Wire Hustle, legendary Detroit DJ Theo Parrish, Amp Fidler, Jordan Rakei, Mark de Clive-Lowe, and Jonathan Crayford, but is currently immersed in jazz because of its “real-time” creativity.
“The creative process is happening every night, every time you play.
"[It] gives you room to create in the moment rather than having to predetermine everything and have the creative process behind the scenes and then you present the completed thing.”
He’s particularly excited about his two forthcoming shows in the Wellington Jazz Festival.
The first show is the Myele Manzanza Trio, which is the “more improvisational jazz” show, featuring “the inimitable Matthew Sheens on piano.”
“Matthew is an absolute virtuoso...he’s got this amazing classical virtuoso touch mixed with this incredible improviser’s skill. He has ears like the GCSB, he hears everything! It’s crazy.”
His second show, The Eclectic, is the more “ groove and J Dilla, Common, Ron Trent side.”
“Finally I get to put a special thing together for the home team,” he contentedly beams.
Myele Manzanza & The Eclectic are performing at Meow on Friday, June 8th as part of the Wellington Jazz Festival.
Song: Nag Champa (Afrodesiac For The World)
Composer: Lonnie Lynn,
Album: Like Water For Chocolate
Artist: Ron Trent
Song: Urban Skylinez
Album: Altered States Sampler
Label: Prescription Classic Recordings
Artist: Lionel Loueke
Label: Blue Note Records
Artist: Aaron Goldberg Trio
Song: Oam's Blues
Label: Sunnyside Records
Artist: Wayne Shorter
Song: Bachianas Brasilieras No.5
Artist: Matthew Sheens
Song: American Counterpoint Part III