Saturday, June 2, 2012

Album Review: Myele Manzanza - One (2012)

Myele Manzanza is the son of well known Wellington Afro/World music identity Sam Manzanza, but if the quality of his debut solo album, One, is anything to go by, it won’t be long before Manzanza junior surpasses his old fella’s considerable musical accomplishments. In a “local” context at the very least.

First and foremost, Myele is a drummer/percussionist, and he draws on his all of his experience as a member of the acclaimed Wellington group Electric Wire Hustle to make One a truly inspired debut, quite probably one of the best debut albums by a New Zealand-based artist in recent memory. Although to be fair, as Myele himself explains in the short clip below, the album has its roots not only in NZ, but also in Berlin, where Manzanza junior spent time studying music … and naturally enough, in the Congo – Sam’s original homeland.

One, released in February of 2012, opens with a track called ‘Intro’, which basically consists of a series of recorded (telephone) answering machine messages left by mildly annoyed – yet oddly sympathetic in one case – neighbours, “complaining” about Myele’s clearly quite intensive drum practice regime. It makes for an interesting and relatively amusing opening, and it adds a nice personal touch before the album really gets underway in earnest.

From there we are taken on a journey through a variety of musical strands – hip hop, jazz, funk, and what might otherwise be called smooth electronica ... ultimately culminating in a terrific collaboration with Manzanza senior on the Afrobeat-flavoured ‘Me I Know Him’ to close out the album. Another stand out is ‘City of Atlantis’, which features the vocal talents of Ladi6 and works as a fine centrepiece to the album.

Other collaborators on One include prominent Auckland-born producer Mark de Clive-Lowe, soulful vocalist Bella Kalolo, keyboardist Steph Brown, plus a host of other local music identities including Myele’s colleagues from Electric Wire Hustle.

Ultimately we get a range of instrumentation, but as you’d expect, it is the drumming and percussion that makes the album something quite special, with Myele’s finely tuned sense of space and rhythm driving and directing the process with all the assurance of a seasoned veteran.

To say that Myele Manzanza is well connected in Wellington – and beyond – is to master the art of understatement. Now 24, he’s been surrounded by quality musicians all of his life, and involved in various music-related projects since his early teenage years (if not well before).

Would I really be pushing my luck if I described him as something of a chip off the old (wood) block? ... (yawn - Ed).

I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next.

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