Image: EM Squared Photography
By Alex Roberts
There are some Nairobi based artists who have all the tell-tale signs of going somewhere, even after they’ve just released their first ‘full album’. Marianne Mandy, a singer-songwriter (and part time rapper) is one such artist. She’s been bubbling just there, somewhere under the radar for years now- always tinkering away at her craft, taking the myriad of setbacks in stride, never stopping on that hustle. She became well known for putting the Nairobi creative scene (and the bullshitters within it) on blast a couple years ago with her rap-sung track ‘Vita Mtaani’. In recent months, after years (literally) of struggle, she has finally released her new album ‘Ego’ to acclaim around Kenyan music circles. It is an eclectic mix of self-reflection, a substantial punch packed into a tight seven songs. The EA Scene caught up with Mandy just days before the release of her new music video for her track ‘Why Am I So Beautiful?’ to catch up about the music, her sound and the state of Nairobi creativity.
EA Scene: So how has the album, Ego been received so far?
Mandy: To be honest I need more streams (laughs). But surprisingly enough the physical copies are really selling well right now. I still think more people need to hear it. People actually like it, or they love it, those who have heard it anyway. Every week I have complete strangers hitting me up on one of my channels saying how they love the album, so feedback has been positive yeah.
EA Scene: So I know this album was a mission, why was it so difficult, so hard for you to finally completely finish?
Mandy: So, being an independent artist, that means that all costs are on you. Studio time? On you. Post production? On you. I think I started recording in the end of 2016. But, as the years went on, I was growing. I was growing as an artist, an individual, and musically I was also growing. By later on in the recording, I had outgrown some of my own songs, so I had to replace some of my own songs to reflect where I was at in life. I kept cutting, changing, I couldn’t be satisfied with my previous creative work.
EA Scene: So I remember you never used to want to cut anything, what made you switch and be able to focus in on what needed to be there for the album to be completed?
Mandy: I don’t know, I had this moment, I don’t know if you’d call it a meditation like ‘what if I die and I haven’t finished an album of my own’? What if I died tomorrow? So I decided to post, to do what I like. There are no rules and it took me a while to realize: this is my music and I can do what I want. Who said there should be 10 songs?
EA Scene: So your album is extremely eclectic, despite only having seven tracks. There’s no direct line between the two other than thematically, can you speak to how you were able to diversify despite it being a shorter LP?
Mandy: So each song should be viewed as a part of a collection of stories. I’m not looking at it as writing in a singular box. I looked at it as though I was going to write stories and whatever genre fits my story is what we will end up going with on the album.
EA Scene: Do you feel like, as a Nairobi artist, Nairobi being known for its musical eclecticism, that you had more flexibility as far as experimentation than African artists of other countries?
Mandy: Yeah! I feel like sometimes Kenyan artists are so lucky, because we are able to break the rules. There are no rules here. Anything in Kenya can be a hit, there’s not a steady line in trends. All those hits are so different and so unique when you hear them that all artists can do there thing. That’s what I tell artists, just do your thing, because you never know what will really be able to take off and become a big one.
EA Scene: So what influenced some of your songs on Ego?
Mandy: (Laughs) This is a tricky one, a lot of people, even four or five have asked me if this song or that song was about them. But they’re really not. People think these songs are personal. I wanted to tell stories that people could relate to, in the most unique and fun way that I could take on it. But there’s nothing really personal on it apart from the intro: ‘A Girl Was Born’?
EA Scene: Why that one?
Mandy: Because that song is about me, it’s so short and simple, I say four lines, but that one is really about me. The rest of them were more fitting into the instrumentals.
EA Scene: So I know you have your first music video coming out today for ‘Why Am I So Beautiful?’. Can you talk to me a little bit about the process of making your first video?
Mandy: Well I hadn’t wanted to make one, but I got approached by a lot of videographers and artists talking about wanting to film it. They specifically wanted to shoot that one, that video. YouTubers wanted to use it as well. And people liked it, that’s why I chose it.
That’s why I decided to invest my time and energy into it. This video, it really shows off my creative side. It was a very unusual video and people will see what I mean when it comes out. It tells a story in an unusual way. I’m not just a songwriter OK? (Laughs).
It was very exciting for me. It was a good script that tells a good story, and I hope guys will love it.
EA Scene: Did you take inspiration from any other videos when you were making this one?
Mandy: No. No to be honest. Really this one is very different. Especially within Nairobi it is out there. I think it has been pulled off nicely. I know guys will love it.
EA Scene: I see why your album is called Ego.
EA Scene: Where was it filmed?
Mandy: In an old colonial house in Nairobi, but I don’t want to say where yet.
EA Scene: So one of the things you first become very known for is the song ‘Vita Mtaani’ the song that put a lot of the creative sector on blast.
EA Scene: Can you talk a little bit about why you decided to put some Nairobi artists on blast?
Mandy: Eish, you’ve caught me off guard, I’ve always got a lot to say about this one. To be honest I decided to do that song because I had a few bars and just decided to keep writing, I was like ‘this actually works’. When I first wrote it, I wasn’t thinking about the implications, I was just having fun and writing and rhyming bars. It was fun. Initially I honestly didn’t like it so I hid it in my Sound Cloud. But then guys started to dig it, to say it was cool, that’s about how it happened.
I feel like creativity in Kenya right now is climbing its growing, probably at a slow pace but it is growing. That’s what I think, we’re getting there.
I feel like there’s not… I don’t know a lot of flourishing industries have labels that sign artists in bulk, but in Nairobi they can be counted by one hand. They’re not taking up artists, I don’t know why, but that when put with a lot of artists not being able to afford to get studio time makes a problem. I don’t know what the solution for that is. I just know its extremely expensive, but I just don’t know why.
The video for Mandy’s track ‘Why Am I So Beautiful?’ will be dropping today, July 23rd. Don’t miss it.