August/September 2014

by Myele Manzanza

On Foreign Soil: Myele Manzanza

by Myele Manzanza

On Foreign Soil: Myele Manzanza

Adam Burns’’ article in NZM’’s Feb/March 2012 issue provides a great introduction to just what made the then 23-year old Wellington drummer Myele Manzanza tick. With a background of beat keeping for a variety of Wellington acts including Olmecha Supreme, Recloose, and his father Sam Manzanza’’s Rhythm Africa Band, Myele cemented his reputation with the internationally active Electric Wire Hustle.
The last few years have seen him performing around the globe with his Myele Manzanza Trio. In March he was asked by Detroit electronic music producer Theo Parrish to tour with him in Europe as part of his live show called Teddy’’s Get Down. Myele says he has been a fan of Parrish for years, so jumped at the opportunity. It meant five weeks spent playing 17 dates, from Madrid to Moscow. Here are some brief excerpts from his time on the road that Myele kindly shared with NZM.

June 16-22 2014 – Rehearsals, London

Theo Parrish, a renowned producer and one of the world’’s best DJs, has assembled a band to bring his house/electronic productions to a live setting. The crew is no joke. Alongside him are Detroit natives Amp Fiddler on keys and vocals, Public Enemy/Parliament-Funkadelic guitarist Duminie DePorres, Ideeyah on lead vocals and London’s Akwasi Mensah on bass – plus a team of dancers – Jade Zuberi and Gehrik Mohr, also from Detroit, Maïlê Ho from Paris and Dominique Sophie from Montreal.
We worked from 12pm to 9pm for seven days straight learning the songs together, jamming to develop band chemistry and refining the set like crazy to achieve Theo’’s vision. I haven’’t had this kind of deliberate team training since high school basketball camps, and I’’ve gotta say it worked. I relished the challenge of nailing Theo’’s unconventional drum production on the live kit.
Theo has a lot of passion for music and it became contagious. There was a real sense of purpose and camaraderie in the group and everyone in the band is professional and quick to learn. With the concentrated hours rehearsing and being out of our hometowns, there were no distractions, so we could all focus on the set.
With rehearsals done our tour through the EU begins. The tour bus, which is to be the band’s home for the journey, is a double decker with a lounge and kitchen downstairs, and TV room and bunks upstairs. With a total of 14 of us on the road it’s a cost effective way to tour as we can drive and sleep overnight.

July 6 – Outline Festival, Moscow

I’’m skipping right past the first run of shows here and taking us to Moscow for our show at Outline Festival. As this is my first time in Russia I’’ve been anticipating this one for a while, but it ended up being the biggest logistical nightmare of the tour. Due to distance this is the only gig that we fly in for. Our flight is overbooked so two of our crew can’’t board. With the mood taking a southward turn, Maïlê and Dominique sagely opt to get the next flight and the rest of the band board.
Upon arrival customs detain Theo for questioning. Realising they have nothing on him they let him go and the band goes to catch an hour of sleep and then heads to the festival. Thankfully the girls make it to Moscow safe and sound. I feel this will turn out to be either the best or the worst gig of the tour and I prepare for guerrilla warfare.
We find out on our way there that our set was pushed from 10pm to 8pm because Russian authorities set a last minute curfew on the festival for a 9pm shutdown. Part of me thinks this is just poor organization, but when we see two police officers in oversized Cossack hats backstage I begin to think this is serious.
The stage is a rickety art instillation, literally held together by a piece of rope at the back that we have to limbo under. The girls have to get changed in a bush while security guards perv away. We’re ready to hit by 8.30pm so we quickly talk over our cut set time and hit.
Thankfully the audience is up for it, making the whole thing worthwhile. The looks on their faces make up for the poor sound and short set. However, the stage manager points out a dozen men dressed in military Black Ops uniform and urgently insists we leave. As we walk out we greet fans eager to snap selfies but our stagehand makes further insistences to hurry up. At this point I’’m liable to take his advice. Once we arrive he says, “Thank you very much for show, now you must get in car, go to hotel and stay there.””
I acknowledge that what went down was minor in comparison to what people living there go through. Having seen first-hand the level of pressure applied to a population for something like an outdoor concert has given me some small insight into what some people have to tolerate just to get by. In the face of all of this, the eagerness shown by the Muscovite youth to simply party and show joy in the face of authority was a hugely empowering experience.
 myele live nzm156

July 12 – The Barbican, London

This is the ‘flagship’ concert of our tour. The Barbican, located in City of London, is Europe’’s largest multi-arts and conference venue. It has hosted some of the world’’s greatest musicians and is home to the London Symphony Orchestra. Theo managed to sell the place out within a week, so anticipation, both within the band and amongst the London music cognoscenti is high. We know of several critics coming to the concert so an off night is out of the question. Tonight is also significant for me as my mum came all the way from NZ to see this concert, and it’’s her first time overseas for 27 years. Needless to say, I want to make her proud.
The venue is a seated concert hall but after two songs the audience spontaneously erupts out of their seats, which drives the band and dancers to further heights. The rest of the night is kind of an ongoing energy exchange of the highest order between the three parties. I’’ve learned a lot about music by working with the dancers in this group. Becoming a foundation for them to spring from and letting their movements and energy guide me, and seeing how the changes in my rhythms affect what they do. Like jazz interaction with a more physical response. Having to keep things dance-friendly helped ground my playing and solidify my pocket, while finding nuanced ways to play the drummer-as-conductor role.
The vibe after the show is merry and congratulatory. I’’m not much for talk of destiny, but I felt a sense that all the work I had done previously was preparation for that concert. The prestige of the venue, combined with the appreciative audience and onstage chemistry of the band made it one of the most memorable concerts I’’ve performed to date.

July 19 – Dour Festival, Belgium

Belgium’’s Dour Festival is one of the biggest in Europe and the biggest audience of our tour. 12,000-plus fans came through for our set. When I arrive I can hear Cypress Hill launching into I Ain’’t Going Out Like That, and an audience going crazy.
Aside from being a great show at a great festival, I notice an interesting camaraderie going on with the tour bus drivers. They all seemed to be familiar with each other and hang out in groups, discussing tour plans, sharing stories of their hectic schedules, bus maintenance, the best European rest stops and temperaments of the artists they drive. It was novel to watch. It felt like a secret society that one could only be initiated in that, politely, kept their backs turned to other crew and musicians.
A further run of dates in the UK and Ireland follow, and then it’’s back home. There’’s been a lot, both musically and otherwise, that I can take away from this experience but the musical mentors and friendships that I’’ve made are by far the most valuable.