Ghanaian hip-hop sensation M.anifest (Kwame Ametepee Tsikata) released Madina to the Universe: The E.P.Ilogue late last year in continuation of his acclaimed 2021 album Madina to the Universe. Grandson to leading ethnomusicologist and composer Professor J.H. Nketia, Tsikata grew up surrounded by music. The introduction of reggae and hip hop, popular in his neighborhood (Madina), helped shape the artist's innovative musical voice.
Tsikata's reach extends well beyond Ghana, with significant fan bases across Africa, Europe, and the United States. He alters global perception of African music not only in English, but also in Twi and Pidgin English and collaborates with the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Erykah Badu, and Burna Boy. Madina to the Universe: The E.P.Ilogue takes listeners straight to the rapper's hometown, flowing seamlessly with the preceding album. Opening track "GPS" recaps the M.anifest story so far. After years of hard work, he has "(come) a long way", both as a performer and as a creator. "Too Bad" is a fan favorite and an ode to Tsikata's roots, from its catchy flute motif to its modern rap beat. We spoke with Tsikata about influences and Madina to the Universe: The E.P.Ilogue.
Tell us how you became involved in music.
It's always a tricky question. Consciously, I was in high school when I started, but the subconscious was that I grew up with my grandfather who was a composer. I grew up in a home of music without realizing how much it was influencing me… even two decades later. When I was a teenager I just wanted to take a peek into the world as a creator, even though I was always fascinated by creativity and music.
How did you get into rap music specifically?
I used to play in the neighborhood. When I grew up in Madina, Reggae was the first thing I heard. In hip hop, we had artists like Mad Lion and KRS-One. I think it was these crossbreeds of dancing and hip hop that really got us into music.
Who are your biggest musical influences now?
Whew, that's a wild question. I think for the last decade of my life there are always people who have just been larger than life. You know what I mean? Whether it's Lauryn Hill or Nas, there are people that are more than timeless. It’s almost an understatement to describe them that way. They shift stuff and keep it fresh.
Share about your experience on tour.
That was so cool. Coming back and performing after COVID and releasing a record was just crazy. I was so grateful because at one point in the middle of 2020, everybody was faced with so much uncertainty and we didn’t know if we’d be able to do this again. It felt like a restoration… I also loved London, and Berlin and New York were dope.
Is there anything about being on tour that people might find surprising?
The number of moving parts involved in organizing a tour is unbelievable. The number of adjustments we had to make is actually insane (and sometimes not very pretty), especially when you’re crossing borders into different countries and continents. You have to think of everything: who has visas, who can travel, how to get instruments to places–the list goes on.
I think this happened during the summer leg when I was supposed to begin out in Berlin. We were at the airport and they told us that something hit the plane’s engine and it couldn’t fly. The airline booked us for the next day, but when we got there, the flight was full! All this time, I was missing rehearsals in London and I still didn’t have a way to get there or to Berlin! Finally, I flew all the way through Nairobi, which was probably the longest route possible. The first time I was rehearsing with the band ended up being remotely, so we were hearing weird internet noises and there was a lag. When we finally got together in person, it was at sound check for our first Berlin show. It ended up being a great set anyways.
"I flew all the way through Nairobi, which was probably the longest route possible... When we finally got together in person, it was at sound check for our first Berlin show."
What is the most difficult part of being on tour?
Not wanting it to end. Once you come back to doing that, you feel like you want to keep going forever. It’s just very invigorating to be able to play music live. It really informs everything from how you’re doing now to what your future music sounds like.
Share a little bit about your 2021 album Madina to the Universe.
The album was born when we were all inside. It felt like it was long overdue because it speaks to my origins and the neighborhood I grew up in (Madina, Ghana). Being able to look at the past in order to move forward, as well as to make a global footprint felt necessary. It’s both a reflection of myself and a statement of my ambition. I enjoyed making it and for me, it represents adding another layer to my offerings.
What was the most rewarding part of the project?
I think the most rewarding part of the album was that I was able to switch up my process. I went back to my very first process, which is being in my house and doing the bare bones writing and recording at my dining table. It was very rewarding to go back to the most basic approach before doing any kind of post-production in the studio. I had almost forgotten how it felt to start with the bare minimum for an idea and build it up into a crazy journey.
"I went back to my very first process, which is being in my house and doing the bare bones writing and recording at my dining table."
How did you come up with the storyline?
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make things cohesive, both sonically and content-wise. There needs to be something that makes listening to an album really interesting, like going on a journey. I made sure to weave the songs’ meanings into each other. It’s a bit of an obsession with how to make something cohesive and well-sequenced for a while and then coming up with a concept that you stick with.
Do you have a favorite song on the LP?
Today I’m feeling like “Game Over” is my favorite. It was one of the easiest songs to make and sometimes it’s those easily flowing songs that just live with you and have a certain resonance. I spent a ton of time on all those other songs, too, but this one is just a hidden gem.
Tell us about Madina to the Universe: The E.P.Ilogue, which is a continuation of the original album.
I started out trying to make a deluxe of the album, but that felt terribly boring. So… I decided to go for a continuation, which was an epilogue playing on the idea of an EP. I had a lot of fun doing it because I was thinking up new ways of extending my original idea. If Madina was a big story or journey, then this EP was book two. I just thought, “why the hell not?”
What was the very first step you took for this EP?
The first part of the E.P.Ilogue was creating the song “GPS”. That put me in the mode of actually wanting to make the whole thing happen. It opened the creative floodgate for me.
What is your favorite song on this release?
“Times Square”. It’s the last song and it’s one of the most innovative sonically. It’s very soulful and groovy, and I think it’ll live the longest.
If you could go back in time to when you were starting out in music, what is one piece of advice you would give yourself?
I would tell myself to trust my instincts more and to seize control in very critical times. I think we are always trying to find a balance when letting others work with us to not seem like we’re micromanaging, but sometimes you have to trust your gut.
"I would tell myself to trust my instincts more and to seize control in very critical times."
What’s next for M.anifest?
I’m ready to move on to another chapter. The epilogue, as the name suggests, is how I wanted to close this one out. I’m leaving Madina on a high note and I’ve started working on a new project. I have all these ideas flying around and I’ve been recording my next journey.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you?
Yeah… how hot it is in Ghana right now! I’m kidding, I think we covered most of it. I want people to listen to more Ghanaian music and if nothing else, I hope that you read this interview and listen to my music. If you enjoy what you hear, it might be a sign for you to check out more artists in Ghana. There are some dope people here.