ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT AFROPUNK
In an epic showing of ingenuity and fearless imagination, Ghanaian wordsmith Manifests’ latest video takes a shot at industry standards. Featuring Africa’s greatest professional boxing champion in history, Azumah Nelson himself, and a clip from Ricky Rick’s ballsy and controversial Metro FM acceptance speech, he battles the widely held belief that measures of poetry and punches are the only real contributions African people can hope to take in order to measure up in the world -- stressing that elegance and care in your craft should surpass any popularity contest. Challenging us to consider our own standards of greatness, M.dot once again tells it like it is. Catch the lyrics over at Genius, and “enter his views” in my interview with the as yet undefeated lyrical savage below.
We know that Azumah Nelson is undoubtedly the greatest African boxer of all time. How did it come about that you would work with him on this video?
It was really one of those wild ideas that flash through you mind, seemingly unattainable, but you want to pursue anyway. Thankfully Ghana is a small big place and my manager somehow managed (no pun intended) to get Azumah's manager’s number. I made the call and pitched the idea despite the sea of doubt that an iconic figure like that would care to cameo in a music video. I still didn't believe it would actually happen till he showed up on set. I got extremely lucky is the summary; the gods in my village were working over time.
How would you describe the feeling of standing next to this legend, having grown up seeing people like Azumah conquer the barriers that often stand in the way of success?
I was definitely tongue tied for a healthy 5 to 10 minutes. Azumah is a national treasure and a part of many of our childhoods. The entire nation would be up at 3am (thanks to time difference) watching an Azumah fight. He had the most epic post fight interviews where he would tell the truth about mistreatment, about how badass he was, and of course how much he represented for Ghana and Africa. So to actually stand next to him years later was nothing short of surreal.
You speak about “quality or popularity.” Tell us a bit more about what brought on the concept for this track, and why you chose Ricky Rick’s speech for the outro.
The idea for the song was to hold no punches (like Azumah) and make a bold statement about aspiring for excellence rather than settling for hype, awards, and other things we seem to prioritize over the work itself. The "chale man tire" refrain was to express my exasperation with the status quo. It’s about defying the odds and being great, as illustrated by Azumah’s speech in the beginning. Finally it was to encourage and embolden the DIY creative that’s the underdog. I stumbled upon that Ricky award speech and I dug how he spoke to underground artists to bypass the gatekeepers and build a following. It all seemed to fit the ethos of the song; you have the tools, do it yourself, defy the status quo, and aspire more to be great than to be recognized.
Sport and entertainment are considered the only ways in which African people can “make it” in the world, and make it out of extreme poverty in a lot of narratives. What are your thoughts about this belief?
I don’t think this is the prevailing narrative to be honest. Our heroes have always been across a very broad spectrum. Nelson Mandela and Lucky Dube can be revered in the same mind, just as Chimamanda, Drogba, and Wizkid in modern times. Even on the more micro level it can be argued that folks usually look at the career path of the person in their town or village who made it and aspire to mirror that. On the more sinister side I actually believe politics is what a lot of Africans believe is the shortcut to solving all financial woes. I do understand though that the point can certainly be made that in cases of extreme poverty, where formal education might be in short supply, entertainment and sports might be very attractive to the marginalized because the perceived barriers to entry are fewer.
France has just won the world cup for soccer, with the majority of people of African descent representing. Tell us a bit more about “going where the love is,” in order to thrive as Africans while still embracing our own authenticities.
Life is too short to bark up the wrong tree. Go where the love is. Live your purpose without fear or unnecessary compromise. This is one of the mantras I try to live by. Jimi Hendrix went to London, Fela came to Ghana, El Anatsui went to Nigeria, and so on and so forth. On the soccer side…I think it’s important to note that the players are of African descent but still French. It’s beautiful that they’re disturbing neatly packaged ideas of identity and belonging. You can be African and French and not be ashamed of either. That's the beauty of modernity. The French players of African descent are a result of history, a history they are now defying.