I first wrote about Lungelo Manzi when I had my first official music writing gig with the African Hip Hop Blog many moons ago. His previous work - a string of EPs fusing R&B, alternative hip hop and neo-soul - touched on all kinds of topics from psychosis and creative block to personal development and love. I particularly love his fusion of rapping and singing and his subject matter spoke to me deeply. His music has since soundtracked quite a few moments of my life and watching his growth over the years has been a joy. It was a pleasure to speak to him for the first time ever on a deceptively chilly July afternoon. I wrapped myself in an old sweater, ready for a long overdue conversation. This is how it went:
This story could start for any reason, at any time and in any place. But like adulthood itself it’s hard to determine exactly why, when and where it all actually begins. On Adulting Anonymous, Lungelo Manzi makes a gripping attempt at that determination through a series of self-assessments that ask the listener to make their own considerations simultaneously. This is learning and unlearning craftily disguised as Neo-Soul, R&B and Hip Hop-tinged bops about love, growth, loss and acceptance. In an affliction suffered by most grown-ups, the conversation with the Durban-born artist begins with note exchanges around work.
Lungelo: “Advertising is really A&R’ing for brands. I feel like I’m writing songs for brands in a way - they ask me for concept proposals, and it’s much like collaborative work to create a message. That messaging is really what connects the two worlds. On the one hand, the messaging is on behalf of someone else and their identity and in music, it’s just me and what I believe in.”
That parallel is strikingly profound and also situates us at the start of an article tentatively titled ‘The Making Of Adulting Anonymous’. Instead, the conversation begins to resemble group therapy; note-exchanges on life. What follows is a transcript of that session - one centred around being and becoming, perhaps better thought of as ‘The Makings Of Manzi’.
“Losing events that were starting to pay me as a musician ‘cause of the pandemic going into 2021, studying courses relating to digital marketing, landing up on a random tweet promoting a learnership at Red & Yellow, completing that for a year, doing an internship with an agency that then took me on full time and allowed me to move to Joburg. I think that process - the music was created out of that: where I was, who I was dating and just making it out of there. It definitely shifted things for me!”
Mayuyuka : Is the notion of a shift just in ageing, growing or changing geographical location? Or does it resemble how you’d like to present yourself to the world?
“I had this dilemma of being known as a rapper and a singer, people either knowing me as one or the other but never really marrying the two. I have these thoughts… these stories and I wanted to release them. I wanted the album to be a place where people could find more access. I was in a position of trying to better myself as a person. I needed to create a place for progression and also to include people, and adulting felt like the right vehicle because I can be as descriptive as I want, but you know that underneath the umbrella of adulting you can put your own images to that.”
Speaking of imagery, the project’s cover art seems pretty unassuming but has more layers than it lets on…
“My artworks had been building up this idea of ‘from water to land’, which is essentially Manzi as a concept - landing ashore then becoming this version of himself on land and actualising as a person. I had a friend, Ella, and we reconnected when I was in Jozi because we were in the same city again. She also had periods where she was confronting her mental health and checked herself into a health centre. In that process, they were told to paint and did sessions of these regularly.
I’d seen the artwork before she’d told me this story and I liked the piece. It was more something for home, ‘cause now I finally had my own space, and I’d never had that! As I was hearing the story I was like ‘Can I just use this ‘cause it feels like my story when I’d first established it’. It was about creating a connection for us to mutually join our life experiences. I thought it was a great connection to both honour someone else processing their own emotions through art - in an album processing emotions from my own perspective.”
How does Adulting Anonymous treat the idea of mapping your own experiences onto a different picture or superimposing similar journeys atop each other, and what adult priorities did you have to balance?
“Adulting Anonymous" is a songwriter’s album but includes people in my world in a way that we can relate. So I’m getting better, but what if there were a support group for adulting? What would that look like? Maybe it doesn’t need me to be there with you, but this music can sit there with you. In my life, the major things were getting income, being the kind of partner to the people I’m dating that could be contributing to that relationship and also finding a career path outside of music.”
Where has this search for a path led you geographically and how has each place imprinted itself on your artistic output?
“In ten years, I’ve lived in three cities! Up until 18 I was in Durban and at that time in about 2011, it was WTF “Nomusa” season. I don’t identify with that sound at the time and I’m thinking Dirty Paraffin and what they’re cooking up. Then I moved to Cape Town, and that really defined me as a person. From 2012 to 2015 there were spots like Pig & Swizzle, Zula and Tagore’s - I got to see an early YoungstaCPT perform, Uno July and Lemo Tsipa was pushing in the early acting days.
I was in a group then and just figuring out what being an artist meant. I came back to Durban with that bank of knowledge and experiences. That settled into ‘What’s your story?’. Your frame of mind changes - Cape Town taught me to be open-minded in my concepts, Durban taught me to be true to what I want to say and Jozi is kinda teaching me to package and present that product.”
What’s your notion of life’s teachings and the process of learning?
“Not to be too astrological about it, but we’re all in this Saturn return. We’re going back to the loops we’ve made going around the merry-go-round, as a teen, young adult and now into this fully-formed adult version of ourselves. It’s like ‘Okay, I see’ and if you don’t make a choice now, you start becoming your habits.”
You seem hyper-conscious about the energy you absorb, the frequencies you exude and the people you engage with…
“In my engagement with people, I see people fixated on things. Some people have made their whole identities these things that we have to chase and others have not. I tend to look for those that are hunting, searching and truth seeking because they tend to have the most interesting sets of perspectives, and that’s the tribe I want to encourage with this album.”
After getting into the mind of Lungelo Manzi and getting some context around his debut album Adulting Anonymous, this final section of our conversation zooms into the music and fleshes out some of the core ideas expressed in our overarching first session.
Though it draws from his personal experiences and journey through adolescence, Adulting Anonymous is framed by Lungelo Manzi as a collaborative process both in its conception and execution. “I come from a gospel background and love telling stories,” he shares. “Songwriting will always keep me in that space, but I always have to be in collaboration with others.” With contributions from Veenus, Lisa Mbali, Lia Butler, Eldene Bruiners and Nu Edison, that penchant for co-creation is palpable across the 13-track offering. This interactivity functions on three distinct planes - highlighting the relationship between Manzi and his fellow artists, audience and songs.
Take the companion stories of “DUBB” and “ELLE,” which cleverly juxtaposes taking a ‘W’ or an ‘L’. “At every point, with every song - I’ve lived through it,” Manzi says. “‘DUBB’ is the first song that came about and is a more common moment than others. I love meeting people and creating personal connections. It’s where, spiritually, I’m given the messaging to create the music. So “DUBB” was just me navigating that ‘cause I was meeting interesting people but was in a relationship at the time.”
As if to underscore the point of forming parallels between separate entities, the making of “ELLE” also owes its conceptualisation to similarities that caught Manzi’s ear. “Dave Audinary and I knew each other from church and reconnected,” the Durbanite reveals. “When I heard the “ELLE” beat guitar sample, I was like, ‘No man, this sounds like a song I know!’. I thought it would be interesting if I wrote a song that was kind of a remix so this was an L ‘cause I’d just broken up with the person I was seeing.” Deriving a feeling of contentment by exploring duality, Manzi’s fixation on “the light and the shade” is centred around acknowledging both the deepest and most shallow frequencies related to personal interactions.
In his typically analogous manner, the rapper and singer contextualises this approach. “I see music as a clock,” he muses. “There’s the 6 pm to 2 am music and… well, I’m just trying to fill in the dots to balance that.” Fittingly, the song “Balance” is perhaps the project’s most poised, bolstered by Lisa Mbali’s vocal performance. “‘Balance’ is probably the realest song,” Manzi exclaims. “I’d just moved to Joburg and every month I was barely making it by. But alongside that feeling there’s such an intense amount of relief growing in me ‘cause for the first time I have my own space, have peace of mind and could think.”
The function the song performs, between its gripping harmonies, is the establishment of place - not preoccupied with the direction of our protagonist, but marking the reaching of a checkpoint. “It’s got that gospel feel to it, and the lyrics are so encouraging in the sense that it’s me acknowledging what I have to do, like, ‘Hey dude, you can make it through here!” The theme of perseverance is further expanded on “Uzophumelela,” this time graced by Veenus. “‘Uzophumelela’ is about perseverance in two contexts,” Manzi shares. “In more of a personal context of what my mental drive has to be in understanding that I have work to do internally. I also live in a country that has work to do as far as governance goes. My music has always had social commentary in it because we know how to define our joy, but sometimes we struggle defining our hardship.”
It’s at this moment Manzi’s idea of consideration extends to a dual application of consciousness, in terms of the self and the society. Not only does Adulting Anonymous encourage inner reflection, but also reminds us how art should reflect the times. “It links back to “Balance” where I’m asking ‘Who do we vote for?’” he says. “It all affects you physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.” That viewpoint perfectly encapsulates the ethos of this project by drawing out the symbiotic nature of all things in (adult) life. Thankfully, maintaining an equilibrium across the album, Manzi smoothly concocts healing balms with reflections on the transformative nature of love (“Safe Space”, “Rhythm With You”, “Delicate”).
“I’m finally understanding the harmony I can add to music to bring out the colour in it,” Manzi concludes. “When I speak about love, it’s very personal. I take you into it because it’s such warm energy and helps us move from selfish to selfless.”
*This piece has been edited for clarity.
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