Mannywellz, a Maryland-based musician, combines melody, raps, syncopation, structured chord progressions, and hip-hop beats to produce songs that draw inspiration from pop, soul, rap, and his home West Africa. After showcasing his nuanced style on the 2014 EP WellZ, he released his debut album, SoulFro, in 2017. He followed it up with equally diverse releases, such as the Unwanted EP from 2022 and the Mirage EP from 2020.
The son of Nigerian gospel musician Kunle Ajomale, Emmanuel Ajomale was born and raised in Nigeria before moving to Bowie, Maryland when he was nine years old. He finally signed with House Studios, which released his debut EP, WellZ, in 2014. He is a multi-instrumentalist. The full-length SoulFro, which was named after his phrase for his distinct sound, was released on the label in 2017. Mannywellz and Jidenna, a Nigerian-American rapper and vocalist, embarked on a U.S. tour that same year.
In late 2019, he released his three-track EP META, coinciding with his appearance on the Wale single “Love & Loyalty.” “Floating,” a different collaboration with VanJess, was featured on Mannywellz’s second album, Mirage, which was released in the middle of 2020. He released the stand-alone singles “Di Do/No Closure” and “Someone Else” with Yinka in 2021 and 2022, respectively, before releasing another EP, Unwanted. Journalist Morelys Urbano had a spoken word cameo on “Ready or Not.”
|January 25, 1994 (age 29)
Where is Manny Wellz from?
Mannywellz, who was born in Nigeria, immigrated to the US with his mother and brothers in 2003 when he was just nine years old.
The Nigerian-Born Artist Talks New Music
In an interview with GRAMMY.com, Mannywellz discusses his upcoming new music, working with fellow Nigerian musicians like Wale and VanJess, the significance of “Oulala,” and how the pandemic is affecting him.
Love, peace, and hope. Although it may sound cliche, there isn’t much more we could need in the modern world. And with his fusion of R&B, hip-hop, and West African inspirations, DMV-based artist, producer, and musician Mannywellz (née Emmanuel Ajomale) brings it to the creative table—he refers to it as “music from the soul.”
So, things are a bit different for artists right now—actually, for everyone. How are you hanging in there with everything going on?
The majority of the time, I’m doing fine. The hardest month of the quarantine, in my opinion, was probably the last one since I was always at home and had to deal with everything that was going on in the media, including what happened to George Floyd. I didn’t create for the entire month of last month. I attended the demonstrations, and now I’m just learning and investigating. To be honest, I suppose I couldn’t make it. However, both this month and the months before June have been excellent. spiritually, mentally, and physically, among other things. I’m feeling well.
Do you feel like everything that’s happening currently is spurring some new ideas in terms of music?
Yes and no in terms of music. I was just kind of jotting down a couple of things and my ideas and things like that; I haven’t recorded anything. It inspired me and helped me understand that I was meant for more.
I’d love to start by turning the clock back a bit and just asking how you got into music. What inspired you to start making music?
Almost every member of my family is involved in music. Since my dad is a musician as well, I grew up seeing him play and eventually joining him for a few shows here and there. In addition, my cousin Raps is in Nigeria. My siblings can sing well. Even though none of us are particularly interested in music, we may not wish to pursue a profession in it. I was exposed to music growing up. I was essentially raised in it.
Do you have any favorite artists?
Asa is my favorite artist. She seems to be based in France, although I can’t recall the exact year. When I was a bit younger, I just started crying after hearing one song. It was then that I understood the immense power of music. There must be some sort of force in a song or melody that can bring you to tears.
For sure, sometimes it’s the lyrics or sometimes it’s just their voice that moves you to tears. What would you say it is about Asa that drew you in?
It has elements of every item. Her lyrics, word choice, tone, voice, and words all have a lot of power. Many of her songs are quite similar to mine in that they discuss various topics and express her emotions. From relationships with parents or God to love and societal injustice and other things of that nature. I believe that the reason I was able to relate to her viewpoint so much was that I believe we have similar opinions.
Speaking of your point of view, one song I’d love to touch on is “American Dream.” One line that stuck out to me is: “If it’s my way, I’ll tell her no way.” How did you feel when your mom told you you were moving to the United States?
So, before that, we had been attempting to travel to the United States. We attempted and were refused since my dad was present. I was young and simply wanted to play, so after a while, I just got bored of trying. I didn’t even care that much. I was therefore secretly thinking, “Oh, cool, I don’t care,” when she told me. I no longer even want to go.” It is for this reason that I picked those words; given the option, I would have most likely stayed. However, I’m appreciative of my life’s adventure.
From your perspective, how would you describe the American Dream before you got here, and what it means to you now?
We were informed that America was kind of perfect before I came here. Although there is indeed a land full of milk and honey, not everyone is afforded the same possibilities due to factors such as race and class. Though I suppose those issues exist elsewhere, they weren’t included in the bundle that was being offered to foreign customers outside of the US.
Several years later, in 2003, you found out you were accepted as a DACA recipient. How has that changed your life?
It was wonderful to get approved as a DACA participant. It gave me a lot of career-related opportunities. It has made things easier for those who are trying to further their education and feel a little safer. On the other hand, there is no way to become a citizen. The cost to renew your DACA status increases every year, and I recently learned that the renewal period has been shortened to 12 months, which makes me feel like we’re being bought off.
This is absurd since it means you have to pay more than $650 annually to simply be able to remain in the nation. I’ve heard the DHS is still turning away new DACA applicants, which is absurd, despite the Supreme Court’s decision to reject Trump’s intentions. Being a DACA recipient is something I’m thankful for, but it presents challenges of its own as we work to place participants while establishing a route to citizenship.
We’re in an election year. What changes would you hope to see for immigrants, specifically for immigrant children?
a route to naturalization. Undocumented immigrants should be included in the plan, which also aims to protect us and give us a sense of welcome in this nation, which is home to many of us. I’ve been here since I was nine years old, and even though I’m 26 years old and deeply proud to be Nigerian, I haven’t returned to my home country. Instead, I’ve been here for the past 17 to 18 years. All I can hope for is that the incoming administration takes us into account.
You touched on being in touch with your Nigerian roots, and I hear that a lot in your music. You go from R&B to hip-hop and there are West African influences, too. Is that intentional or does it happen naturally?
I would argue that it’s both; sometimes it just occurs organically. My tone and vocals naturally sound African or Nigerian when I sing, and occasionally my accent even shows through when I speak. I wanted to make a sound that was inclusive of both worlds since I’m exposed to Afro-Afro, or Nigerian-Afro, music, so at first it was pretty intentional. However, I’m also exposed to hip-hop, from big names like 50 Cent and Beyoncé to Jay-Z.
I’ve always been curious about what it would be like to produce a sound that heavily combines many genres. We’re heavy on the R&B, soul, and Afro combo right now, but as time goes on, I want to expand it to include maybe some rock, some country, some funk, and other stuff.
Your music also just feels really good.
Yes, that is a deliberate move. In addition, I’m just a happy-go-lucky, somewhat foolish person by nature. I therefore constantly want to make sure that the audience senses that. I also want kids to understand how I feel when I’m depressed. I want them to feel whatever it is that I’m feeling at the time.
The 2018 EP you came out with, SoulFro, what’s the meaning behind the name of the EP?
Hence, SoulFro, or “from the soul.” R&B, soul, hip-hop, jazz, rock, and trap hip-hop are some of the other genres that it kind of just kind of flows through. Similar to soul music with Afro influences that transcend all genres.
You’ve got an upcoming album, Mirage. When does that come out and will we hear the same influences?
that is released in September, but this project seems to be more concentrated on the R&B, soul, and Afro sounds.
And you just filmed a music video for the single, “Floating.”
Yes, exactly. We intend to launch that within the next two weeks. The song becomes available on Friday, July 31st. And after that, we ought to release the music video for it in two weeks.
What can we expect to hear on “Floating”?
Oh my goodness, I think you should be prepared for something funky, soulful, and groovy that will make you want to dance a little. To move to this tune, you don’t need to dance too much or even know how to dance. It stars VanJess, an American pair of Nigerian descent. They’re wonderful and exactly like the homies as well.
You’ve also collaborated on the song “Love and Loyalty” with Wale. How do these collaborations come about?
We just started talking when Wale messaged me on Instagram to say he was a fan of my work and wanted to collaborate. After exchanging ideas, I said, “Hey, I’m coming out to L.A. next week,” and we got together in the studio to start writing music. After returning to the DMV, we would reconnect. We thus make an effort to connect whenever we are in the same city.
How involved were you with creating “Love and Loyalty”?
I didn’t produce this song; Sango was the producer. Apart from that, though, I was fully involved in composing the hook, putting it down, doing my bit, and working with Wale to ensure the hook truly made an impression. We therefore generated one or two concepts and discussed and revised them back and forth. We didn’t touch or tweak the beat much because it was such a great team effort and extremely sick rhythm.
Who gon tell em?
Before COVID, you went on tour throughout the U.S. with Jidenna. Was that your first experience on a U.S. tour?
Yes, without a doubt. I had done a very modest college tour before that, nothing spectacular. However, that was my first formal tour. Before COVID earlier this year, we conducted my headline tour, which was also really awesome.
How do you like performing live? Your shows sound so energetic and like you’ve got a great connection with the audience. Did that come naturally?
I would like to say that it just happened since I grew up observing my dad perform and analyzing the works of the greats. Five years ago, I wasn’t quite as talented, but over time, I just grew more at ease performing on stage and now I truly love it.
I’ve heard that at your live shows, you sometimes have the crowd say “Oulala”? And you also have a clothing brand called Oulala. What’s the meaning behind that phrase?
We gave Oulala the meaning of “happy to be alive”. And that happened when I started recording SoulFro in 2016—I believe this was pre-tour. My younger brothers and I came up with Oulala while I was thinking to myself, “I think we need a tag,” during a conversation. However, I was unaware of how significant and vital Oulala would be to me as well as how important I believe it is to other people. It simply sort of got to the point where some people say things like “Yeah, Oulala!” even though they might not even remember my name. Since what I do ultimately matters more than Mannywellz, I’ll take that any day. The goal is to make a positive impact on the planet.
You’ve said that your mission in life is bigger than music, but music is the starting point. What is your mission in life?
It is part of my purpose to genuinely carry out God’s work. to share the gospel and raise awareness of Jesus. in whatever way I can, whether directly or indirectly—creatively, through design, music, or any other endeavor I wish to pursue. and carry out my regular activities. I say it’s bigger than me because, even when I’m not singing, I’m still the highest of God’s servants. I have to conduct my life by what He wants me to do and what He has prepared for me.
Apple music said its up. Waiting on Spotify
What does your family think of your chosen career in music?
They adore it. They seem grateful today, in my opinion, and I believe that my choice to make that choice inspired them as well. For as long as I can remember, I’ve just found a way to complete any task I set out to achieve. I’m a naturally curious individual. I enjoy posing queries. I just want to be certain of something, even if I already know it. They are therefore very encouraging. I’m simply incredibly grateful that people purchase merchandise, show tickets, and don’t ask for freebies because they want to see this go to a higher level. They are the first to hear and comment on any new music I make.
You’ve also talked about challenging cultural norms through music. Can you talk about that?
Although it’s a broad subject, I find toxic masculinity to be quite fascinating. Men don’t do this or that, they don’t cry, and they don’t wear pink. It seems like women don’t do this or that, and the question is, why? And yes, I am aware that God made some things that men and women are better at than others, but there are also some things that we can both do. For example, the WNBA shouldn’t be paid less. They receive very little compensation at all. similar things.
I just never see why that is the case. And even though I’m a Nigerian man, I constantly want to shatter it. How to be a good wife and respect your wife. I genuinely want to adhere to what the Bible teaches since Jesus truly defied all societal norms and cultural conventions. It’s clear from a close examination of His life that this was His purpose. What I want to do is whatever Jesus did.
I also want to touch on the album you were on, American Dreamers: Voices of Hope, and Music of Freedom. What was it like finding out it was nominated for and won a GRAMMY?
That was very impressive. To be honest, I had really low expectations for that project. I was immediately sold when Steven Weber got in touch with me, introduced himself, and said that he and his team were working on a project that would involve DACA recipients. I then showed it to my group, and we immediately started recording some voices and some instrumentation.
I honestly didn’t anticipate anything out of it, but a year later, I heard that it was about to be nominated, and then I arrived in L.A. right around the GRAMMYs and learned that it won. Sometimes, it is the beauty of life. While pursuing certain goals is admirable, other things simply come to pass when we act morally. At the time, I felt that doing the work and being obedient was the correct thing to do.
Lastly, I know you participated in the DACA march in 2018. How will activism continue to play a role in your music and your life in general?
I can’t seem to stop talking about it when something doesn’t seem right, therefore I think it will continue to be very important. And since I think having that problem is a positive thing, I believe it will always be a part of who I am, both inside and outside of the music industry. If anything isn’t right, I want to know why it isn’t right or why it is occurring. I’m all for the cause if I can contribute to fixing it. In the unlikely event that I’m not, I’m rather certain I may know someone who can.