The son of a Congolese master percussionist and born and raised in New Zealand listening to hip hop, jazz and dance music Myele Manzaza brings an eclectic style and diverse skill to his craft, creating a genre bending experience rooted in jazz and african rhythm. He is powerful drummer, a composer with vision and a producer not afraid to experiment. He’s also a Wellingtonian.
I first met Myele when I was organising Soap For Society in 2018. Myele was, at that time, working for Phantom Billstickers. Apart from ensuring ‘mates rates’ for this good cause, he was an absolute joy to work with. Curious, kind and thoughtful, Myele is someone you can’t forget if you’ve ever met him – or heard him play. I was thrilled to re-connect with Myele and find out more about his decision to quit his day-job to go full time on his music, latest album ‘A Love Requited’ and his upcoming New Zealand tour.
Myele was born in Dunedin at Queen Mary’s Hospital but his family moved to Wellington when he was young “…so I consider myself a Wellingtonian” he says over a beer at the Third Eye Brewery in Wellington. Like many residents of Wellington, Myele studied at Wellington High School. He excelled at journalism and music studies. “Journalism was my strongest paper. I’d have studied journalism at university, had it not been for my passion for music” he explains.
His father, Sam Manzanza is musician who popularised African music in Wellington. “Growing up at our home in Brooklyn, music was a big part of life, but it was something I never was forced to do” he says. “I’d play for fun with Dad. Gradually I started to play percussion properly when I was around 14.”
In sixth form Myele went to Tauranga to compete in a school national jazz festival and got a sharp awakening. “I didn’t take music very seriously up until I was 16 and I went to that festival. Even though I thought I was a pretty hot-shit drummer, it made me aware of who my competition was. I knew that if I wanted to get into the School of Music, I needed to knuckle down and work harder” he says. It paid off. “I received a scholarship to the New Zealand School of Music and studied my degree in jazz” he says.
After leaving school, Myele began to play gigs around the city. As university finished, a band he was a founding member of, Electric Wire Hustle, began to take off. “We produced an album and toured Europe and Australia” he explains. “It was an exciting time and imade me committed to being a performing artist.”
Myele thinks that Wellington punches well above its weight per capita. “All musicians in Wellington have to collaborate together because it’s a small city. The upside? I got to play with members of Trinity Roots and Fat Freddy’s Drop from a young age. It’s a melting pot of ideas and musicianship which ultimately creates a ‘Wellington sound’. In some other cities, the music scenes can be much more silo’ed, with the hip-hop in one area and rock bands in another. You can’t do that with Wellington”
There are challenges though to being a musician here: “It’s very far away from almost anywhere else. You do need to leave to make the most of what you learn” Myele says. “Musicians have to tour to reach a wider audience.”
In his mid-twenties Myele supported his music by playing shows, teaching students and a job working for Phantom Billstickers. “Phantom did a lot for me. At first I started just taking flyers around and then that lead into a sales role and a managers role. I learnt about the business side of music more through working that job. It was great and I’m a client now” Myele explains, laughing.
Myele only recently resigned from his day job at Phantom Billstickers in January, a decision which he made based on a desire to embrace life fully and to focus on his album. “I chose to leave because I personally wanted to go after a creatively fulfilling life wholeheartedly. I realised that I needed to take responsibility for that life. I needed to stop expecting my musical dreams to be handed to me and instead I needed to have faith in my own abilities and take that leap”.
Myele’s album, ‘A Love Requited’ is his third studio solo album and is entirely self-composed. “For this album, I wanted to take stock of my life – my relationships, my career, my choices – why I decided to be a musician. Creating music and composing is a way to deal with my questions about who I am.”
His music is chaotic, improvised and yet well measured. “I want people to feel excited and optimistic, to come away with the energy and love we pour into our music” Myele says.
Personal stories are at its heart - although Myele was tempted to go down a different path. “The album could have been an expressly political album but I knew that I wanted to create a tight focus on my internal reflections to ground my vision and make what I hope is my best work yet”
By focusing on his own personal narrative, Myele feels like he’s tapped into universal experiences. “We all deal with heartbreak, we all deal with grief – it’s all just part of the human condition. Telling our own story can unit people and creating a positive piece of art.”
See Myele Play His NZ Tour