Surreal: ‘Time Flies’ for Manana while winning a Grammy

Singer-songwriter Manana chats to Eyewitness News about his journey to winning a Grammy and the impact of COVID-19 on musicians.

Grammy-winner singer-songwriter Manana. Picture: Abongwe Booi

JOHANNESBURG – When Nigeria’s Burna Boy’s album Twice as Tall came out tops in the best global music album category at the 63rd Grammy Awards, little did singer-songwriter Manana know that this win would also be a life-changing moment for him.

He walked away with a Grammy for his contribution on a song on the album titled Time Flies featuring Sauti Sol.

Manana told Eyewitness News how the project came about.

“So a few years back Sauti Sol were in South Africa working for music for their album. They were looking for a lot of collaborators and the publisher I’m signed asked to if I’d be keen to work with them.

“Obviously I jumped at the opportunity and I am grateful to them that they allowed me to be a part of the project. When I got there, we spent some time together, we worked on a few songs, this one with Burna Boy being one of them,” said Manana.

“Initially when we worked on this song, we were told that it wouldn’t be used with things not happening in time. Then after a few months I got word from my people that Burna Boy was going to be using it for his album and that would’ve been enough… and then news of this happened.”

So how did he find out that he had won his first Grammy?

“I was sleeping when the awards were on and some friends of mine, the guys who I actually work with on my music, the Noble Boys, they are based in LA right now. They sent me a WhatsApp message saying congrats on the Grammy win. To be honest, it hadn’t even clicked that if Burna won, it would also mean that I have won as well. Once that clicked, I was like ‘oh snap, I just won my first Grammy' and that’s really cool.”

“It felt surreal. It’s completely unbelievable because when we were working on the song with the Sauti Sol guys, you joke around to say this is the Grammy one and you're not really thinking about it, but when it happens, you’re like it’s an achievement. We’re kind of were joking about it, but it’s really inspiring also. Because of Burna allowing us to be on the project. Inspiring.”

Born in the kingdom of Eswatini, the 27-year-old’s musical journey began at the Drakensberg Boys Choir School in South Africa at the tender age of eight. He went on to study music at UCT’s South African College of Music where he majored in jazz vocals.

Manana tells Eyewitness News that these formative years truly helped shape his musical success.

“I always tell people that I had the privilege of having the best teachers that I could have asked for. Each and every single one of the teachers motivated me and made sure that I took music seriously.

“Also, talent can only take you so far. So, I think whatever little talent I had was improved by the singing lessons I took and the theory lessons I had, all the music teachers that helped me develop were so important in getting me there.

“I always tell people every music teacher that went above and beyond teaching me music but also mentored me through life at the time.”

We were first introduced to Manana around 2013 through his multinational neo-soul quartet Seba Kaapstad. Over the last few years he has also been working with other artists in his writing capacity such as Ami Faku, Amanda Black and Sauti Sol.

Manana finally released his solo project in October last year, an extended play record titled In the beginning was the end. It explores different themes of a romantic relationship and some have described it as a love story told in reverse.

The EP has been well received even by the likes of world-renowned South African music producer Black Coffee.

Manana said he felt honoured that Black Coffee publicly appreciated his music.

“To be honest, I don’t know what to say. When you release your music, you are hoping that it reaches as many people as possible, you know with the internet we have the opportunity to reach as many people as we can, but you never really know who’s listening. Also, when people do listen, they don’t usually shout it on the mountain top to say this artist is really dope. The one thing I appreciate him for is that not only was he listening, but also gave me a shout out to say this is dope”

The entertainment industry is one of the hardest-hit industries by the COVID-19 pandemic. Having released his music during lockdown, Manana said the support he had received for his projects, even from streaming giants like Apple Music and Spotify, showed that it was not in vain.

In January he featured in Apple Music's new artist spotlight as a young up and coming artist to watch.

His song Sunday Morning featuring Rowlene was also listed as one of the best 100 song of 2020 on Apple Music.

But as is the case with many artists across the globe, he is still coming to terms with the effects of the pandemic on musicians.

“Not being able to perform music for people. We released the EP knowing that it was going to be some time before we will put together the shows. The how long is what we were not expecting. We still don’t know when things will go back to as normal as possible and when we will have intimate shows with people. Yeah, that’s the hardest thing to come to terms with, but there’s also been some positives”

If Manana’s contribution to the music scene over the last few years is anything to go by, it’s safe to say that his star can only shine brighter.

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