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Mannywellz. Photo courtesy of the artist.

How DACA Is Affecting This Thriving, Young Nigerian Artist

Mannywellz has millions of plays and has toured with Jidenna, but his career may be crushed by Trump's move to end DACA.

Mannywellz is a rising, Nigerian-born artist who crafts songs from a potent blend of hip-hop, R&B; and West African influences.

And he's been doing great. Tracks like "Wrong Place," an electro-tinged R&B; highlight from the recent Soulfro EP, have earned him millions of plays on streaming platforms like Spotify and Soundcloud. He also toured across the United States with Jidenna last year, which only added to his buzz. But it's also where the problems started.


As a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, Mannywellz' is one of the 800,000 young immigrants who receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for work permits. That will come to an end soon under the Trump administration's mission to repeal DACA.

That uncertainty has heavily affected Mannywellz' career. It's influenced some of his most popular songs, like the sorrowful "American Dream," but also derailed long term plans and forced him forgo massive tours. He couldn't join Jidenna in international concert dates across Europe and Africa, for example, for fear of what would happen when he tried to return to the US.

In "American Dream," one of his most streamed songs, Mannywellz sings about coming to the U.S. at 9 years-old with his family, "... don't you worry we gon' have a better life, we will be one again, happy family... I was brought to come and live the American dream." However positive the lyrics may seem, the song is coated with melancholic singing and muted guitar work.

We sat down with Mannywellz to talk about how Trump ending DACA is affecting a young African artist like himself.

First of, tell us about your music and the new Soulfro EP.

It's music from the soul with Afro elements—a style of music that blends several genres, not just afrobeats. It's soul meets hip-hop, R&B;, folk, rock—whatever. I always believe in genre-bending. My influences come from my favorites like Asa, a Nigerian artist based in France. I love what Bob Marley stands for. Kanye West, Ryan Leslie, Timbaland. Also Fela and Sunny Ade from Nigeria. They really influenced that sound, then people in America like Drake and Kendrick influenced other cadences I use. Nigeria is the heaviest influence on the music, though. I use a lot of native sounds and instruments, like the talking drum. My vocals are very West African as well, in the way that I enunciate things.

When did you move from Nigeria to the U.S.?

I came in 2003, when I was 9-years-old with my youngest sister and my mother. My dad was already in the States. I moved to Prince George's County in Maryland—Bowie to be exact. I've lived there my whole life, from '03 to 2018, that's 15 years.

How was growing up in Maryland as a Nigerian kid?

It was interesting. There were a lot of African booty scratcher jokes. But I had tough skin. One thing that I'm not sure is positive or negative is that I tried to fit in. I didn't really get too much flack for being African—I became a class clown and people laughed with me. They were like "Oh that guy's from Africa but he's, like, cool."

How did you get into music?

My dad's a musician, so I was born into music. My dad and I have performed for presidents and vice-presidents of Nigeria. I started performing with him when I was 9 years-old. Two weeks into when I came to the U.S. he just gave me a mic. Nigerians would have parties and call up musicians to entertain, so that would be my dad, he did that all over the States. He released three albums in the US and, before he came here, he wrote a record for the church that sold over a million records in Nigeria.

Tell us about being admitted as a DACA recipient. What was life like before and after?

It was tough before DACA. I couldn't get a regular job, so I had to buy Jordans or phones and flip them just to pay my own phone bill. Things were hard. My dad had moved back to Nigeria, so it was just my mom and my younger siblings. That was five years ago or so in 2012. I remember my friends being able to drive when they were 16 and I had to wait until I was 19 or 20 years-old to get a freaking permit. Receiving the DACA was a relief because I was able to get a regular job—from Ledo's to Sun Trust to PNC, you know.

Are your siblings DACA recipients?

My sister is but my two youngest siblings were born here so they're citizens.

How did you feel hearing the news about Trump wanting to repeal DACA.

It felt weird man. I didn't know how to feel.

And that announcement put a stop to the Jidenna tour you were meant to be on?

Yeah, so with Jidenna, a friend of mine sent them my music. They loved it and became fans of the art that I was creating, so when he announced his tour, my management got in contact and said, let's make this happen. Touring with another dope Nigerian act, who's doing his thing, I learned how tours work, the ins-and-outs, what to do and what not to do. It was BIG. We went everywhere around America but I couldn't even go to Canada because of my DACA situation. My legal situation through this DACA stuff has been very taxing on my career. We didn't want to risk it. Jidenna asked me to go to Europe and Africa with him—he's in South Africa right now—But I can't do anything outside of the United States at all because of my situation and fear of the risk that I may not get back in.

How do you navigate your situation now?

My main goal is to inspire kids that are just like me. Coming out and letting everyone know that they're not alone in this DACA fight and that we can stand together, pray together and make something happen. I think that's my main goal with my art, with what I stand for and what I release on social media.

Have you met many other DACA aritsts?

A lot of people have been messaging me saying they're DACA kids. My guitar player is a DACA kid. I'm not going to mention names but other people back home that are aspiring artists, Nigerian to be exact, are DACA kids.

Is there anything else you want to add?

Just pray for us. Pray for the DACA kids!

Culture

You Need to Listen to Luvvie Ajayi's New Podcast 'Rants and Randomness'

Listen to the first episode "Real G's Move in Silence Like Wakanda" now.

Honestly, who better to host a podcast, than our favorite Nigerian social critic Luvvie Ajayi?

The blogger and media personality's new podcast Rants and Randomness, is already garnering pretty stellar reactions from listeners—It currently boasts a 5 star customer rating on iTunes. All of this is unsurprising given her knack for humor and sharp wit that we've enjoyed over the years through her popular blog Awesomely Luvvie.

In her very first episode, titled Real G's Move in Silence Like Wakanda, Luvvie rants about Valentine's Day extraness—which is a very real thing, interviews Eunique Jones Gibson, the photographer behind campaigns like "Because of them We can" and "I AM Trayvon Martin," and shares her thoughts on Black Panther—and yes, she was just as blown away as the rest of us.

She gives a full 15 minute review on the podcast, but you can read part of her review via this snippet from her blog:

My heart is full by the fact that this film feels like life-affirming in the way that cannot be taken back and it's long overdue. And the success of Black Panther should mean that more of these stories will be written and produced and distributed on a grand scale. I say SHOULD, because, well. Shit happens and whiteness loves to do dumb shit like ignore logic, all in the name of racism. More of these stories of Blackness, in all its forms, need to be shared to the world and the possibilities are endless. If nothing else Black Panther should show that our stories are profitable, amazing and necessary. We need more of them all the time in all forms. They won't all look like Black Panther, which is good. They need to be different but they need to exist.

So shoutout to Ryan Coogler and the cast who KILLED IT. And allowed us to come together in joy. I'm officially claiming citizenship of Wakanda.

We feel you, girl. Wakanda forever.

Read the full review via her blog. For more, listen and subscribe to Rants and Randomness via iTunes.

Video: OkayAfrica's 'Black Panther' Celebration at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

OkayAfrica partnered with Brooklyn Academy of Music and D'ussé for an advanced screening, followed by an exclusive Q&A with Ryan Coogler and an epic afterparty.

Ahead of Black Panther's epic release last week, OkayAfrica and Okayplayer hosted an advanced screening and Q+A between director Ryan Coogler and CEO Abiola Oke, followed by our #OkayWakanda afterparty at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

It was a jam-packed event filled with beautiful black folks, coming together to celebrate the film of the year. The Wakandan pride was strong and what's even better is that we caught all the action on camera.

We got a chance to speak with our incredibly dressed attendees live from the red carpet and after party about what the film means to them and why they came out to support it.

Check out all the action from the event and after party in the video below.


Politics

We Did It: Three Years of #FeesMustFall Finally Bears Fruit

This year's South African budget shows that struggle can make things better.

Yesterday, South African Minister of Finance, Malusi Gigaba, presented the long-awaited 2018 budget speech. While he was heavily criticised for increasing VAT and the fuel levy, which will heavily impact the poor, students celebrated the R57 billion that will finally be set aside to fund their studies in their entirety.

It was 2015 and I was at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, along with thousands of students from all over the country, waiting to be addressed by former President Jacob Zuma about our demands for a 0% increase in fees for the following year. We were capable students, worthy of being at universities but we were also black and lacking the money to access institutions which were fast becoming financially exclusive. While our core demand was eventually met, we knew it wasn't a complete victory—what about the fees for the following year and the year after that? I still remember how days after that epic march, my ears were still ringing with the phantom sounds of struggle songs and the whizzing of rubber bullets. I don't know if South Africa or the world will ever truly know how that fight scarred so many of us.

In the years that followed, we watched as the government (which claimed it had no money to allocate to tertiary education) squander state resources time and time again. We protested relentlessly; fiercely. We were shot at by police, our campuses looked like war-zones and we wondered whether we would attain the degrees upon which our families hopes rested so heavily.

After Jacob Zuma's resignation a few days ago, I wrote about how the ANC would embark on a journey of some serious ass-kissing in the run-up to the general elections in 2019. I warned Fees Must Fall activists that if ever there were a more opportune time to act, that it was most certainly now. R57 billion rand has been allocated for the funding of tertiary education for students whose household incomes are less than or equal to R350 000 per annum. This will assist not only the poor black working class but the black "missing middle" as well. The entire duration of their degrees will be funded with the added promise of supporting students in terms of food, transport and accommodation costs, all key to making this announcement a full victory and not just a partial one.

Now does this magically solve all our problems as black students? Does it do away with the rampant inequality prevalent on all our university campuses? No, it does not. But what it is, is a step in a very hopeful direction. Of course, it remains to be seen whether this R57 billion will actually serve its purpose and not be misappropriated like so many of our state funds in the past. However, our acting President Cyril Ramaphosa, is looking to make a big splash. He's looking to garner not only our support but our lasting support, so it would stand him in good stead if he ensures his government keeps their word. He has seen (or at least read about) the destruction, the chaos, the physical and psychological damage to our young members of society following numerous Fees Must Fall protests and clashes with the police.

I will never forget that day at the Union Buildings when the police started throwing stun grenades at us and unleashing a barrage of bullets. I will never forget how a young male student stumbled towards my friend and I, his face completely drenched in blood. I will never forget how my friend and I ran out of sheer, naked fear, blindly into the busy streets of the Pretoria CBD and eventually hid ourselves behind a nearby bus stop. I was not as active on the frontlines as so many other students were, not in the least, so I can only begin to imagine the kind of trauma they still have to wrestle with till this day.

The #NationalShutDown in Cape Town on Wednesday, October 21 2015. Photo by Imraan Christian

That is why this announcement, as much as it was a string of words on a piece of paper for a lot of people, meant so much more to the rest of us. It's a sigh of relief for many black students. It means a glimmer of hope for so many black families. It's a chance to dream and to do so without inhibition. This is all we've been fighting for and it feels so damn good to allow ourselves, even for just a moment, to bask in the light that seemed so elusive back then.

Our fallen comrade Solomon Mahlangu, the young man we sang about in our struggle songs, once said that his blood would nourish the tree that would bear the fruits of freedom. He told us to continue the fight. And so to all my comrades, amandla!

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