Interview: Mau From Nowhere Reinvents Himself
The Kenyan artist goes soul-searching with his new MFN EP.
Movement is the crux of mau from nowhere's music—the hip-hop and afropop undertones that dominate his work present a well-traveled artist.
Born in Kenya, Mau spent his life oscillating between the East African nation and England, followed by a short stint spent furthering his studies in New York. In a full-circle moment, mau uprooted his life in the big apple amidst the madness pandemic and made the move to Nairobi.
Listening to the MFN EP feels like diving head first into a pool of Mau's consciousness. He once spoke about the conflict between telling his fans to share their grief while withholding his own, but his latest offering MFN is far from stoic. The project marks his evolution from Kamau Wainana, the soft spoken kid with loud ambitions to mau from nowhere, a trailblazer defining music within 'Nu Nairobi.' As he gets less attached to being defined by a certain space, it's entrancing to watch him find comfort in his craft instead.
In this interview below, we demystify the man behind the music by discussing love, growth, disappointment and the recurrent themes of familial and romantic relationships.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What inspired your recent name change from mau to mau from nowhere?
What sparked the name change was partly motivated by how difficult it is to search my name. When I was first "maũ" I kept running into this issue because my name is Kikuyu and the Kikuyu accent in my name can't be found on most keyboards. I remember bringing this up with my girlfriend about our alienation towards this idea of home. She's first generation Somali and but grew up in America. I relate to her because of my experience of never really staying in one place and wasting a lot of time growing up and trying to figure it out. While we were brainstorming names, I took the piss and suggested "mau from nowhere" as a joke. But we had an "aha" moment and we were like "wait, that could go kinda hard." So I texted my manager Saskia and she gave me the green light.
So you're basically a hipster third culture kid?
[Laughs] Yeah a third culture kid but way less corny. It's also where the title of the EP comes from because it's an acronym of mau from nowhere. I've had people ask me if the EP is short for Ma'Fuckin' so it's been funny letting people run with that idea.
Tell us more about your lead single "Dogtail"?
Dogtail is a song about arguments that feel cyclical. By contrast, it's the more metaphorical song on the EP because it doesn't have a resolution like the other songs which end on a hopeful or forward thinking note. It came together organically where I was just stringing together my thoughts and feelings and it evidently worked out for the best.
I'm a very mercurial person so at times, finding difficulty in expressing my feelings or gauging others thoughts can feel suffocating. I channeled this frustration from different places. It's not necessarily me talking about the same relationships or the same conversations. It comes from the "trivial" difficulties like really hard talks or impasses that we procrastinate and it's just trying to highlight that curious feeling.
mau from nowhere - Dogtail (Official Video) youtu.be
Do you think being increasingly isolated as a result of the pandemic has an effect on your increased sense of introspection?
As someone who struggled to put longform projects together until this point, that's a definite yes.Before this EP, the trend has always been single after single. I liked a song and almost immediately decided to put it out. I wrote three of the songs on the EP before lockdown happened. But moving back to Nairobi and being in isolation helped me get a better idea of the larger statement I hope to make with my music. I wanted the three singles and the other songs to be in conversation with each other as opposed to impulsive releases. I also think it's influenced by the name change. It made me hold myself accountable in a way that would make me a bit more focused.
The album is solely produced by you. As a self-taught producer what are some of the highlights and challenges behind crafting the EP from scratch?
I think the nature of any art form is that when you're starting out, you subconsciously strive to emulate your influences. When I started my journey producing, I wanted to sound like a lot of the artists I like. I noted it in my writing as a lyricist but it was especially prominent in my production. This year because of isolation from covid, I got to practice more by challenging myself to make beats quickly.
This year is the first time I've had people reach out to me and ask to produce for them. I used to only think the music I make can only work for me so it's been a big achievement seeing other people work and resonate with that sound.I produced "Lush Green" from Maya Amolo's EP, it's a beat I made during Summer 2019.
mau from nowhere - MFN (Official Video) youtu.be
As a film graduate you've spoken about audio + visual art being mutually sustaining. Are you eager to explore your passion in film?
I directed both videos for "Dogtail" and "MFN." Yet part of me feels like I haven't gotten into music videos with the same vigour that I have as a filmmaker. Going forward, I definitely want to explore this side of me more. The challenge has always been giving it as much time as it deserves. I kinda stopped filmmaking on it's own as a discipline in my junior year just because I'm always scared of rushing a film. Film is something I love but I respect it too much to jump back in immediately.
Who are your dream collaborations in the near-future?
My dream collabs come from different spots across the continent. After manifesting some collabs, I'm happy to see some of them actualise. I've been really lucky to work with LU* and Xprso. since moving back home. I really want to work with Blink Bill one day. I'm also inspired by how West African artists have formed a network across the diaspora. Even though they're really far from each other, I'm inspired by how they expand their creative circles. I really love Lady Donli, Amaarae, Rema and Dua Saleh.
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