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The rising producer Kilamanzego offers futuristic African takes on bass music

Born in the Bronx from Ghanaian parents, Kilamanzego comes to the forefront of the scene with These Roots Are on Fire, a promising and incredibly stimulating first EP. PAM spoke with the artist to better understand her introspective music.

Kilamanzego’s first EP – pronounced “kill a man’s ego” – has all the assets to become one of the revelations of the year 2020. These Roots Are on Fire is a digest of sensitive and syncopated bass music, impressively mature. Short but intense, the EP offers five tracks with a futuristic groove, stuffed with electronica micro details and bathed in a thick melodic atmosphere that plays yo-yo with our emotions. A first try which has nothing to envy to the masters of the genre, like Lapalux Jimmy Edgar or Machinedrum, with whom she’s friends by the way.

What is your musical background and how did you get into electronic music?

I started by listening to R&B and pop rap like Mary J Blige, Salt & Pepper, as well as hardcore rap like Onyx and DMX thanks to my older brother. My dad has also gotten me violin lessons when I was a kid, and that was really my first taste at being a musician. When my favorite rap/R&B radio station died out, I started to focus more on making friends at school with all sorts of different people. Everyone I became friends with introduced me to something new, experimental hip hop, rock, ska, roots reggae, punk etc. I was already tuned into jazz from my dad and Ghanaian highlife from my mom. I then took all these musical influences and started to let my curiosity as an artist go even further, so I started teaching myself bass guitar, guitar, trombone… anything I could get my hands on. When I moved out of my dad’s house I started listening to even more experimental hip hop because a roommate at the time was teaching himself how to make beats in FL Studio (called Fruity Loops at the time). That’s actually how I found out about J Dilla, and I bought his album Donuts (and a shirt!) immediately. A long time later I moved to California on a whim for a year. That’s when I randomly discovered Kaytranada, and he led me to other unique hip hop electronic acts like Ta-ku. From there I dove into SoundCloud and found that this style of music got even weirder, which appealed to me so much.  Then I tried to start a hip-hop duo with one of my best friends, Simone. It didn’t really work because we didn’t have beats nor money so I figured I’d try to make them. I got a copy of Ableton and the rest is history.

Do you feel you still have some Ghanaian influences when you compose your beats?

I definitely do. It may not be as overt and obvious to listeners of afrobeats, hiplife, dancehall, highlife and so on, but the presence of my percussion or other instruments and sounds that originate from Africa. How they’re played and whatever groove is applied, all of this is inspired by not only Ghana and Ghanaian vibes, but Africa as a whole.

Where does your nickname come from? Is there a hidden message or is it a pure coincidence?

Well, basically a friend and I were brainstorming names and I’d said I wanted my name to be Kilimanjaro because it sounded cool, but quickly decided against it since I could only imagine how many people use that name. Also it’d get lost in the mix in Google’s search terms. I still wanted a name similar to it, especially the first half of the name, so we kept tossing around silly ideas like Kilamanyero and Kilamanjahu. Eventually she blurted out “Kilamanzego!” And I was like woah, that’s it. That’s the name. She asked me “Do you get it?” It took a while for it to click and I realized it beautifully mixed my African culture with a gender expressive pun. But honestly, I think it’s amazing when a name can click with you instantly before you know the true meaning behind it first.

What do you want to express through the title of the EP?

The title is about a cycle, me going through many different stages of anxiety and a sort of resolution of being content with whatever innate struggles I have. My life is constantly in up and down stages emotionally and mentally, so each song goes through chronological phases of that. The opening track “Everything Goes Black” is somewhat brooding and it really reflects my loneliness and solitude. The next track “Crossed Out” is me in the face of adversity, where once my energy is thrown into the context of others I feel exactly like that, not a part of everyone else’s world. The following song, which is also title track “These Roots Are On Fire” is inspired by my ramped up anxiety of it all, and it’s at this time you hear the peak of my racing thoughts. And then as we’ve gone through all the emotions, it ends on “Exploration” where I’ve come to terms with who I am and use this knowledge to further discover new things about myself and ways to navigate life. Then it all starts back up again once you hit repeat (laughing).

It is true that the songs sound very emotional. In what kind of mood you are or need to be when you do those beats?

It’s hard to say but I’m a very emotional person in general. I wear my heart on my sleeve. If you know me personally, you know that I feel every little thing; if someone’s in pain or describing it, I’ll start to feel that. If someone is nervous or worried about something, I’ll feel my anxiety rising. With writing music, I’m just being myself, which is everything I’ve described and by virtue of that it finds its way into my process.

The EP is available since April 17th 2020. You can find it here.