Album of the Week \\ ‘A Love Requited’ puts drummer Myele Manzanza front and centre

28th June 2019
Myele Manzanza’s third solo album, ‘A Love Requited’, is a frenetic collage of sound, where the band leader’s drumming is put front and centre.

Words: Harry Stott

Myele Manzanza’s new record, ‘A Love Requited’, is an album of sonic contradictions: frenzied but simultaneously poised, riotous then suddenly tender, hectic but never cluttered. None of this is a criticism, however – far from it, in fact. The clashing of styles and speeds, of groove and attack give the record a striking, verbose feel.

Its creator is a New Zealand born drummer who earned his chops playing with some seriously big names; Myele Manzanza was one third of trail blazing Kiwi trio Electric Wire Hustle; he backed up the legendary Theo Parrish in The Unit; and has frequently collaborated with Mark de Clive-Lowe, who features on the new record along with a stellar supporting cast. Myele calls his music ‘Afro-Elastic Soul’, something that was certainly true of his earlier solo records ‘One’ and ‘OnePointOne’. However, ‘Afro-Elastic’ feels a little off for ‘A Love Requited’. For Myele’s ‘OnePointTwo’, ‘Afro-Eclectic’ would suit better. 

On this new offering, Myele shares that he wants his compositional prowess to come to the fore; from the very off you can tell the leader of this outfit is a drummer. ‘Ritual’ begins the record with Myele exploring every square inch of his kit, a grand opening statement. As the album progresses, and horns and bass sink into their grooves, Myele’s playing remains a constant presence, whether he’s front and centre orating to the crowd on ‘Big Deal’, or lurking behind with clarity and precision on ‘Family Dynamics Prologue’. The album veers between diverse sources, moods and tempos throughout.

This rhythmic prowess is not to the detriment of the compositions. Myele, writing for this 10-piece band, can be as contained or as vast as he pleases. There’s a persistent spiritual Jazz vibe running through the saxes and trumpets, clear on tracks like ‘Mortality’, while ‘Itaru’s Phone Booth’ shows that he can do crowd pleasers, too. There’s also a willingness to suddenly break into Latin and African rhythmic gestures: ‘Madrid’ begins as a mournful procession before snapping into a fiesta. The various different styles used lend themselves to Myele’s drumming, and while it can at times feel like he might be trying to do too much, if you give in to it and enjoy the virtuoso playing for what it is, then you can begin to appreciate the album’s quality. 

To Myele, it seems that drums are nothing more than conduits for rhythm. Myele has been quoted as saying that he compares being brought up on the African music his father plays (Sam Manzanza is a Congolese musician and immigrant to New Zealand) with the advantage of studying Latin at school: he understands the root of words and from there can move on to other languages with ease. It’s a neatly formed concept that definitely applies here. ‘A Love Requited’ is not a straight up African homage record, but you can hear in Myele’s drumming echoes of the continent – rhythmic doffs of the cap to his dad. 

Myele writes that this is his most personal record to date, and given that the album’s third track involves a conversation between him and his father about the origins of their name, it’s clear to see that the sentiment is there. On ‘ALR – Refrain’, Myele responds to his father’s revelations about their surname deriving from the steel drums his grandfather used to play with an endearing wonder: “I’m a musician and you’re a musician, too. And we have this name Manzanza which comes from my grandfather – your father – playing these drums. And we both play drums, we play rhythms… it’s amazing”. There’s something about his inquisitiveness that speaks to what the album is trying to achieve more generally. The zest with which Myele plays his kit is matched by his eagerness to learn when he speaks to his father, and the relentless diversity of his drumming is mirrored in his wonderment when he speaks.

‘A Love Requited’, then, feels like a man anxious to tell a story, and to do that story justice. Myele tries to ‘make sense of the world’, as he puts it, through his drumming. Grappling with concepts like ‘Mortality’, ‘Resilience’ and love (be it requited or not) is always going to require ambition, and a willingness to go to the extremes of your musicianship to express it. That’s why he refuses to let up behind the kit, and why ‘A Love Requited’ is such a tour de force from start to finish.

Order Myele Manzanza’s ‘A Love Requited on Bandcamp

Listen to the Supreme Standards podcast ft Myele Manzanza

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