wayne snow talks new single “nina,” a celebration of africa and an invitation to joy
By Nathan Leigh
May 20, 2021
Wayne Snow’s “Seventy” was a revelation, a captivating melange of sound and color that envelops you instantly. His latest, “Nina” is a celebration of Africa. Created in collaboration with South African dancers Llewellyn Mnguni, Ipeleng Merafe, Lebo Fakamatah, Alonzo Strauss and filmmaker Travys Owen, Snow presents another world to lose yourself in. We recently got a chance to talk to Wayne Snow about finding the anger in jazz and finding the courage to be silent.
Tell me a little bit about the the new project. Was this something that you had started creating since the pandemic started or was it already in the works before?
It was in the works before. I started some of the tracks—I started working on them around four years ago. My last album was in 2017. And a year after that, I started recording new stuff. It was a slow process because I was trying a different approach with some of the guys I used to work with here in Berlin, and then slowly from there, building, shaping my thoughts. “Seventy” was a bit different, because it was—a brother sent me an email from Pittsburgh. He asked if I was interested in trying to jam on some, like just vibe on a couple of his demos. And what I was moved by; he sent me a message telling me that he was going to be a dad. So I was very, very touched by his message, and I just decided, “Okay, I’m going to do the track now.” And I just went to the studio for two hours. And that was “Seventy.” It just came out just naturally.
So for you, the process is a much more organic process than, like, a deliberate process.
Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s like jazz. I would say [jazz] musicians, or MCs, you know, practice all the time. And then when the opportunity comes up, you make sure you have all the tools to just deliver on the spot. You know, right on the spot. So I’m in the studio, and the vocals, I just do them like the way they come. They have to come out one way or the other, but I just try to pour out everything. So there’s this sense of urgency.
One of the things that I love about your music is I feel like you do you do such a great job of creating something that is at the intersection of being like, very human, very emotional, and also feeling very future. It feels like music that’s going to happen, not music that’s already happening, if that makes sense. Is that something that you’re like actively trying to curate?
When you talk about the future, one thing I really like—the reason why I moved to Berlin is because when I was in France that the things I was doing, even though they were like jazz, rock, or whatever, I always felt it had this nostalgia in it. I felt it was something that was already done. Bringing up this kind of memory, this sad memory. And then coming to Berlin, that was really when I started diving into synths, and all kinds of machines. I felt like they were the spaceship to the future. And yeah, so my attitude here is: I feel like I just want to do something that I just don’t understand in nature—like I just don’t understand.
What’s the music from the past that you like, gravitate towards? Who are the shoulders that you’re standing on?
James Brown, for example, which has this do or die feeling you know. This energy that is motivated by so many years of anger. So many years of you know, like struggle and fight.
I feel like your music is so like calming and healing. So for you to bring up the anger in James Brown, I’m curious how is that engaged with the music that you’re making?
Oh, that’s in between all of it. Understanding anger doesn’t make you angry. It actually makes you more calm. The more you understand the true nature of these things running through you, I think it only make you feel calm. It’s like when you go through John Coltrane, right? Anger and pain being expressed but so beautifully calm. You know, very deep and calm. And so that’s how I picture it. I go through my music, but at times, I still don’t understand myself. So at times, I really let this anger out. That also happens when I’m performing live. Maybe that’s when I really let go of this—this energy.
“I think if I were to preach something, maybe that’s what we need to do at the moment: maybe just stop talking that much and listen a bit more.”
One of the challenges that I’ve experienced in bands I played in, and I’ve seen so many performers struggle with, when you’re making music that’s very synth heavy, is making it feel alive and organic live. How do you translate your music into a live setting?
I think I don’t really don’t really know how that works. I know when I have to sing, or say something. And I also know how to shut up and let the music do its stuff, you know? Sometimes the words don’t work that much. I mean, that’s also something that I learned through, Miles Davis, for example. The silence, you know? Badly wanting to hit that key, and then you just shut up. And I think—I think if I were to preach something, maybe that’s what we need to do at the moment: maybe just stop talking that much and listen a bit more. And, yeah, so that’s something I’m pushing forward.
Oh I love that! I feel like any creative artist, like there’s always a compulsion and a pressure to be maximally creative or to output the most amount of stuff. So I love that your attitude is like, “yeah, but sometimes the best thing you can create is silence.”
It’s frightening to so many people, you know, it’s like so frightening. And I think I found that out in “4:33” by John Cage. You need balls to do such things. You know?
I want to talk about the visuals of your stuff for a sec. It feels like all the videos that I’ve seen of yours, the visuals are such a crucial part of the song. Is that something that when you’re when you’re working in the studio you’re actively thinking about?
I sing visuals. I sing colors, So it’s part of the same thing for me.
Do you describe music in terms of colors?
Colors, landscapes. It’s a combination of things. I think it’s a visual journey for me. As soon as I start it, when I hear a track, I see the color. I see where it is. When we were shooting video for “Seventy,” I made a kind of a presentation of all the visual aspects of the project. So “Seventy” for me, it’s a blue track, you know, it moves around the blue spectrum.
So this was something I was actually curious about when I was watching “Seventy” specifically; do you have synesthesia? I do, and watching your visuals it all felt so organic and like how I experience sound and color in a way I rarely see from other artists.
Yeah, yeah, yeah! I understood the color situation at an early age. So it’s like when you look for your—how do you say—people that will guide you. So I wanted to tend to dig into my traditional masters back home from Nigeria. Masters I found out from The States, from India, and also people like Kandinsky, who had this very strong synesthesia through their work as well. So I was like, looking into the people who managed to find a way to use the visual stuff to express like the music.
How are you planning on integrating that visual experience into your performances?
I’m slowly working towards that. I’m working with some friends to start integrating these colors through the like lights. Working closely with some set designers to try to find a way to express this in interesting ways. My plan at the moment—I really want to go tour like go play have more gigs with my brothers here in Berlin that are backing me. You have the recorded album, which is the kind of the passport. The visual aspect of it is kind of a way to make private moments with the music. And then the third part is the live aspect. And I think the feeling of my music is it’s way more powerful when it’s delivered live, because that’s when really I think I’m the most efficient and I feel more at home. I really love that.
That’s interesting, because I feel like given how produced and meticulous your recorded music is, if I had had to guess I would have guessed you’d be more at home in the studio than onstage.
It’s weird, right? But I think uniqueness is in these magical moments. And the only way to get there is just like by just, you know, presenting the stuff live, you know? Because we can all talk about Michael Jackson or whatever—you know, worship videos—but imagine those who really were with him or saw him live. Now that’s the thing. I love this, when you have a show, you have the band. Let me just be clear with that. I’m not alone. It has to be this combination of the brothers with me. Of the audience there, of everyone, and then making that magical thing happen. And I always feel like the music is 1000 billion times what it is. It’s so powerful. Because we’re all connected and putting all this energy into one thing and just building it up, you know? And I love this feeling.
So do you have plans already in place for the post COVID world? Or are you still kind of figuring that out?
No, we’re slowly going back. I have a show on the 30th of July in London. I think I’m the only guy outside of the UK. I’m gonna fly there. I’m very, very, very touched by by them writing. And then like a few things coming up that we haven’t really confirmed yet. So we’re slowly building the shows.
What else have you got coming up what you’re working on right now?
I’m dropping my next single on the 20th.
Yeah, “Nina.” “Nina” is part of the journey. And it’s again, not really about myself, but it’s just about bringing people and finding a kind of an expressive platform to show people about Africa. But not only the landscape, as we did on “Seventy.” Also, the people themselves; their bodies. It’s an invitation. Joy. The body. And dance. Let’s move around, yeah?
Follow Wayne Snow on Instagram @waynesnowmusic and stay tuned for more info on the forthcoming Figurine.
Get The Latest
Signup for the AFROPUNK newsletter