Manatee's music uses a unique blend of ideas from the improvised music/jazz traditions of North America and the afro-beat/highlife traditions of Ghana:
a) Our pieces are anchored by short rhythmic patterns called "timelines," much like a traditional drumming ensemble in Ghana. Some of the timelines we use are borrowed from Ghanaian drumming music.
b) The improvised sections of each piece are negotiated with hand signals. During live performances, we invite audience members to learn the hand signals by watching them, and to use them to control the performance. If all goes to plan, the audience controls the better part of our musical decisions with hand signals they've learned.
c) The ensemble is made up of instruments usually found in an afrobeat band: Drum kit, electric bass, electric piano, guitar, hand drums, four saxophones, a flute, and a trumpet.
I (Daniel Kruger) founded Manatee in 2012, the year after I returned from a semester studying music at the University of Ghana. While I was in Ghana I worked with Kofi "iambeatmenace" Boachie-Ansah to produce an album for an incredible community project called Jaynii Streetwise Organization in Jamestown, Ghana. We recorded and produced this album together with nothing but a backpack studio: two microphones and a small audio box sound card. These are the results:
We (Kofi and Daniel) have wanted to work together again since the Jaynii project ended. Now that Manatee has had time to grow and develop, and Kofi has access to a professional studio in Accra, Ghana. . . . . it sort of seems like the perfect storm.
We want to create a Manatee album in Ghana with Ghanaian and West African musicians. I would travel to Ghana for two months (Manatee bassist Dylan White might also join the project for a few weeks in July) and we would spend the entire time rehearsing, performing, and recording Manatee music with an ensemble of professional musicians. Kofi has access to an amazing pool of musicians in Ghana through his work in professional studios producing many projects. Check out these samples of his work:
Kofi and Daniel want to do this for several reasons:
1. Amazing music is surely going to be made.
2. This project will be a unique cross-cultural musical dialogue. I am perpetually unsure of the ethics of using other cultures' musical ideas, so I think it's important that my use of Ghanaian musical ideas is a continuous, two-way dialogue with Ghanaian musicians. This project affords an opportunity for such a dialogue.
3. We believe the music Manatee makes is sonically and philosophically unique. A chance to develop, transform, and refine the Manatee music in Ghana would only make it moreso.
4. We really, really love working together. . . . so we'd love to do that again.
Your support contributes to travel costs (plane ticket, visa, accomodations etc.) and to the payment of professional musicians in Ghana who we work with. We are also looking to purchase a portable studio mixing rig so we have the option of recording musicians outside of Accra if needed.
Doesn't this sound exciting!?
If you have any questions about the project, feel free to e-mail us at:
Thanks for your support!
Risks and challenges
The most obvious challenges we expect to face are travel-related. We will have three weeks after the kickstarter project is finished to obtain visas, plane tickets, vaccines, and to organize musicians in Ghana for rehearsal schedules. Luckily, I have 5 months of experience travelling in Ghana, so I am familiar with the travel preparation process. I think my experience will help make sure the logistical travel list is completed.
We have had preliminary dialogue with many musicians in West Africa (including Tony Allen and Ebo Taylor) who have expressed interest in being a part of the project, however, we don't expect every musician's schedule to match up with ours, so we might not be able to perform with the exact ensemble we'd like. We fully expect things to happen unexpectedly. Luckily, Manatee's music can be played by a wide variety of instruments, so we don't feel attached to specific musicians being a part of the project other than ourselves. This flexibility should ensure that we create great music no matter who is involved.
There will be a lot of people involved in this project, and we have a two month window to make all those people come together to make something great. It will take a lot of organizing, and it will probably not turn out the way we expect it to. BUT! We feel our timeline is long enough and our project is flexible enough that the challenges of cross-continental travel and large-group organizing won't prevent us from making great music!
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