MFD Interviews: An exclusive excursion into the mind of José Manuel

“I never labelled myself. Basically, I do world music with electronic influences.”

Italian-born José Manuel is now based in Berlin, and has in the last decade established himself as an itriguing new producer of genre-defying dance music. Besides running his own label Black Pepper, he has released his discoid grooves on noteworthy labels like Eskimo, Kinfolk, Joe’s Bakery & Tusk Wax to name just a few. When he crossed paths with Kenneth Bager of Music For Dreams, the idea for a concept album formed and is now out in the shops. The finalized album bearing the title Excursion Africanism takes Manuels analogue sound even further, but also offers a broad range of styles based on the concept of African music.

We had a chance to catch up with the man himself for a brief interview about the album.

MFD: So Excursion Africanism is your first full album after quite a few single releases dating back all the way to 2005 (if we are to believe Discogs). Was the process of recording this album different than with your previous releases?

JM: As far as recordings of this album are concerned, the process  was a little bit different from my previous singles. A lot of percussion parts have been played live. Moreover, there were the vocals of the talented Babacar Dieng. 

MFD: Could you tell us how your collaboration with Babacar Dieng came about, how did you meet and what was your working method?

JM: I met Babacar Dieng in a pub in Turin, where he had just finished a live show of traditional African music. His skills, energy and passion really struck me. For this reason, I decided to meet him and  propose my album project. Also, our working method was fluid and dynamic. I offered him the bases and the beats, whereas he wrote song lyrics. 

MFD: The theme or concept of the album is, as the title suggests, excursions into African traditional music. What led you onto this path initially, was there any specific records that inspired you?

JM: I have been always influenced by the acoustics of the “World Music”; it is possible to understand by listening my works. In my different releases I’ve used Indian, Turkish and Spanish atmospheres and influences. But, the moment of touching  the African world had come. I really wanted to express my opinion about this world. As a matter of fact, I succeeded in the realization of different tracks (some of them have been included in the album) . 

MFD: To a completely illiterate like myself when it comes to the different regional expressions of African folk music, what countries and/or genres of music have you based the tracks on, and how much of your own twist can be found in these interpretations?

JM: Africa is a very vast continent, for this reason when I decided to create an album with African influences, I couldn’t think about a specific area. However, I think that ,surely, in the use of djembe and of other percussion’s timbre, there is a sort of emphasis of the traditional Senegalese music. So, it was very stimulating working with Babacar Dieng, because there was the fusion of a percussionist and an African singer with my position of producer…. I don’t know the kind of producer I am, Balearic? Disco music? Nu – disco? So, I never labelled myself. Basically, I do world music with electronic influences. 

Words & interview by Simon Eliasson.