But since then, he has had paper issues in a country that has blatantly refused to legalize a person who has been living in it for an astonishing 17 years.
“Right now, I still don’t have my papers. I’m a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival [DACA] recipient. This allows people like me to work legally, travel, pay taxes and get things like a social security number,” he says. “Prior to Trump, we were able to travel but he tried to repeat the program because Obama passed it. He failed though [laughs].”
“When I tell my friends here, they don’t understand how someone has been here for so long and doesn’t have papers without commiting crimes and stuff like that,” he continues “As I grew older, I realized that it wasn’t about rejected applications. It was just about the legality of entry and residency. Something happened with my dad a few years back and it sort of made it trickier.”
“He had his own green card and was processing ours, but he had to come back to Nigeria. That slowed things down, but I know that God is in control. My purpose is bigger than one country,” he concludes.
This unfairness has made him lose great opportunities. Not that he reels, but before he chose music, he was in love with football – a sport that found him in his formative years as a child on the streets of Lagos.
As he grew older, he got really great at it. He says, “I played all through high school and even in college. I was supposed to go D1, but my paper/legal issues prevented me from getting a scholarship, so I settled for community college and still played there. But I was like nah, let me just face music [laughs].”
Regardless of the issues, he continues to thrive at his chosen art, music. He has gotten some major co-signs and media coverage. From here, the only way for him is up.
These days, Mannywellz has already released two bodies of work titled, SoulFro and Mirage. Both projects present Mannywellz as His style feels like a bridge between Mo’Believe, Moelogo, Kemena, a little bit of Daramola and 3rty’s pen
He balances his American R&B, Soul and Trapsoul influences with elements of his Nigerian folk roots either in instrumentation, delivery, adlibs. style or vocals.
“I wanna say I’m at my best whenever I infuse elements of my culture into my music because it’s like I’m introducing my culture to people who aren’t aware,” he says. “In some Afrobeats songs, you seldom hear Juju, Fuji and all that. So, I feel even if it’s a Trap or Hip-Hop beat, you gotta hear a bit of Omele, Bata, Sakara or GanGan.”
But after two bodies of work and a lot of other songs, he rightly struggles to classify himself under any genre as an artist. Even though he can make any genre of music, he admits that recently, he’s been under the R&B/Soul/Afro-Fusion umbrella. Going forward, he would like to make Juju music though.
“I think we’re moving into that ‘genreless’ direction where people just like to experiment and express though,” he says. “If it’s good music, it’s good music. People are also seeing that listener palettes are expanding.”
Mannywellz’s cultural identity
At 26 and 17 years after his original move to the states, Mannywellz still feels very Nigerian, very African and very black – not exactly American. At no point in his American existence has he felt like he was losing his African identity. He says, “I’m not American at all, bro [laughs], I’m just here.”
His Yoruba is as crisp and clear as the next guy’s. He would also gladly tell you that his dad is Ijebu, his mom is from Owo, Ondo State and that he was born in Lagos. Like Davido, he also effortlessly switches between in American and Nigerian accents with embellishments like ‘Omo’ or ‘ehn.’
“Even when we moved here, we would go to parties where my dad would perform and he would be spraying [money], eating his jollof rice, his eba, his iyan [pounded yam] and so forth. My culture in my household never made me forget my Nigerian roots,” he says. “But it also helped that I grew up in the DMV where I got to hangout with several people who had a strong African spirit and culture.”
Legacy of music vs. soccer
In the 90’s, Mannywellz’s dad was the lead singer of The Choir of Cherubim and Seraphim Movement Church, Surulere that released more than four Gospel albums including, Oke Mimo, T’oluwanile and Igbala De. His tenor vocals especially became a part of the Nigerian sonic zeitgeist after he championed the classic album, Oke Mimo.
However, Mannywellz never felt like a superstar’s son. In his Nigerian accent he says, “Omo in Naij, I never thought about music [laughs], I just wanted to play soccer, man. Growing up, I learned a lot about the entrepreneurial and business sides of music from my dad.”
“In Juju music, there’s not a lot about management and stuff. My Dad’s sound of music is also strongly infused in my style,” he continues. “Spending time with him and being at his shows also helped with my stagecraft and stage presence, but I didn’t really realize a lot of that till I started making music. He would sing Juju music and Oyinbo people would dance awkwardly [laughs].”
“Being around my dad made me study King Sunny Ade, Fela and so forth,” he concludes
Mannywellz: Faith, travel, celibacy and family
A while ago, Mannywellz started ‘Ife Life,’ a lifestyle brand with his friend. It’s slogan is inspired by culture and religion. ‘Ife’ is Yoruba for love and Mannywellz aims to use his platform to propagate a life of God’s love.
“I am Christian and I go to Church, yes sir. My parents planted the seeds of my faith really early and it helped me discover Jesus for myself as I got older,” he says. “That helps me combat the realities of life. The bible says, “Train a child the way he should go and when he gets older, he will not depart from it.” “I’m a testimony of not departing from the way of the Lord.”
While Mannywellz doesn’t drink or smoke, he struggles with the part of celibacy like everyone else.
He says, “I’m trying to be celibate, but women are women and they are always around [laughs]. But I’m focused or I’m trying to be [laughs].”
The ties he shares with his family remains strong. As they go through DACA struggles, they have remained together. While his dad has since moved back to settle in Nigeria, he continues to live at home with his mom and siblings despite his success, exposure and schedules. This helps him stay grounded and stuff.
“It’s been really easy to live at home. I move around a lot and my mom is very chill. I’m also the oldest – the man of the house – [laughs] and my mom appreciates and supports my music,” he says.
When the time is right, Mannywellz would like to make music with his dad who continues to make music in Nigeria.
Mannywellz: Major labels
Currently, Mannywellz isn’t signed to any major labels. While he’s had some of those conversations with all the major labels, he’s still independent and working through partnerships.
“The only way I’d sign to a major is if I own my masters. It doesn’t make sense that if I use my advance to buy a house, they still own the house. Are they mad? [Hisses],” he says.
On October 9, 2020, he released his second body of work, the 7-track Mirage EP. It features Tems, Wale and VanJess. The project documents the uncertainties and hondulating tendencies of love.
“The project was going to be called ‘La La’ [laughs], but my manager suggested ‘Mirage’ as a title. My mirage is being in this world full of hurt and pain when you dream big and think there’s no way out, but there really is – especially in a romantic sense,” he says. “We tend to get used to toxic things and toxic situations. That’s why we tend to stay in a relationship with toxic people who are emotionally and verbally abusive.”
“My mirage is being in that kind of space while trying to find my way out, but finding that hard.” he continues. “I then found out that loving myself is one way to dig oneself out of such.”
Interestingly, 95% of Mannywellz’s music is inspired by his own life even though he’s only actually been in two relationships.
Since Mannywellz left Lagos in 2003, he has not been back home due to these paper issues. One thing he would love to do going forward is to visit home.
“I really want to come home like now,” he says. “Africa is home to all black people, no matter how good America is, that will always be home and the feeling is different. For people who are only being in Nigeria or other parts of Africa for the first time, people might be able to tell their freshness and facilities might not be as good, but they won’t be killed because they’re black.”
“Quncy Jones says that, “It’s important to know where you’re from to know where you’re at and to identify where you’re going,” he continues. “I wouldn’t even say that America is better than us at all. We’re so rich – if we come together, we’ll do so much and wouldn’t need America in a way that we think we do now. ”
It’s also about finding an alternative for Mannywellz and other African-Americans. He feels like no matter how good America feels, people want to know that there is that alternative where they will not be judged for the color of their skin. While he can’t vote in America, he’s excited to get his Nigerian voter’s card when he can.
Even though he can’t physically be in Lagos, he hopes to build a strong relationship with his Nigerian fanbase with interviews, appealing music, great effort and consistency.
He would also like to work with Afrosoul singer, Wurld. He says, “I know his team. His manager is like my big bro here in the US.”
Interesting fact: Zamir of LOS is Mannywellz’s cousin.