who is mau from nowhere?
mau from nowhere is a Kenyan self-produced musician, rapper and multidisciplinary artist translating honesty into sonics and subject matter, carving a sound from what may appear foreign to some but is true to himself as an artist.
Congratulations on the release of your EP “MFN”. Your sound is very unique; it is serene, airy and delicate, with raw, honest and visceral lyrics. Above all I love your dynamic voice; your ability to balance melodic raps with singing verses. You even do your own harmonies and beats.
How do you balance creating your own sound with the dominance of mainstream music? What is your artistic process like? Where do you find inspiration from?
mau: I used to overthink style and direction a lot, but now I feel it’s just about listening to yourself and your heart when you’re creating. Whatever I make is going to be influenced by so many different things – not only what I’m listening to but how I’m feeling, my surroundings, etc. I used to resent how in my head I could get about it all but when I’m making music the overthinking can actually come in handy because when I emerge from the rabbit hole the song is nearly done. It’s too late for it to really be influenced by external things like what is in demand in mainstream music.
In “MFN” you say “I know peace of mind is priceless” what experiences are you drawing from?
mau: Definitely feelings of distrust – especially in artistic spaces, both music and other mediums. There’s a level of superficiality to be expected when you’re dealing with the backend of this industry and so I try not to take it personally anymore. But I’ve definitely learned to trust my intuition, when the energy feels off I don’t let that feeling linger, better to have peace of mind than force yourself to trust what doesn’t align with you.
In “MFN” you say “Now I know I’m from nowhere” what connotation is behind these lyrics? Do you speak on behalf of nationality, or is it more existential regarding universal humanism?
mau: It’s a bit of both. I’ve definitely grown to distance nationality from self in how I grew up and now navigate different spaces, but I do also think everyone could benefit from recognizing that identity and nationality aren’t synonymous. I think in that line it was me letting go of a lot of the pressure and importance I had placed on nationality or even just cultural proximity. There are parts of me (and all of us) that draw from a lot of different places so it seems silly to try to tie it to one.
In “Dogtail” you say “I’m not fine. Can’t say my peace, I need time. Can’t break release, the gears grind. Like I can’t unmake the mold that’s inside.” Like in a lot of your songs you are vulnerable (at least the way I see it). How is your expression/ making music a means for practicing your spirituality?
mau: It’s definitely a place for me to meditate on where I am both internally and externally. The beauty of music to me is how intangible it is. All of your thoughts and feelings are translated into their own language that makes you feel, acknowledge and speak so much more. This year I’m realizing that I actually struggle with outward spirituality more than I thought, so I’ve found music to be a good place for me to practice that faith.
In “Dogtail” you say “Where did you leave your heart? And where did you forget it in the first place? I took space, and you took me apart, we were doomed from the start if we never learned to show face.” Could you tell us more about the meaning behind these lyrics?
mau: Well generally speaking it’s about a breakup, and a realization that came with time – that the relationship had ended earlier than either of us realized. The song is actually named “Dogtail” to reflect the action of a dog chasing its tail round and round in circles, which felt like an accurate representation. Writing “Dogtail” made me realize that distance does give clarity – and there’s a lot more that can be understood if you look at things from a place where they have long since ended, especially if there’s no malice involved.
How do identity politics and intersectionality intersect with your artistic practice?
mau: It’s tricky honestly. I feel as though the personal nature of art can often bring us to speak loudly on things in a reactionary and sometimes detrimental way, taking up space that’s meant for others. I try not to speak loudly on large and complex issues in my art when I know the subject matter is usually coming from quite personal experiences and is introspective in its nature. Being an artist doesn’t necessarily mean that my solidarity and action need to appear in the art I make. A lot of what’s really helped me grow as an artist is exploring the discomfort that comes with privilege. Placing myself in spaces where I need to listen because they address things I cannot speak on. I feel like that’s what pushed me towards better action and genuine solidarity.
In what ways do you aim to represent the diversity of Black culture? Why is representation important?
mau: I think I just aim for authenticity, focussing on being true to myself and my Blackness by extension. Speaking for yourself and honoring your voice as a Black artist is so important, but sometimes the harder thing for us to do is to not speak for or in the place of others. Like most (if not all) Black people, my narrative is a blend of different cultures, but I’m here to represent myself, and not necessarily all those cultures separately. I think I honor that diversity by being honest about the things I do and don’t carry. On representation, I think it’s important because it helps us imagine beyond ourselves, but often we are pushed to settle for the idea of representation itself. By itself, representation is quite surface level – it’s a gauge for visibility, as opposed to agency.
How did the quarantine period impact you as a multidisciplinary artist?
mau: It definitely forced me to slow down. When I first moved to New York I think part of me flourished in multiple mediums because I was finally in a place that matched my brain’s pace. I could be constantly slightly distracted and moving in all directions and things would somehow come together in different places and different ways. Quarantine really had me fixed in place, reckoning with the process in a way I never had before. I’m a lot less spread out and it’s helped me explore being a multidisciplinary artist in a more focused way. Instead of looking for different projects within different mediums, I’m trying to see mau from nowhere as one that is ongoing and expressed through different mediums.
Interview conducted by Shirley Reynozo