Music is becoming more and more expansive as artists (re)shape elements from varying genres to create fresh sounds. And while it is seemingly cliché for artists to respond with “I don’t like to label myself” when asked what kind of music they make, this mentality has birthed a fun and vibrant Kenyan music scene. One such breakout artist is Xenia Manasseh, whose hit single Niambie caught the attention of many. And when her recently released EP Fallin’ Apart reached #1 in the RnB chart and #2 for all genres in 24 hours, she cemented her place as one of the region’s to-watch-out-for stars.
Xenia Mansseh’s Fallin’ Apart takes us on a journey, with each song displaying different kinds and stages of desperation. The opening track of the project and the obvious club banger See Me, is the most seemingly confident with lyrics like “I don’t want to waste my time,” accompanied by an up-tempo beat. The song is so full of life that you almost forget that the singer is pleading to be seen by her lover. Past the fun of the “Ooh yeah, ooh yeah, ooh yeah” is the hurt-filled “Baby have you seen me?” There is an art to making a deep cut that on surface level feels like a bop, and it is safe to say Xenia has mastered it.
The song transitions into a slower second part whose melody smoothly ushers in that of the next track: Found Me. What sounds like the stoner version of a drunken call, Found Me is hauntingly vulnerable. Xenia uses rather simple lyrics to convey the feeling of yearning for a lover after an intoxication-induced memory. The simplicity in her songwriting is such an honest way to illustrate what would otherwise be a pretty unremarkable memory. The intensity in “you had me, I had you, we stayed true,” is in whoever comes to mind when you hear these lyrics, not particularly the lyrics themselves. In this way, Xenia lures listeners to get introspective and piece together their own versions of this memory, and by the chorus you find yourself reluctantly in your feelings.
The project is divided in two parts with Fading (Interlude) signifying the end of one part and the start of another. There is also a key change in the last three songs, which in comparison to the first two are a lot more forthcoming with despair. In Fallin’ Apart, she subverts the fairytale idea of “falling in love.” Instead of happiness, we feel anguish, and the echo effect created through voice layering perfectly illustrates the “woe is me” feeling the song chronicles. The Kenyan singer makes it a point to incorporate Swahili at the end of the song “siwezi endelea,” which translates to “I can’t go on” as a nod to where she is from. By the last track in the project, When Its Over, we hear submission, a sort of acceptance that the relationship with her lover has ended. She simply declares, “Cause when its all over, I’m done”
The storytelling nature of the project is complemented by how technically sound it is; not one harmony out of place, not a note not hit to perfection. The production, understated, matched the singer’s voice such that neither element felt drowned out by the other. The heavy reliance of instruments, is not only refreshing but serves to give the project an overall down to earth feel. There is a pressure to impress with a debut project. For many artists this results in an awkward and unwieldy attempt to present listeners with all the tricks in their bag. Xenia tows the line gracefully; the depth of her musical knowledge is apparent, and her confidence in this knowledge clearly translates to prowess.
The genre-defying Fallin’ Apart is honest, relatable and masterful. And perhaps more importantly, it is such an exciting indicator of what more to expect from the singer/ songwriter's career.