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mau from nowhere Just Wants To Have Fun

mau from nowhere’s most recent drop, ‘Crooked,’ is a sexy, mid-tempo bop, dripping in self-assuredness as he playfully serenades his love interest; I’ve been seeing crooked but you got me focused on you, how you move your body/ Don’t wait, let’s play, make this moment magic.  “I want to make shit for the club now,” he says about the track.   Making music is a typically a heavy process for mau from nowhere. The Kenyan multi-hyphenated artist has made a name for himself with an alternative sound to go along with his tender exploration of the heart centre. His handiwork reflects the intensity of the process, as the majority of his released music is immensely vulnerable- “vintage mau,” he calls it.    ‘Crooked,’ however, is somewhat of a departure from this signature sound. He admits that the shift was not comfortable; “I don’t mind going inwards but I do struggle with confidence when I think ‘I have to rap in a sexy way.’ I get in my head about how I'm presenting and how it resonates with the rest of my music.” The anxiety of releasing music outside of what listeners have come to consider your staple sound is understandable. There is a worry that a bubble of sorts might burst. But for mau from nowhere, this bubble extends to his identity and who he has allowed himself to be. He realised that he’d developed a light film of shame for expressing more carnal feelings in his music and what this would mean for his cultivated personna. “I think a lot of of it is that I don’t want to come across as a fuck boy,” he starts, and then briefly pauses as if he is processing in real time before listing out, “but at the end of the day, a) it’s not that deep, b) I know who I am as a person and c) it’s music, man- there is nothing unsexier than trying to be perfect in music.” ‘Crooked’ is part of an upcoming EP that will feature the afrobeats artist Suté Iwar, as well as Uganda’s Mauimoøn, with whom he has collaborated previously on ‘Sweeta.’ For mau, this shift in sound is a reflection of an inner world ready to expand. Instead of being bogged down about what he would typically do, he is simply centring “what sounds good and feels right.”     mau’s artistry is not only led intuitively, he is also a meticulous student of craft. The rap verse of ‘Crooked’ features one of the most entertaining staples of R&B: the dirty mack. He raps;  Last guy had you for a spin for a min but he wasn’t playing proper so you went and dropped him, good choice . And shortly after;  Know a couple silly boys had gone and wasted your time, “Modo wa Magego 32” and still here acting a child . On top of the rich bank of history the genre already has, a lot of mau’s friends are also making R&B now, which means he is surrounded by the sound. “It’s been so fun tapping into it because it can be so ridiculous, niggas are really singing in the rain with their shirts unbuttoned,” he laughs before adding, “R&B is actually one of the highest art forms not even just musically, but comically too. It’s very ‘chalant’, which is very on brand for me.” In ‘Crooked’ he got to be a little petty and prideful too. “It’s gassing yourself a little, but less preachy. I don't want to be a rapper or singer that's says stuff like ‘I believe in myself,’ you know?”    Instead of the sermon-like approach, mau opts to make the same impact by pointing out the minutiae. “It’s really easy to say something like ‘there’s a storm in my brain,’ and of course that would communicate discomfort, but what if I bring it down to something a lot smaller and resonant.” He references his own lyrics; my friends got me fucked up/ this hair got me fucked up/ and I didn’t have time to iron so this shirt got me fucked up. “Sometimes the way you know you’re really not okay is when the centre of your frustration becomes this tiny inconvenience,” he explains. He also does this in the ninth track off his debut album titled ‘The Universe Is Holding You.’ s_t_h  stands out as one of the moments of pure innocence, devoid of any of the cynicism in some of the music in the rest of the project. It’s an incredibly sweet depiction the simplest joys of love; And I love the way you let me hold your hand/ And that smile you get whenever we make plans.  “ The idea is that less is more,” he says of his writing. On a night towards the end of April, mau and I sat in the outside seating area at the South London pub, Prince of Peckham. The wall nearest to us is embellished with thick, white lettering that says “WELCOME TO PECKHAM.” London is not foreign to him by any means, but he does not consider it to be home; “these days I think about moving back to Nairobi almost once a day.” mau moved to Nairobi, Kenya, post-COVID pandemic that had him isolated in New York, where he was pursuing a film degree. “Honestly I didn’t really see myself having a place in Nairobi when I first returned either- a lot of my formative years were spent so far from it,” he recalls. He leaned on his friends and family who invited him in their already established circles. An impromptu studio session made up of a piece of equipment brought by each person there, or a night out at a spot in Westlands. With time he started to feel more comfortable; “I was so grateful to have people who let me into their spaces. And when I met people who had listened to my music, I felt so relieved because I was just so worried about being rejected.”   Nairobi’s alternative scene can be traced back to the mid-late 2010s.  Young artists would experiment with genre-merging sounds and self-publish on soundcloud. In many ways the early artists from the scene laid the foundation for the infrastructure that would allow for current artists with alternative influences in their music to flourish. It is still a young industry, with plenty room to grow into a more nurturing space for its artists. But whether this is through venues, events or even priming audiences to embrace homegrown alté artists, the likes of mau came into a music world with some scaffolding to support them.    “Moving to London was more a conscious decision to see what was up, instead of because I felt like I was missing something in Nairobi. I've learned that it's less about seizing opportunities in the traditional sense of getting signed, or working with so and so. But instead, it’s been about recognising that traveling has been such a key part of my growth as a person and looking at what this place can teach me about myself.” mau has grown to embrace the kind of independence and resilience one can only learn from having to make a home out of a new country. His first job when he arrived in London was being a waiter where he worked long hours and hated his boss. He often wondered whether he was wasting his time. “I think it's been a big trust exercise and it has strengthened my resolve in the fact that I want my legacy and my identity to be rooted in Kenya. But I know that I want those catalysts for growth to happen. I think moving here has been one of them.”   London has also introduced mau to artists like Theo Shier/ hi hi, a performing artist-producer with whom he was able to find synergy. Another collaboration the Kenyan multihyphenate has been trying to fostering more of is that with the live audience. “I feel like sometimes it can feel like you’re yelling into the ether, which is why live performance can feel like there's not just acknowledgement but exchange about your art. When it's going well, I feel very free and I get to come out of my shell.”   mau’s hyperconsciousness has been more of a steady companion rather than a hinderance; he has felt it from a young age, but it has never fully stopped him from putting himself out there. On a primary school trip to Mt. Kenya, a schoolmate summoned him to tag in on an impromptu rap battle. “I highkey came correct. And they were all like, oh, you can actually kind of rap,” he recalls giddily. “I only remember the first two bars: my name is K-A-M-A-U Wainaina/ I never met a man on earth who’s finer , I won, and the rest was history.” There is also the time he rapped for a school TV program that was not received well, and an old compilation of YouTube vlogs that he assured me are completely scrubbed off the internet. “Maybe it’s the Gemini in me that can be kind of assertive. Also, to be honest I say yes to things before I can think sometimes, and then before I know it I'm in that place and I have to just do it,” he says.      Along with impulsivity, humour has also been a shield of sorts, making it easier for him to put himself out there, especially on the internet. Whether it’s a running inside joke established with mutuals, or a witty retort quote tweeting a piece of news, mau keeps his digital personality silly. “ Twitter can get weird, but it's still easier than life,” he says. Recently, he has found it increasingly difficult to avoid the politics that come with fame. Accepting that a minute-long exchange will be all some listeners have to judge him by, or having to sus out interactions where strangers try to garner social capital through proximity to him. “I realise I have to be recognised if I’m going to live off this and be able to take care of the people I love. But I’m also careful that the recognition is respect and not just popularity.” The latter, he emphasises, is dopamine inducing attention that does not necessarily translate into streams or gig opportunities.   Hyper commercialisation can feel almost inevitable in an internet age where art is often watered down to content in attempt to keep up with the attention hamster wheel. It can also feel like the only way to be successful is to blow up. “I mean sometimes I do wonder what would happen if I did blow up. But when I actually think about it, not only do I not want to be that commercial, I also don’t really know what I would do with an abundance of resources at this moment in time,”   So, instead, mau is choosing to be patient. In the meantime, he is of course making music, but he is also practising self-acceptance; “I know a moment will come when it’s going to click. Something I put out will be a big enough deal to take seriously. So, I’m just working on my self acceptance first and inshallah, when that time comes I don’t feel too jaded to accept and enjoy it.”

mau from nowhere’s most recent drop, ‘Crooked,’ is a sexy, mid-tempo bop, dripping in self-assuredness as he playfully serenades his love...

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