Don’t Tell Anyone crosses the finish line as a solid EP. It doesn’t drop the ball in any respect, but it also doesn’t necessarily push the needle much in terms of Mannywellz as an artiste …
By Yinoluwa Olowofoyeku
The Nigeria-born but US-bred Mannywellz is the son of popular Nigerian Gospel artiste, Pastor Kunle Ajomale, and that is partly where he credits the Afro- and Juju influences in his sound to. Most of his life has been spent growing up in the DMV area of the United States, allowing him to soak up the dominant Soul, R&B, and Hip-Hop sensibilities around him, and inject them into his more familiar Afrobeats and Juju influences. This results in a veritable Afro-Fusion style that Mannywellz calls “SoulFro,” a style with strong sonic ties to Nigeria as well as elements from the aforementioned broad musical horizons.
The album begins with a clear demonstration of the Afro-Fusion to expect, with smooth, self-produced, soulful keys combining with energetic Afro percussions, midtempo drums and a bubbly bassline serving as the backdrop for beautiful group vocals and a chopped-up delivery for “DeJa Vu.” Ghanaian-born DMV rapper, Foggieraw, makes a brief appearance as the only featured artiste on the project. He comes with a unique conversational flow that adds some style but doesn’t contribute much to the song thematically or lyrically. Mannywellz’s strong voice carries us through the song suitably, with a number of interesting runs and a powerfully belted passage near the end of the song.
“Everything” is up next, and it finds Mannywellz professing admiration over a simple beat, built on a straightforward synth chord pattern, vocal samples, a lively bassline and a steady Afrobeat drumline. Mannywellz relies on his delivery, mostly utilising solo vocals and doing away with harmonies or backing vocals till the tail end of the song. While this leaves the listener focused on Mannywellz’s powerful voice and expressive lyrics, it does leave the song feeling a bit sparse. The sparseness is even more noticeable in contrast when the group vocals do come in and give the song a nicely rounded feel.
“Ouu Ahh” is up next, and it draws strongly on the “SoulFro” fusion energy, featuring Afrobeat-typical percussive elements but pulling its general sensual vibe more from the R&B spectrum with its spacious drums and soft synth pads. Mannywellz capitalises on the R&B atmosphere to paint romantic and sensual scenarios with his lyrics, professing desire in English and Yoruba with soft-flowing melodies and falsetto runs.
“Miracle” is my favourite song and takes us further down Soul Avenue, with its staggered hi-hats, electric piano chords, sparkling key trills and deliciously playful bass guitars. The simple drums are a throwback to old school R&B and Hip-Hop jams. Mannywellz follows suit, calling on emotive melodies and laid-back singing that sounds a bit nasal in places but ultimately combines with clever backing vocals to get the message of a miraculous lover across. One line he uses strikes me as unique: “I see no problems with you, Just flaws, I got plenty, too.” In a medium rife with songs about cliché perfect lovers, this line humanises the subject and the emotion around them in a surprising way.
“For Real” picks the pace up again with straight-laced Afroswing drums and rattling shakers, a thumping bassline, summery guitar flourishes, and a mallet chord base. The instrumental of this song feels a bit lacking in warmth and punch, with the drums feeling very light and getting repetitive, and the mallets feeling plastic and hollow. The guitars and Mannywellz’s voice put some of it back but not enough to help me enjoy this song as much as I could. The song features a bridge on the back end that draws some captivating vocals from Mannywellz, but the song doesn’t gain too much from it.
“Magic” begins with sweetly-strummed Salsa-esque guitars that pair interestingly well with a pulsing bassline and a unique accompanying drum cadence to create an idiosyncratic sonic environment for Mannywellz to occupy. He employs a semi-rapped delivery to bounce in the pockets created by the drums. This delivery keeps the melodies in the same range, only to be expanded upon in the hook, with effective backing and harmonising.
The project ends on “The Basics.” It features an ear-catching instrumental that holds the ear without having too many layers. However, it doesn’t feel empty. The simple layering of percussion-heavy drums, light strings, strummed guitars, and echoing pianos all blend well together. Mannywellz dishes out a number of considered melodies and contrasting big vocal moments to weave a narrative about a love connection that doesn’t get caught up in the extra frivolities. Group vocals are well-used here as well, filling out the song in a pleasant way and wrapping the project up on a high note.
Don’t Tell Anyone crosses the finish line as a solid EP. It doesn’t drop the ball in any respect, but it also doesn’t necessarily push the needle much in terms of Mannywellz as an artiste. As a producer, the EP is quite a feat as he was able to produce the project from front to back with a consistent quality and coherent sonic palette. The instrumentals are all quite light and simple, allowing Mannywellz’s voice to take centre stage. And while he certainly doesn’t disappoint where his vocals are concerned, I feel like he played it a bit safe vocally. I was a huge fan of the work he did vocally on the previous Unwanted EP and hoped he would continue to push like that vocally. Don’t Tell Anyone takes a step back from that. The strength, agility, and power he was able to display on that admittedly more soulful project is sorely missed here.
Yes, there were moments, but the majority of this project sees Mannywellz staying within a single octave and conjuring up simple Afro-typical melody lines. There wasn’t much by way of harmonisation, outside the sections with group vocals in the hooks. The writing remains relatable and evocative where necessary, but the punch is lessened without the soaring vocals and flexible rhythms we know Mannywellz to be capable of. And where he does throw in the runs and frills, they feel quite improvised, and not in a great way. For fear of sounding overly negative, I must reiterate that the project is not bad by any stretch of the imagination. But that’s what it is; “not bad.” It is Mannywellz cruising along and releasing more Mannywellz into the world for his fans hold on to and new listeners to bop along to. I will always welcome new Mannywellz music; I’m only hoping that whatever comes next comes with a bit more SoulFro zing to it.
Lyricism – 1.2
Tracklisting – 1.2
Sound Engineering – 1.3
Vocalisation – 1.4
Listening Experience – 1.1
Rating – 6.2/10
Yinoluwa “Yinoluu” Olowofoyeku is a multi-disciplinary artist and creative who finds expression in various media.