After her successful second EP ‘Maybe’ (2022), Xenia [Zee-ni-a] Manasseh is ready to secure her place in the music circuit with her debut album ‘Love/Hate PT.1’.
With African music continuing to dominate the charts around the globe, a fresh crop of new African artists is taking over the music landscape. Kenyan singer-songwriter Xenia [pronounced Zee-ni-a] is one of the artists making her mark on the international arena with her eclectic sound, lush vocals and fine pen game.
Raised between Kenya and the US, her multicultural background results in a diverse sound.“I feel like I have spent time in the two places that have influenced me the most musically. Kind of had the best of both worlds without having any plan to do it,” she tells Blacklight.
Xenia studied music at Berklee College of Music in Boston, which helped her carve a name for herself in the Los Angeles music scene. She is also credited as a songwriter on Teyana Talyor’s recent offering, The Album, where she is credited as a co-writer on Shoot It Up (feat. Big Sean) and Wrong B*tch, which she also provided backing vocals. She has collaborated with Grammy-winning Nigerian artist Burna Boy, Tay Iwar (Nigeria), Sauti Sol (Kenya) and Mr. Eazi (Nigeria).
The singer released her debut EP ‘Falling’ in 2019 and followed it up with her acclaimed EP Maybe in 2022. Her much-anticipated debut album, Love/Hate PT.1 – is out now! – promises to continue the moment and establish her as a new musical sensation.
Blacklight: You dropped “Anticipate”, the second lead single from your debut album ‘LOVE/HATE PT. 1’; what makes it a great teaser for your debut album?
Xenia Manasseh: At the time, I didn’t know it but I think the title itself being “Anticipate” helped in building up the anticipation for the album. Aside from that, I think it is a sound that I haven’t heard before and was a great introduction to the kind of music that’s being made in Kenya. I feature Karun, someone who I feel opened up the space for the kind of music I make. Anticipate is about wanting to go back to when love felt colourful and hopeful…and even safe. I like to say that anybody who has loved and lost love can relate to the song.
BL: What was your intention while creating your debut album?
XM: I can’t say that I had any other intention other than just being honest with myself and trying to heal from my experiences. I feel like this is the magic of the album: I was just trying to find myself again through expressing how I really felt at the time and it only makes sense that it turned into a body of work.
BL: How was the process of creating the album? And do you believe it fully captures your artistic story?
XM: I wrote this album between June and July 2019. I’d say it took a total of 2 – 3 weeks of writing everyday to come up with what you will now hear as the album. It was created in my childhood home; in the bedroom I grew up in. I was in a safe space to really confront all my emotions and that alone is more than enough reason to believe that it fully captures my artistic story at the time. And it is a great indicator for the life that I live and [the] music I create now.
BL: How would you describe your work as a musician to somebody who has yet to discover you?
XM: I would describe my music as a blend of all my influences and a reflection of my experiences. I was born and raised in Kenya which comes with all its cultural influences. I grew up listening to a range of music from Brenda Fassie to Richard Clayderman, to E-sir and Nameless, to Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu and India Arie and newer artists like Alex Isley. I feel like all these people influenced the way I create music and the kind of music that I make.
BL: What was the moment that turned music from being a hobby into a dream career?
XM: If I’m being honest, it was always a dream career. There was only a change in the level of commitment to the craft. I see now that I always pursued music with my heart but I always wanted it to be something I did on the side. Once I applied to music school for university and got in, it became crystal clear that it was always what I was meant to do.
BL: Your 2022 EP, Maybe, was a successful breakthrough for you; what did you learn about yourself while riding the wave of success?
XM: I feel like each release comes with the realization of my personal growth. That to me is where the success lies. As long as I listen to the music and hear the change in my perspective and hear that there is forward movement I feel successful.
BL: You have also collaborated with a few successful artists and were featured on Teyana Taylor’s “The Album” as a vocalist and songwriter. How important is collaboration to you?
XM: I really value collaboration in and outside of music. When it comes to music specifically, although I write a lot of my music on my own, I really value making music with others because of how magical it feels to be able to translate emotions into music with someone else. I see co-writing sessions as two or more people coming together to tell the same story, what a beautiful experience!
BL: They say this is the time for African musicians to conquer the world; do you believe this album will play a part (big or small) in the African music renaissance?
XM: Though I can’t speak much to how the project will be received, I already believe that it is a part of the African music renaissance.
BL: What is the bigger vision for yourself and your career?
XM: I feel like this is a difficult question to answer because I don’t have any limits in my mind about what my music is going to do for me or the paths that it will set me on. Everything so far has been beyond my expectations and I want to stay open to everything that committing to this process will bring into my life. I’m constantly looking forward to the future.
Xenia Manasseh’s debut album Love/Hate PT.1 is available for download and streaming on all leading music platforms.