- Words Blessing Borode
Xenia Manasseh shares what it’s like to write with other artists, her move from Kenya to Atlanta and balancing her studies alongside her career.
Born and raised in Kenya and is now breaking into the Atlanta music scene is artist and songwriter Xenia Manasseh.
2019 was the first we heard of her as Xenia debuted her EP, ‘Fallin’ Apart’. An incredible start, it sat at number one on the Kenyan iTunes R&B/Soul charts and number two in all other genres.
The EP features Xenia’s soothing melody lines, controlled vocals and a songwriting style that gives listeners brief access to her world, her thoughts and feelings. Not only is she revered as a vocalist but as a proficient songwriter. Since signing to Atlanta-based label UCMG back in 2018, Xenia has bagged writing credentials with artists like Big Sean and Teyana Taylor, as well as beefing up her own portfolio of songs she’s written.
Her latest track “Lowkey” is a smooth, lo-fi R&B-meets neo-soul offering. In Xenia’s words, “The song is about new love and keeping things on the low. The inspiration for the song actually came from the beat itself. The beat was called “Lowkey” and I wanted to write something different from what I had already put out so this was what inspired me”.
To top it all off, alongside songwriting and making and recording her own music, Xenia is also a graduate of Berklee College of Music where she majored in Music Business and Management. Is there anything she can’t do?
Notion had the chance to catch up with the growing artist about how her studies have helped her navigate the industry, co-writing a track on Teyana Taylor’s new album, and who she hopes to work with next.
Are you from a musical background?
Yes I am. I’ve loved music all my life. I’ve been singing all my life, started playing the piano when I was around 2 years old and went on to pick up drums, guitar and bass as well. My mum is a singer and her dad and his siblings play a couple different instruments as well. I’ve always been surrounded by music.
How did your upbringing shape the artist you’ve become?
As mentioned, I have always been surrounded by music. I grew up taking ABRSM exams in voice and piano. I also frequently participated in the Kenya National Music Festival as a competitor in voice, piano and even recorder. This meant I was always practicing and it really sharpened my ear for music.
Who were some of your biggest inspirations at the start of your career, compared to now?
My inspirations have always been the same, the list just expanded. Neo-Soul has always had my heart and so I’ve been inspired by Queens like Lauryn Hill, India Arie, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Brandy from when I was a child, to now others like Jazmine Sullivan, Alex Isley, Emily King. I would also say once I started songwriting I found inspiration there as well. I love Victoria Monèt’s writing, Ne-Yo, James Fauntleroy, Snoh Aalegra, Alex Isley, Emily King, Kenyon Dixon.
You are a signed songwriter to Atlanta based label UCMG, what has it been like to write with different personalities and styles?
It’s been amazing! When I started writing with them they would have me do studio sessions on my own and then eventually eased me into working with other writers. I think it’s always interesting when two people come together to try and tell the same story, there’s so many different ways to communicate and that’s the best part of songwriting for me, learning how others approach communicating the same feeling.
What made you want to stand out as a songwriter alongside being an artist?
I actually never even knew I was a songwriter like I am till I started working with UCMG back in July 2018. Before then I had written about ten songs, to finishing the year with at least one hundred songs that I had either written or co-wrote. Over time when you practice you can only get better and the opportunities open up and now I guess the work is speaking for itself. I always knew I didn’t want to be signed as an artist, always wanted to try and stay independent. Feels good to be known as an artist that not only writes all my own music but is in a position to do that for others.
What tips would you give to other songwriters who may want to join a label?
I think when it comes to signing well most important is to never jump at any opportunities that may come your way. Make sure you read your contracts, have them read by lawyers so that you make sure that you are signing a deal that will not hurt you. Character is very important to me, try to have a relationship with whoever you want to work with before you start to. The benefits of working with a label is the almost immediate expansion of your network and increased number of available opportunities for you to land songwriting placements. Always weigh the pros and cons of any opportunities that come your way.
You also studied Music Business and Management, did this help you to navigate the industry a bit better?
I believe it has. It allowed me to navigate being an independent everything. From the start of my artist career I always managed myself and got to learn from my mistakes and be hands on with the entire process from creation to rollout and the marketing of my music. Helped me build my own network of people and actually have personal relationships with people that led me to where I am now. If there’s one thing you leave Berklee with it’s that networking is the most important thing you can do. People go on to do amazing things once they graduate and you want to have friends that will mention your name when those crazy opportunities come around and vice versa.
What was it like balancing both of these commitments?
Challenging but that is what helps you grow if you give yourself the space to make mistakes and learn from them. I’m still making mistakes now lol It’s all just a learning process.
You’ve also gained writing credits on Teyana Taylor’s ‘The Album’ for the singles ‘Wrong B*tch’ and ‘Shoot It Up’ which also features Big Sean. What was it like working with these artists?
Funny how the songwriting business works, both the songs were written in 2018 when I had just started really working with UCMG, so I’ve never actually had the chance to meet them! Can’t wait until I do though, I’m sure once we’re back to moving around these opportunities will present themselves.
Who else is on your bucket list?
I would absolutely love to write for Rihanna, H.E.R, Brandy, Snoh Aalegra, Summer Walker, Normani, Beyoncè
How was the transition from living in Nairobi to now living in Atlanta?
The transition was smooth. I had visited Atlanta a few times before I officially moved there but I knew from the first time that I visited that it was where I wanted to move to. And I have no regrets.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received about the industry?
Network network network!! lol
What can we expect from you next in terms of songwriting?
We shall have to wait and see lol I’m also curious, got some good news though now just waiting to see it come to pass
What can we expect next from you?
A project. All the songs have already been written and selected it’s just a matter of time now.