The Nigerian-born neo-soul artist intricately unravels the multi-layered, philosophical narrative weaving through his sound with brand new single “Nina”.
Wayne Snow has intrigued and captured audiences across the globe with his own rhapsodic world woven through his music; a soulful sonic concoction seeded in his Nigerian roots. Now based in Berlin, Snow continues to reverberate that warm, sun-kissed sound, as well as his unique creative vision together with Roche Musique and highly acclaimed collaborators such as FKJ, Darius, Max Graefand and Glenn Astro. Having had a taste of his new highly ambitious album “Figurine” from the gentle, hypnotic “Seventy”, Snow gifts us with a second single “Nina”, anticipating the full project release on 24th September.
The past year has been a psychological awakening for Snow. As time was paused by the pandemic he was drawn into a deep self-introspection, which unearthed a deluge of interior narratives that have crescendoed into a beautiful album. “Nina” is a chasmic exploration of internal realities, a quest to understand life’s meaning within modern-day relationships and the façades we hide our stories behind. Inspired by Japanese mask theatre to Afrofuturism and the Voguing movement, Snow builds on his philosophical narratives to challenge social structures and the struggles long faced by the Black and LGBTQIA+ community. “Nina” evokes a return to the joy of the child inside us, Snow elaborates, “I feel like music and dancing is when we break loose. It’s difficult to hide when you lose yourself to music, especially through movement, you can’t be in control of your emotions”.
“Nina” is a collision of art, colour and sound; a visceral metaphor for Snow’s return to his roots. The blend of alternative pop and neo-funk showcases his mastery of the synthesizer — Snow’s signature silky, intricate sounds fold around a crisp beat, crafting a refined euphoric ambience. The accompanying visuals echo that euphoria with two figures, innocent and pure, losing themselves in rich colour and dance. They speak to the rich history of Black art as a vital, jubilant force, one that uses physical expression and movement to make sense of life.
Led by acclaimed Art Director Travys Owen, the project was executed by a small, tight-knit creative team who have all previously worked with the likes of The Roots, Flying Lotus, Erykah Badu, Mumford & Sons, Major Lazer, Burna Boy, and Petite Noir. In bringing “Nina” to life, Snow and his creative team highlight art’s monumental affective agency and the strength of the human spirit.
Wayne, how have you been? How is life in Berlin?
It’s fine actually. We’re waiting to celebrate life as usual, we’re still in lockdown until Friday when bars and restaurants are opening but not the clubs.
Congratulations on your project ‘Figurine’, how are you feeling about it?
Thank you. I’m feeling pretty happy. It’s lovely to meet so many creative people and it’s still moving so I’m super happy.
There are many narratives that you explore within the project. Let’s start with how you consider humanity’s obsession with masks and our creation of avatars. What drew you towards understanding this concept and how does it resonate through your music?
I was driven to this idea of masks quite a while ago when I was into theatre, mostly Japanese mask theatre. But it also drew me inwards and I felt like for every situation there is a mask, I have a mask and I feel like for everyone there is always a tendency to wear a mask. So my question is when do we find ourselves and who we truly are? When do we remove that mask? Even when we are alone we still tend to wear this mask because we are so used to carrying it around. This concept pushed my ideas further because when you start digging into it you find tradition and in every culture, you find these masks. This brings us all together. I knew that if I spoke about the idea of humanity’s obsession with masks, I would spark a conversation.
Absolutely, I think your conversation is very universal and also introspective, It’s beautiful when artists urge us as listeners to consider ourselves in these ways. The record is based around the simple question “who is the real you?”, considering rebirth, individuality and social media. Talk to us about how these ideas link together through the project.
For me, the mask is an artificial thing we wear when we want to interact with others. To simplify this concept I think about the example of social media where we have this persona, this mask that we wear which we hide behind. Quoting the philosopher Erich Fromm, what we do is tend to present the best side of our persona. He suggested that people develop certain personality styles or strategies in order to deal with the anxiety created by feelings of isolation. I felt I had to talk about these tendencies we all have and wanted to connect this to my music. I feel like music and dancing is when we break loose. It’s difficult to hide when you lose yourself to music, especially through movement, you can’t be in control of your emotions.
It is such a vulnerable moment when your internal realities seep out into the world. You also deconstruct love and our increasing sense of alienation as well as the reality of modern-day relationships, how does this echo through the record?
Well, it was the beginning of the pandemic just as all of this music started coming together. During this time of COVID, I had a period of emotional upheaval because I, like many other people I believe, was stuck with this idea of finding myself again. When you are in this position and you are in a relationship there is a kinda clash because you are used to wearing that particular mask, but are forced to reveal yourself to this person. I was having this huge self-introspection which was very overwhelming to share with someone else. My love for this person was no longer light anymore and it became a heavy internal healing process for me. What is love after all? How do we love?
Those questions are huge! They carry a lot of gravity, again it’s a very introverted and vulnerable place to be when we’re forced into these periods of isolation and begin to ask ourselves these questions. But it’s also a gift that these questions are being imposed on us now rather than many years later.
Yeah! I just feel like we lost sight of ourselves, we took everything for granted. I felt that because we are what we are, we could do whatever we wanted and were sabotaging our own planet. When the pandemic happened there was this huge pause. This pause was kinda this true awareness of time. When you ask yourself these kinds of heavy questions I think your tendency to do good will be stronger.
Interlaced within these narratives is the overarching homage to your Nigerian heritage and the deep sense of admiration you feel towards your country of birth. How does this emanate through your sound?
Generally, when I create I tend not to just follow one path. For me it was quite natural, as I said before, I’m still trying to understand myself. I do that through exploring sound and going back to my roots, in a sense I’ve never left my roots. It’s more feasible for me to do that sonically. I feel like it’s natural for me to bring out those colours that I know, those African muddy colours, those orangey colours. This is what I want to express through the music, I want them to be heard so I had to find ways to really dig into this aspect. For me, going back to my roots is not only a sonic experience.
Yeah I guess it’s an endless visceral experience through art, sound, colour and everything beyond.
Speaking about “Nina” you say, “Nina is quite simply the child in each one of us, who we call upon in difficult times. Like a modern-day Mr. Bojangles, she dances to forget herself in a whirlwind of joy” — what is the message behind this track?
The message behind the track is the same message that runs throughout my recent work. That message is that things are not what they seem, there is always something behind. It’s like me talking to you and the story that I carry, and you talking to me with what you carry behind. Then when we start dancing, when the music starts, let’s just put our personal story aside and enjoy the moment together. “Nina” is an invitation to let go of those burdens and return to the joy of that child inside us. I quoted Mr. Bojangles because it reminded me of Nina Simone’s cover. The story of Mr. Bojangles is kinda a sad one, you see an incredible performer dancing just like Charlie Chaplin but after the performance, he is very sad and the only moment he lives for is when he’s dancing. That’s the invitation — whenever people hear “Nina” they just gotta be in the moment, dance in the moment… just do your thing.
Let’s talk about the sonic construction of the project, how did you arrive at this sound?
Oh it was a long journey, over several stages. I met a couple of producers who were Berlin-based friends, who I started working with on the project. I wanted to do very quick, straightforward tracks. So “Nina” happened quite fast but the other tracks came 1 or 2 years after, working with other friends here in Berlin. Once we decided ok we’re gonna go for the album, we selected a couple of tracks and I decided to finalise the whole thing with Crayon, a French artist and producer. He helped me bring the whole thing together, especially sound-wise, we worked to connect everything together. Generally, that’s how I like working, so when I go to the studio I try to embrace the moment and capture the spirit of other people’s moments in the room. Then I move into the next studio, that’s why all the tracks are so different. But they all run through the same channel, which is that of raw emotion, so I can easily connect them. I’m connecting these tiny moments of life together.
Talk to us about the creative process for the visuals for “Nina”, the ideas behind it and your interest in Afrofuturism.
I discovered Travys Owen’s work and knew that he was the guy for this. So we flew to South Africa and it was just incredible to work with him and his producer, they brought in some visual artists too. We had this little family over there. We were working around these songs to make them a true visual experience. I was a little concerned because I have a bit of synesthesia, so it was very important for me to have the right colours for the music. That’s why on “Nina” you have this plethora of colours pumping out with the music, it’s made for your body, your eyes, all the senses.
The connection to Afrofuturism is natural. For me Afrofuturism is a combination of a tiny bit of modern experience and a large part of the traditional experience. So the modern experience for the first video on one of the tracks was the camera, the film, then you have this natural landscape and I was wearing this black latex. When you’re filming in that landscape it makes it futuristic for me. It’s the same concept with the visuals for “Nina”, that combination of the past and future. The dancers are performing a highly stylised dance called voguing, which was also a liberation movement back in the 80s.
Yes, Voguing was part of ballroom culture wasn’t it and offered a new language that challenged social structures and demonstrated the ways that race, gender and sexuality were actually intersecting, fluid and constantly evolving.
Yes! And seeing dancers voguing now is representational of that fact that this fight still persists today and the need to show people this beautiful art. It was incredible to see these dancers in Johannesburg. Part of the message is to say that we don’t live in a divided world anymore, we are all in this world together. Whatever is happening like in Palestine, we’re all concerned. We’re part of that same equation. That is Afrofuturism too, to show people that there is a bridge of time linking the past, present and future.
Choreographed by dancer/choreographer Llewellyn Mnguni. Such fluidity stands as a testament to the discovery of one’s true self and the right to be free. It also touches on the struggles long faced by the Black and LGBTQIA+ community.
Llewellyn (they/them) invited all the dancers but they didn’t choreograph, the dancers improvised freely to the music. Again, that’s the invitation we all have with “Nina”, I was watching these beautiful dancers and had to join the energy so I did my own little moves haha. Really it’s an excuse to talk about these important issues of a community that is being persecuted for too long now and I ask for it to stop. We have to deal with the negativity positively, it’s a joyful way of raising these issues.
In bringing “Nina” to life, you highlight art’s role in life and the strength of the human spirit — how art has this monumental visceral capacity on us. Could you tell us why art is important to you, maybe there are a variety of art forms that you hold close when we question its role in our lives and what it means to us.
In the past I studied Art History and for me studying art was this quest for the meaning of beauty, I was trying to discover the true meaning of beauty. In all art forms, whether that’s visual, sound and beyond, I try to find beauty. Then I had to step away from the studies because I found myself being lured by the creative side of art. What I felt was that you have people who have this ability to admire beauty in some ways, retain it, then find all sorts of tools to express this. For me this is very important, some people just have this ability to see things differently and articulate it with such beauty. For me that is art. Whoever has that ability they should find all means to express it. For me it’s mainly music but there are so many other ways, like my girlfriend is an architect so she expresses through buildings. I’m sure you have ways to do it too! When we find ourselves creating art we find ourselves in this playground where we share this pure, raw naivety.