How would you like to introduce yourself?
My name is Lewis Manyenya. I was born and raised in Zimbabwe. I came here when I was twenty. I would say I’m a multifaceted artist, I can do a lot of stuff. I am a 3D conversion artist at Legend 3D and that’s my nine to five and I do music and curate events in Toronto.
How does Zimbabwe play a role in your music and what you do creatively?
First and foremost, it would be humility, because artists in my country serve the people. Where [in Toronto], especially in the genre I have gravitated towards, it’s all about ‘I’m this or such and such,’ and then you have followers and have fans. Looking at the artists who inspired me back home – the biggest artists in my country is what you would call folk, you know African folk music, and those people were dads and families, kind of like a family concert. If they had a concert you would take the whole family there and everyone would be having a good time.
“I grew up in that kind of community and environment where the artists would serve the people.”
You also have to remember that Zimbabwe is going through a lot of economic difficulty. An artist in a country like that is doing more than just making music, [he’s] give people an escape on the Friday and Saturday nights. I grew up looking up to that, I wanted to be that guy, when people are going through certain things, they can just come out.
Is that the kind of music that you want to make?
It is the kind of music I wanted to make, I don’t know if I am making that right now. When I got here I was heavily influenced by what was happening here, and because of the whole competitiveness of hip hop it kind of takes you from that, to ‘I am this person and I am here to be [this] good’. I don’t think I have made that kind of music for my first project, but I am getting closer to that with this Songs About You.
In a recent video of you, I saw that you didn’t tell your dad you were coming to Canada to pursue music, why?
Even though the artists back home were revered, they didn’t make a lot of money. The economy was really messed up, so they would usually have [another] job. One of the biggest artists I remember, was my dad’s favourite, was a doctor and a musician. He literally made more money off being a doctor obviously, and he got a lot of more patients because he was a doctor and a musician. [To my father] it did not look like a legit job to have, and my dad is pretty into the Christian faith, and my mom too, so hip hop was something they never wanted me to listen to. My first hip hop album that I ever owned was Eminem and that’s the worst album to play in a Christian home. I got that as a gift because a friend of mine said I was listening to too much Michael Jackson and ‘nice music’ and suggested I tried it. The only rap I knew before Eminem was Jay-Z and maybe Will Smith, so I listened to Eminem and I would rap the lines in the house and my dad did not like it. He would say ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about.’ So it was a secret thing, and that’s pretty much how I learned to rap – The Slim Shady LP and The Eminem Show.
Tell me about your last release “Songs About You” and how it will be different from your upcoming release.
Songs About You was divided into two projects. The first one was dedicated to my family because they didn’t like my previous release, Far From Home. Somehow my dad and mom found it when I was trying so hard to keep it away from them and my dad was not happy. So with the “Songs About You” side A, I tried to make music that my parents could listen to. That’s why you have songs like “Uber” and “Wagadugu”, where I changed the chorus and just left the saxophone, because I didn’t think my parents could bump to it because of what I was saying in the chorus.
Do you think your parents opinion has hindered or helped your music?
I think it helped my music with the first project and the idea with the saxophone. I don’t really consider [what they think] as much as I used to. I made that project before they came here for my graduation, so after having the conversation that this is really what I want to do, and these are the reasons for why I’m doing this, they understood where I was coming from and why I was using the language. We reached the conclusion where I was going to be making music and I said “you guys can listen to whatever you like if you don’t like it it’s not for you, let it go.”
What pushes you when it comes to music making? You work full-time at another job, does that make it hard in finding time to create?
I just started getting comfortable with work because in my first year working at Legend 3D I felt like it was conflicting with the music. I would be sitting at my desk and I would come up with something and I would want to rap it out loud and I couldn’t because [I was] in a work environment. Luckily the people I work with are all my age, imagine a full on studio of people from 21 to 27. We’re all coming out of college and it allows you to be creative and be stupid sometimes. It got in the way and it still does sometimes because there are moments where I wish I could be connecting with people online and sharing my music. I wish I could be having meetings with [people] or be booking the next show, but I can’t and I have to do everything within half the time because it’s a full-time job. I’m getting use to it and I’m trying to make use of it.
Tell me about your Camp OD, who’s in it and what everyone contributes.
The camp is made of SigmaFoxx, Andrew Mukama, Nnamdi, Donaldo, Agaba, Danny Sax and Jovin (kynx). Basically we are a creative collective, we try to think of new creative ways for putting our artwork out there. Art in Toronto it is so saturated, everyone is a rapper, everyone is a producer and you find people who do both. If you want to stand out, you have to push your work in a unique way. We came together after recognizing each others talent. We usually come up with ideas during brainstorming sessions, a lot of FIFA, a lot of weed, a lot of walks in the city. We check out art shows together, and try to compare what other people are doing and what we are doing. We watch music reviews together just so we can be on the same page 0f what we think is dope, [for example] that way it’s easier for me to share whatever Sigma makes. If he post something and asks me to re-tweet it, I can do that with my eyes closed because I trust [him].
Do you think Toronto is supportive when it comes to up-and-coming artists?
That is tough to answer because you find some people who are down to support you. Communities support their own is the best way I can put it. If you grew up in Scarborough and went to Rise events every Monday and you start rapping, people at Rise will support you, but if you take your talent and go to another community chances of those people supporting you are very low. You have to make really good friends with all the people [in a community] before they can give you a platform, because it is very unlikely that you’re going to send them a song and they like it and invite you to a show performance. It is very unlikely they know who you are or you pay them. So I wouldn’t say Toronto is supportive.
Your name EyeAmI where does it come from?
I had been struggling with getting a rap name for the longest time, so I stuck to Lewis the Artist because I didn’t know what to go with and then when I started to make “Songs About You” I felt a change of name would be cool. I was going through a time when I was self reflecting on my previous project, my relations with my family, and why I was doing the writing. I realized after not getting the support from the city I thought I was going to get from my first project, I started seeking inspiration from other people and that’s how “Songs About You” came along.
“While working on the project that’s when I realized that I looked up to certain people because they shared qualities with me that I hadn’t figured out how to harness yet.”
I wanted a nickname/alias that wouldn’t age and would not be affected by what kind of music I’m making. I know I won’t be making hip hop forever, sooner or later I might want to dive into a genre or a different art-form completely, so EyeAmi made sense. It’s me telling my audience what they hear in my music is the best representation of who I am as an individual at that moment in time.
Why you when it comes to succeeding in the music industry?
Wow that’s a tough question…first and foremost, I am dope. I feel like there is no other African artist who has told the African story the way it should be told. A lot of these African MC’s pretty much just take whatever they hear from the States, and they just remix it and there’s nothing more annoying to me than that. I am such a fan of culture, if someone tells me they are from South Korea I get so excited. That’s a whole new world I have never experienced, there is so much I can learn from them. But if they come from South Korea and start doing everything from the States and Canada I lose interest.
“I don’t think there is anything new that a rapper from the States is going to tell me that I haven’t heard from all the other rappers that came before him, they are only going to tell it differently.”
If I told you that not every country in Africa has Wi-Fi and I had a cool story behind that, that would be a really cool perspective to give to someone who has never experienced that kind of lifestyle. There are no subways where I am from, no Wi-Fi, some people’s 9 to 5 is selling what they call juice cards, where people scratch and get a number where they update their data plan for their phone – that’s someone’s way of life. I feel like I am blessed to be in a position where I have experienced both.
“I have been in a country that has almost nothing and now I am in a country that has almost everything.”
My story is being told well.
Can you tell me about a difficult time you’ve had and how you got through it?
A couple of summers ago I was as broke as hell, and I was trying to make music at the same time. I met up with this studio and they picked me up at a showcase that I did at the Hard Rock Café, and I came in second. The producers of the show said I had been better than the first person, but she had dancers and stuff. They said they wanted me to come to their studio for a couple of sessions…a lot of these studios in Toronto they often have flagship artists [who they spend most of their time with]. We’ll call him X, he was talented as hell but the problem I had with the studio [was that] I would book studio time – mind you the studio [was far away] and I was living in Etobicoke, so at least a 2-hour and 45-minute trip. I would get there and sometimes the engineer wasn’t there, or artist X was there because he had a show on Friday or Saturday, which was really frustrating because I was barely making money at the time and I was using at least half my pay check for the recordings.
To get there and realize the person I was supposed to record with was hung over from his last show, or whatever he did, was really frustrating for me. It came to a point where I could not do it. I [told myself] I’ll have to go back to school and get a job, so I could have a constant flow of money, find a new studio and do it right, or I’m pretty much going to give up on music. This came after trying to perform in the city and getting rejected.
How did you get over it, did things start working out?
I always believed in the music I was making, I really believed in the new project. I knew if I do it right, it was going to work out. But at the same time I felt I was running out of time, because hip hop is such a young genre, the older you get the less appeal you have, so I needed to make something happen or I was going to be out of time. It forced me to make music that I felt was timeless, for example lines that I had in songs were replaced by a saxophone melody because I felt as if that line wouldn’t hold up in 2017.
Who would you consider to be an underrated artist?
I would say Tina Ford, Leila Day and me. Also Desiire, I think Desiire is starting to be an attraction, you can tell from his catalogue he has been doing this for a while, people are just jumping on his music now.