From Kushiinge to The Diplomat

The Kushiinge hit maker, Maria Immanuel, better known as ML has just brought back the matured sound with her newly released album titled The Diplomat.

With her lyrics visiting back to the past, ML’s album caters for every age group as it consists of tracks which describe the everyday life.

This week, Vibe set with the Afro Pop and Hip-Hop musician to have a quick chat on her musical career.

Full Name: Maria Lisa Immanuel

Stage Name: ML

Sex: Female

Give us a brief background of your music career, when you started and how you started?

I have always somehow been doing music ever since I could remember. Back in the 90s. I remember getting a Walkman for Christmas and I had a lot of Michael Jackson cassettes that I would play. I also grew up with my brother who was into hip hop music and this is how I developed the love of this art especially when it comes to writing lyrics and melodies for hooks. 

But it was really when I started University and I met my two good friends Exit and Mushe. They had a studio in Katutura and most of my Katutura days were really spent with them in studio making music. We would do solo songs or feature on each other’s songs etc. 

My first single Kushiinge was produced by Mushe. The day I recorded it, I was with Exit in studio and we made a hit. I did a video for that song and that’s all I did with it. It was playing on TV but did little to promote it out there because I realized I wasn’t actually ready to do music. I noticed that many people knew it and loved it but never saw me ever performing it. That was like 7 years ago. 

Fast forward, I developed myself to be more in the background of the music industry when I was mostly in management and promotion. I did features here and there to keep afloat, and today I can say I am more than ready to share my music with people. Also, I’m now more than ready to take my music out there and actually create business out of it. 

How I started, well, I just went in studio, and never looked back. So far so good!! 

Where did your inspiration come from?

My inspiration comes from anywhere really. Things I go through, things I experience in this life all inspire how I write my music. Something could happen to me and it can inspire a song. So, my album is very rich with life experiences not just from my perspectives but from other peoples as well. The feedback I get is overwhelming as people tell me how a certain song relates to them. 

Tell us about your latest offering, how many tracks it consists of, the producer of the album and the artist you have worked with.

My latest album is titled ‘The Diplomat’ – it consists of 18 tracks. Most of the songs were produced by Herry (he is underground and don’t like me sharing his talent. He just wants people to know that he is a Geologist)

I have also worked a lot with House Guru Gang. Most of the songs were recorded at their studio but they have also produced some of the great songs on the album like ‘I sing’ and Kushiinge (the Remix).

I have worked with Araffath (track 3) as well as Maj Beats (who produced O’Radio, and 2 other songs).

On the featured side, I worked with Neslow, Exit, Sally, Keko from Uganda, Mansa Musa from Malawi based in Cape Town and and Jowdy from House Guru Gang. Jowdy is also one of the producers who worked a lot on my album.

4.How long did it take you before finishing the songs? 

It really depends. Sometimes I can go into the studio and instantly make a song from scratch. I build the beat with the producer then I start writing. I could finish this song in a one-time recording session. Other times, I could have a beat which I write to at home. This can take time because a song is only done once recorded, so until I go into studio, I will probably be working on it. 

Otherwise, it takes me like a good five hours to start recording a song from start to finish. After this it is of course to master. So, when we tell you that we can’t share the song because it is not done it’s probably the final touches of mixing and mastering…. but nowadays our studios are so good, we record pre-mastering so the song is usually ready to play in the car (but not ready to share on Whatsapp). lol

5.What is your favorite song on the album and why?

I have so many. But to choose, my personal favs. Would be I sing, African Child, Coming Home, Live to Die and the one ft Exit. 

How has the album been received so far?

So far so good. When comrades are looking for your album, just know that there is hope. The response in general is really good. I just have to keep pushing with marketing and more music videos. The challenge I’m experiencing mostly is distribution of my album. I have people all over the country looking for it but it’s only available in Windhoek and Otjiwarongo Spar. 

The only sales are going better especially with itunes. 

What where some of the challenges you encountered while working on The Diplomat?

Definitely time: I’m so busy, I happen to have a full-time job, and as much as I have released the album, it is really something I’m doing as a part time. So, recording the album took some time due to my hectic work schedule. But at least I’m not signed by any label so I didn’t have pressure for release. 

Money – it costs N$ 1 500 to make a good quality song in Namibia. I don’t think people are quite aware how costly it is to be an artist. So sometimes you have to wait when you have some cash flow in order to go flow in the studio.

In the beginning I had challenges with recording studios. Some producers will cancel you on last minute, some once you pay and are not done with your recording, forget ever coming back etc. But once I met House Guru Gang, they have really helped me finish my album by providing me with a recording studio and giving the time I need to be creative. S/O to House Guru Gang…..

And lastly, I’m an independent artist, female, funding myself etc. So it’s never easy. But you know what they say, if you want it done, do it yourself. 

You are one of the few musicians who have left foot prints in the music industry through managing artists such as Exit. How was the experience and do you have any plans on taking musicians under your wing this time around?

Thank you very much for this. I’m happy to know I have left some sort of foot print in this regard. Well when I started off, I was very young and also one of the only female managers managing a male kwaito artist. So, it was tough but for the love of the game I enjoyed it very much. I learned a lot, met a lot of people, built networks and so on. I’m also proud today that I can be considered as one of the contributors to the music industry in this regard. We don’t stop learning and I hope I can channel my experience now into promoting my own music.

I have now registered my company. Titanium Media, which will be launching soon. The idea is to promote my music first, get the right connections etc. And once I have some roots to stand on, I can then bring in some of the upcoming talents under my company/label. A lot of talented artists require finances, marketing and promotion of their music. For example, putting music on iTunes is not difficult but most don’t know where to start. So, this is why I decided to establish this company so that one day, it can create employment for the entertainment industry. The music industry is not only about the song and the artist but a whole lot of other things such as publicists, marketers, videography, studio etc. So, I definitely have big plans for Namibian Music. Watch this space. 

How do you manage to balance between being an artist, entrepreneur and work?

Shoo, it is never easy. But with being an artist, I mostly do it on weekends and it also comes as a hobby. But since I have launched my album, I have now partners who work with me who are full time doing these things. Being an entrepreneur is a lifestyle, so music is also business. In other business projects like Onature Cosmetics I have a partner and she’s the one who is now doing that 80%. I have come to a point where I am embracing the art of delegating. Naturally, I like to do things by myself especially at inception but now I’m working on partnerships so that my projects move while I’m at work. But I’m also lucky that my work is about nation building and the support is there because what I do outside my work somehow contributes to the bigger picture of nation building. 

It is not easy to balance, but I’m young and live in an independent Namibia where anything is possible. But of course, sometimes I switch off my phone to rest, so if you can’t reach me, I’m probably resting. LOL

10. You are also one out of a few who opt to release an album online, why did you decide to go digital first before printing hardcopies?

Well, firstly I thought, I’m a new artist and selling CD copies in Namibia historically is more for the well-known Kwaito artists and Shambo artists who mostly play in jukeboxes. I had to priorities based on how the Namibian market is currently structured in terms of music consumption. Also, I probably have more fans outside the country who were anticipating my album release. So, I didn’t want to announce the album release and they couldn’t get hold of my music. So, I decided to switch things up a bit and try to release online first while I was working on my video and media launch which included CD releases. 

But generally, the world is changing, and I noticed young professionals (who are mostly my target market) are now purchasing online and it is more convenient for them that way. Also, due to lack of physical hard CD distribution channels, going digital is much better for us especially new artists. Going digital is the way to go since everyone is online anyways. I hope more artists start to leverage on this. 

Do you have any plans on releasing a new album this year?

Yes, I have already started working on my 2018 album due for release in November. This time it will probably only be 12 tracks and I am planning on featuring more African Artists so that I can promote our local content outside Namibia to the rest of Africa.

How do you feel to be one of the candidates nominated for the Africa Music Industry Awards?

I feel really honored. So far. This inspired me to really look beyond Namibia in terms of promoting my music. So, watch out for more African partnerships coming soon.