“Panic, Protection Or Paranoia” Manga Saint Hilare Interviewed

Grime legend on his new album, 1Xtra show, and refusing to compromise...

It’s always been the case that those who know – and really understand – the craft of Manga Saint Hilare can tap into his vision. The artist has been a staple on the grime music scene spanning two decades and has stood out from the rest through being able to show his introspective and vulnerable sids. His new record ‘Everything Is Under Control’ is no different. The album took two years to curate and taps into Manga’s emotions. “I always start with the titles for an album. ‘Everything Is Under Control’ can be about panic, protection or paranoia,” he tells Clash. The album spanning 16 songs delves into many discussions. A recent father, Manga is now facing new challenges in life. “That’s why we’ve got such extreme songs on there. You have tracks like ‘Alarm Bells’ which is all industrial. Then ‘Don’t Worry’ which is cool. So it’s about me accepting that everything is going to be under control.” 

Like Manga mentions on one of his tracks ‘different hype, different vibes, different heights, different mode’; the album stretches the boundaries of Manga’s ability to tap into different productions. Indeed, you can hear Amapiano, bassline, jungle all on the album. So what’s made the grime MC switch up the BPM? “I just love music. Do you know what I’m saying? And I always say this, even in the type of genre I make, it’s still grand. It’s always coming from a grand perspective, a grand energy, a grand mind front”. The breadth of songs brings another element to the album to make it feel more whole. But it doesn’t change the levels that Manga is used to bringing. “I feel like the energy I came in from all the songs is still me”. 

Where the record really stands out is what fans expect of Manga. The dizzying ‘Alarm Bells’ brings the energy and the grime we all expect. Featuring JME and P Money. The song reached playlisting on Radio 1Xtra, where Manga also has a weekly show with Sian Anderson. “People are going to think I was on there because I work there  now. (laughing) Which is actually the opposite. It’s actually harder”. The artist continues: “That’s my second time I’ve been playlisted on there. The first was ‘Different Pattern’, and then this one now. It’s going mad and it helps with your energy. So if I’ve made something I love, which is best of my love, because people tell me that it’s amazing, but it doesn’t get received well, obviously I still love the song. But it just chips away, it can get a bit tiring. When one goes right and it lands and connects, it gives you more energy to get to the next thing”.

What connected with the audience this time was the visuals that paired the track. Manga teamed up with Will Norman who directed all the music videos for the project. ‘Alarm Bells’ shows the creativity and freshness that helped the track stand out. “It’s sick to see someone who’s just got this vision. I knew for this project, everything had to be sharper. Will was someone who stuck to the plan. When I saw how he worked on the feature I did with Chowerman. When it was the first single for ‘Killa Sound’, the budget wasn’t even that big, and I didn’t have time to go back and fourth, but when what he came back with came out crazy”. The video for the recent single ‘Alarm Bells’ used a number of camera tricks to create this gothic video that gave the vibe of an Escher painting, warping reality. “He’s insane, he’s not well. Now he’s working with JME and others, everyone was so impressed with him”.

The album is fully produced by the talented MoreNight. Manga likes to find someone who can see the vision both sonically and visually for his projects and bring them through for the  whole journey. “I’m not good at explaining some things, but some producers just understand what’s needed. I guess they understand the journey when you’re working with that one person, they can see what the roles are. When we started creating this, I would just give small suggestions, and what he came back with is what exactly I had in my head”. Finding someone who can understand the vision like the direction and sound is important. “I haven’t got time to waste, neither money. I’ve worked with people before who don’t get what I’m trying to do. When you do find someone who gets you, stick with them. Especially with producers, it can be difficult to get vibes to merge”. 

Just before his album release, Manga tweeted about being proud of his output and that ‘it’s all making sense and coming together’. He explains: “I used to get sent beats called like ‘Devils Mix’, ‘Knife & Gun’ or Roundside.wav’. But now I don’t get that, people are seeing where I’m trying to go, I think I’ve found my people like that. I’m never going to get a Daily Duppy, but that’s fine because you can still build, but just in a different lane. There are different pockets to build into”. Manga reflects further, commenting: “I realised the input is starting to match the output, whereas before, I was trying hard but the quality of music wasn’t there. But now I see it all clicking”.

The tour has kicked off for Manga, with six dates across the UK. “The main thing I like doing the most is performing. Sometimes the effort can be jarring, but I know I’m going to be performing at the end”. The artist is also at the Big Smoke festival in the summer, and Outlook festival in Croatia – something he’s particularly looking forward to. “Outlook’s amazing, It’s like a home away from home. I feel very privileged to do that”. 

One area that has expanded in the grime scene is the growing amount of producers taking oldschool grime tracks and putting over their own stamp on it. Producers like Wize and Douvelle19 have paved the way over the years, but it’s brought through a new generation of producers taking inspiration. Even Skepta has taken this upon himself with the recent track ‘Gas Me Up’ which was remixed hundreds of times, or the recent collab with Ryder. “It shows you can recall the energy and take it to different places. It wasn’t usually like that. I think people look at grime as nostalgia, so when you put these other beats in, it might be more appealing”. With the quantity of remixes, the quality can be wavering, which is something that artists have noticed. “There’s a lot of bad ones too, I’m not sure they even listened to the original version. But when they’re good, it’s really good and it brings more life to it”.

Away from releasing new music, Manga has been hosting a 1xtra show with Sian Anderson each week. The move to radio makes sense, what makes Manga stands out is his personality. A likeable and approachable figure in the scene who’s got that charisma for the radio. “Bro it’s not easy you know!” Manga jokes. ”At the start, I was just talking for 10 minutes, way too long and they would cut off the mic. You’ve got to read out the text, there’s games to play, play the tracks and in between you’re meant to be yourself. But I’m getting more of the skill of it and we’re having fun. When you see guys like Sian and Target, they’re real broadcasters. I’m not a broadcaster yet”. Looking forward, Manga can see a solid place for himself in the broadcasting side of music. “I want to do the show with Sian, but also get my own show aswell, I want to get into something like music arguments, and talk about songs. Like what album would you like to argue over”.

Everything is falling into place with Manga Saint Hilaire. He’s found the pockets where his fans live and plans for the future in the music realm. There’s an understanding of his place in the scene, and also what his fans want from him. Everything might just be under control. 

Words: Joe Hale // @joesquestions

Follow Clash

Buy Clash Magazine