Manolis Afoliano is a Greek-Nigerian musician who has blurred the boundaries between hip-hop, Greek and ethnic music. Greek Star correspondent Dimitris Polymenopoulos interviewed Manolis, aka MC Yinka, just before his latest performance in Athens.
Manoli, tell me about your roots and your youth.
My parents emigrated with my brother to Greece from Nigeria, 35 years ago. I myself was born in Athens in 1981. We lived in Patissia, a poor neighborhood with a large immigrant community. I went to school with my brother and two other kids from Africa. Back in the 80s, kids from Africa in a Greek school was a rare sight so things were kind of awkward. But as time passed, I became accepted by the community and I made many good friends that I've kept until today. Growing up, my parents taught me a lot about Nigerian culture, including what I consider is its most important characteristic – respect for one's elders. Through my parents I also learned about African music, both traditional and pop, especially Nigerian. For the most part, I grew up like every other Greek kid down the block, playing lots of basketball and soccer with my friends.
What kind of musical influences did you have growing up?
My first musical influence was Michael Jackson— he's the one I danced to and really liked. My brother though, he's older than me and he had a head start in music. He had begun MCing and by the 90s' he'd become a major influence for me, bringing me into the hip hop scene. There was just an explosion of records and styles back then—we listened to everything, but I'd single out Busta Rhymes and his rapping style. I also listened to groups like The Roots, Mos Def, Wu Tang Clan and A Tribe Called Quest.
What were your first steps as a musician?
As I got into urban music, I'd go to various jam sessions or maybe even after a concert there'd be a freestyle session and I'd get on the stage and jam. I actually started MCing with drum and base beats in '97 before getting into hip hop – I MCed first with English and later with Greek lyrics. I like MCing because I can say things as they really are. MCing is direct, you bring out your inner self, you interact with people on stage, but you also interact with the audience.
Tell me a bit about your involvement with Greek music.
I've gotten to know many Greek hip hop musicians over the years. I formed my own group “Adiaspasti Ousia” and was a member of the “Paragontes". I've taken part in many hip hop collectives and I became friends with many Greek musicians. I've also worked with artists like Filippos Pliatsikas, Dionysis Tsaknis, Dimitra Galani as well as bands like Dr. Vodkatini, Imam Baildi and the Direct Connection where I play the bass. Tonight I'll share the stage with the legendary Mary Linda – its a great honor for me performing with such a historic musical figure.
I like the old rebetika, and I would like to do something more breakthrough, something that sounds like an old rebetiko, with very direct lyrics, but with hip hop or African beats - a hybrid album. You can get an idea of what this sounds like on En Lefko radio's 5|25 Sessions.
I consider myself a very progressive musician and over the years I've explored different musical styles like funk, afro-beat, reggae, soul and jazz. I've also played in the theater, taken singing lessons, learned play the bass – all this has helped me better discipline and express myself. I'm always going to have a hip hop core, but it'll be filtered through different styles – I want to have many choices when it comes to creating good music.
Can you describe the sounds in your first album.
“Alana” is my first personal album which came out in 2010 – its a musically diverse album with hip hop, soul, funk and drum and base melodies. Every track in the album is from my own experiences, observations and from my interaction with people. Alana is about living in modern day Greece – it talks about love, freedom, conformity and racism. Its a call to be, to create, to live and fight. People shouldn't get caught up in their own darkness - nothing blooms in wasted minds or wasted lives.
Whats your opinion on the economic crisis in Greece and the changes in the Greek political sphere?
We're constantly being terrorized by bad news, by new economic measures. Its hard not to notice the growing poverty in Greece, you hear about people committing suicide, you see people lining up for food and sifting through trash cans. Its unfair because its not everybody's fault that we're in this mess.
The political situation has gotten more difficult too – historically the left and right in Greece have always been at odds but now I'm seeing an ultra-right growing stronger. The crisis isn't going away any time soon. We're going to be in this situation for a while and I don't know how we can change it. I see some new fronts opening up.
Chrisi Avgi [far right Golden Dawn party] brings impoverished, oppressed, or just plain angry people together against a common enemy, like immigrants. If the economic crisis wasn't enough, its going to be even tougher for immigrants now. We need to show immigrants' positive side, their soul – these people have come here to provide for themselves, for their families – they're not here to take away from Greece or to cause trouble.
What is the Greek spirit for you?
For me the Greek spirit is both a chill-out attitude about things but also the ability to be emotional, sarcastic, even to be over the top sometimes. I combine that with my African roots, the idea of respect, the music, into a hybrid, a new breed - but its mostly Greek. I think hybrid personalities will always find new ways to live, have now outlooks, new solutions to old problems – they're the future.