The Haunting Sensuality of “Rolling Hills” by Sawa-Manga

Neo-R&B soaked South London’s musical imaginary

Published: June 17, 2018Words: Sawa Manga & Macon HoltPhotos: Theo K. NdlovuSoundcloud: Sawa_MangaInstagram: @sawamanga

On a casual listen, it might seem relatively easy to describe their sound, but a little more attention reveals that there is so much more going here than your run-of-the-mill neo-R&B.

The sound of Sawa-Manga is that of the records of Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill run through musical imaginary of South London in the early 21st Century. There’s something disorienting about this sound but in an exciting way, like the peak of a party, when time no longer makes sense, or the moment when you have just danced yourself into total ecstasy, or the feeling as you fall into something that seems like it could be love, but is maybe just a dream.

The band is made up of the artist, poet and vocalist And Is Phi (London-based by way of Norway and the Philippines) and beat-maker and producer D’Vo (London-based by way of Croydon, which is only technically in Surrey). On the structure side, there is something that floats about these tracks (“Rolling Hills” and “Play” the other single on their Soundcloud), like a chilled version of Arca’s work with FKA Twigs but retaining something still of that dark intensity. In the beat, we have this totally organic extrapolation of the musical shapes and instrumentation of the band’s neo-R&B, Jazz and soul influences. D’Vo’s production manages both to extend the musical vocabulary of these influences into the world of beat-driven electronica while retaining a strong connection to what made these styles so influential in the first place. The introduction of a syncopated piano sample, about half-way through “Rolling Hills”, corrupts the flow just the right amount to remind you that there are kinds of fun that complicated everything in utterly exhilarating ways. In terms of And Is Phi’s vocals, the touchstones mentioned above (Badu and Hill) are definitely here, but there is just a hint of a powerful fragility, reminiscent of someone like Beth Gibbons. Again, there is just a tiny drop of melancholy that makes the sensuality all the more urgent. The imagery evoked through her lyrics, which sees the rolling hills of the British landscape morphing into the ethereal pulsing bodies of lovers, where emotions and sensations are totally entangled in one another, should serve a reminder to other songwriters why it is important to work on your poetry. There is a profundity of the ephemeral here, that so many other lyricists can’t quite capture.

The video, directed by Nadira Amrani, highlights all of this, with the duo staring intently into the camera, lounging on a luxuriant bed while the camera explores the bodies/souls of the band’s “close friends and family”. The composition of these visuals is stunning, especially for the first release from independent artists. Taken all together, it is a tantalizing suggestion of much more to come from Sawa-Manga and the creative community to which they belong.

In terms of what’s next for the band, Sawa-Manga will be playing at Somerset House in London on July 6th and will be playing a special live show to preview their debut album at The Albany Theatre on October 4th. And Blacklisted will definitely be keeping a lookout for what is to come.