Wesleyan reggae group Men With Bad Manners will be bringing together its love of authentic roots reggae and its passion for social action with the release of its first LP, entitled Seed Sankara, this Saturday. The album not only features songs that deal with the social struggles in Kenya (where singer Immanuel Lokwei ’12 is from) but will also benefit two organizations founded by Lokwei and his band members.
In 2010, four members of the band—Lokwei, Howe Pearson ’12, Matt Hurwit ’12, and Jesse Humm ’12—traveled to Kapseret, Kenya, a town that had been rocked by violence after a contested national election in 2007. There, they set up the Long Mouth Social Forum and the Kapseret Soccer Club. The Social Forum encourages community members to discuss problems such as inequality and education. The Soccer Club allows young men to join teams and compete in tournaments as a means of facilitating interaction between tribal groups that had previously been at odds.
The need for organizations that provide such services is evident; when incumbent President Mwai Kibaki was declared victorious against challenger Raila Odinga, fighting broke out between members of Kibaki’s tribe, the Kikuyu, and the Kalenjin tribe, who supported Odinga. The violence lasted from 2007 to 2008, resulted in 1,500 deaths, and displaced up to 250,000 people.
Lokwei described a situation in which those in charge of perpetrating the violence would send young men out to fight each other.
“The perpetrators didn’t go out into the streets and fight,” Lokwei said. “They would send out youths and say ‘you go fight.’ And it would be, say, me against another boy from the Kikulu.”
Lokwei found that soccer was the logical way to create a dialogue without condescension between the young men from opposing tribes, which was the first step in reducing the violence.
“One of the best ways to bring people together is to do something that doesn’t really judge their actions,” Lokwei said. “Once they come out, they will understand each other, which will make them more comfortable to talk about what happened.”
Men with Bad Manners’ music works in a similar way—while it’s not stopping any civil wars, a social conscience and a pleasant experience are enjoyed in tandem.
“Music is like a soccer game,” said drummer Pearson. “Just by virtue of enjoying this shared activity, they’re contributing to what we’re trying to do, which is to open up discussion among people.”
The group’s song lyrics sometimes evoke difficult subject matter such as prostitution and unemployment. The album’s name even has a backstory—it comes from Thomas Sankara, President of Burkina Faso in the 1980s, who has often been called “Africa’s Che Guevara,” embracing a frugal lifestyle in solidarity with his countrymen.
Not everything about Men With Bad Manners is socially or politically oriented, however.
“Most of the lyrics talk about feeling,” said Lokwei. “Often about the day-to-day life where you have good times, you maybe fall in love, it doesn’t work out.”
The band is excited about the upcoming album, which was recorded almost nonstop over the course of four days with the help of sound engineer Andrew Fogliano ’09 of Buru Style, a now-graduated Wesleyan reggae band that members of Men with Bad Manners count as one of their major influences. The recording process helped them see their songs in a new light.
“There are certain songs that I feel have a lot more depth to them than I expected,” said bassist Julian Gal ’14. “It forced us to get to know the music a lot better than I think we had before because you can’t rely on anyone else when you’re doing separate recordings. It helps solidify the parts in your head.”
Nevertheless, the members of the band realize that little can compare to the joys of a live show.
“I think if you can get a good show were the crowd is enjoying it, it’s one of the best feelings you can have,” Gal said.
Pearson had a different way of expressing his enthusiasm.
“On a serious note, we like to think of each show as a baptism for our audience—there’s lots of shouting and crying, people tend to leave with renewed senses of faith, and everyone gets wet,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Argus.
Men With Bad Manners will be playing at WestCo Café this Saturday. The album will be available for download at menwithbadmanners.bandcamp.com.