Isolation Drills: Kilamanzego

Like the majority of you, all of us in the Philadelphia area are staying at home, learning to adapt to our “new normal.” MAGNET is checking in with local musicians to see how and what they’re doing during this unprecedented time. Photos by Chris Sikich.

Kilamanzego: “My debut EP is dropping in a few weeks, and now I feel it’s all for nothing,” I texted one of my friends in late March. “I’m not even sure I should be putting it out.”

In February, I’d announced my debut EP, These Roots Are On Fire, to be released in mid-April. I did this to give myself time to promote, which was probably twice the amount of time most people with a label would have needed. As an independent artist with no publisher, management or team behind me, I improvised as much promo as I could on my own. Then the bomb dropped mid-March: an unprecedented disease known as COVID-19 swept the country at a rapid rate and continues to do so without a cure or any end in sight.

On release day, April 17, my record dropped, and I nervously watched the activity around it while hustling to push it even harder. “This album is a rollercoaster of anxiety, drawing influences from Flying Lotus and Machinedrum to Hudson Mohawke and Geotheory,” I described in a press release I’d written up. The reactions I received from everyone were indescribable, praising its creativity and buying hundreds of copies on Bandcamp within the following month.

Before the pandemic, my father was my biggest cheerleader, and I’d never seen him so proud of me successfully pursuing my dream. COVID-19 turned it into a different story. He’s 76, and likewise even more concerned about my wellbeing in the long run. Now he brings up how I should get a “practical job” that will be stable, go back to school and earn my master’s degree. And while I don’t live my life for him, I don’t want him to worry about me when he’s not around.

Up to this point in my career, it’s felt like such an exhilarating ride that I’m not even sure I know what I’d go back to school to excel in anymore. I’ve been getting more and more great opportunities by the day, which would’ve had a bigger impact on my music career if we all weren’t quarantined and possibly could’ve changed my life entirely. It’s disappointing, but I try to think of the positives.

We artists have had to completely re-adapt, limited to the whims of video broadcasting and getting extra creative with our branding so that when the issue settles down, we’ll be prepared. The plus side is that I’ve been understanding better how to configure video streams, edit and design, while having new revelations about myself and my career. It takes an incredible amount of isolation to self-reflect and realize the worth of being true to yourself with your art and interaction with others.

As a multi-instrumentalist/DJ, not having the chance to be as social with others has taken its toll on me in a couple of ways especially in comparison to peers. On the one hand, I’m used to being glued to my equipment 24/7, chipping away at every little detail and shaping sounds til they sound interesting to my ear. On the other, I’m immunocompromised, so I’ve been struggling with not being able to care-freely walk outside as much as I did before, perform live shows and be a talker amongst big crowds for fear that I’d easily catch COVID-19.

But even though I’ve witnessed quite a few deaths this year that were painful to reckon with, 2020 will always be one of the most unique years of our time because it’s pushing everyone to make sacrifices that will either make or break us all.