Watching Manchile perform live at Songbyrd, a small music venue in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C., felt less like watching a rehearsed show, and more like I stumbled upon something I wasn’t quite meant to see. I had flashbacks to being in highschool, watching from across the room as my first love strummed chords on his guitar, testing different rhythms and melodies. His musical play would be confessional and raw, something meant for my eyes only, a moment of unrehearsed intimacy that is rarely seen beyond the closed doors of an artist’s studio.
This kind of rawness and intimacy, however, seems to be Manchile’s signature sound. Rather than keep you separate from the rawness, Manchile invites you to settle in and get comfortable. Also known as Rich Trent, Manchile stood alone on the small stage in the 200-person basement room. Though his physical form is imposing – muscular, tall, broad – Rich’s stage presence is quiet and reserved. He had a baseball cap pulled low over his face, and when he wasn’t fiddling with the pedals at his feet, he kept his arms crossed in front of his chest and his eyes closed.
As a one man band, Manchile uses sampling, looping guitar riffs, percussive beats, and vocal melodies as a backdrop for his rich, soulful voice. There is little structure built into his songs, giving his music an ethereal, transcendent sound, like the lucid dream that jazz might have if it could fall asleep.
When he wasn’t preoccupied with setting up his next song, Manchile showed us glimpses of the singular quality that solidifies him as a true artist with a signature sound: an effortless, soulful yet airy vocal style that is as dreamy and floating as it is controlled and poignant. Similar to the effects of Radiohead, Sza, or your favorite indie band, Manchile’s songs made me feel a deep sense of sadness, his tormented voice being both the cause and the antidote.
In an intimate confession that would rarely happen on a larger stage, Rich admitted to his own nervousness, leaning in to the rawness of his performance by joking that black men can get nervous, too. It was a notable moment of authentic vulnerability in an era where society at large discusses what it means to be both black and masculine, and it seems as though Manchile’s entire persona plays on the image of a strong black man who also happens to be in touch with vulnerability. In Manchile’s world, one can be confident and steady and also a little bit unsure. On stage, Manchile was all of these things to a hypnotic degree.
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