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Interview: Shane Palko & Mannie T’Chawi

Shane Palko and Mannie T’Chawi “Blood” (singer-songwriter)
Shane Palko and Mannie T’Chawi “Fathers” (spoken word)

To confront the legacy of racism in America, we need more than pretty words. We need voices in dialogue — truth-telling voices from brave people willing to ask and answer hard questions. Shane Palko and Mannie T’Chawi are artists like that: they’ve never been afraid to call out injustice or grapple with the demons that haunt our common history. But more importantly, they never hesitate to speak to each other. The dexterous guitarist and folk-rock singer and the fearless spoken-word poet and pianist have joined forces for “Blood” and “Fathers,” two strange, stinging, mesmerizing, thoroughly gorgeous recordings that are terrific on their own but which achieve powerful resonances when heard back-to-back.

“Blood” is a heartfelt confession and a showcase for Palko’s instrumental talent. It captures the Pennsylvania songwriter in the raw, weaving hypnotic patterns on his acoustic guitar and matching his riffs with a candid, plainspoken vocal that radiates sensitivity — and culpability. Palko’s unapologetic lyric interrogates the complicity of silence common among white Americans and asks all of those who have benefited from the social system to acknowledge the blood on their hands. It’s a fearless statement from a vital artist who has always written with profound urgency and searing emotion.

T’Chawi’s poised, incisive performance on “Fathers” feels like a rejoinder. It’s a message from a common man — an ordinary African-American caught up in a brutal fight he never asked for. Without a trace of acrimony or resentment, he lays the problem bare for the listener and summarizes generational trauma in muscular, economic verse. The track distills many of the themes of his two excellent, acclaimed Ruminations of a Ruined Mind poetry collections. T’Chawi first found fame in Tanzania as a kid through music, and later as an adult, through his fintech entrepreneurship – both of which have shaped his poetic voice and journey. Palko and T’Chawi are Delmarpa dwellers at the moment, but have been and will continue to be global citizens and artists.

“Blood” and “Fathers” are both paired with videos destined to cross generational – and geographic – borders. In fact, the historic footage seen in the clips was shot by Palko’s grandfather on 8mm in the 1960s. T’Chawi is the focus of the unsparing “Fathers” video, and he’s a commanding screen presence: passionate, plainspoken, exhausted by struggle, animated by the righteousness characteristic of truth-tellers. He delivers his verses from a highway overpass and finds accompanying musical phrases on a burning piano in the middle of a field. The “Blood” video is similarly pastoral and crackles with a similar kind of danger. Palko strums and howls from a stark farmhouse. His pained face is illuminated by the light from a gun case that contains an impassive African mask. Instead of a strap, his guitar is suspended around his neck by a rope. It’s all a gripping reminder of a terrible national crime — one we haven’t finished paying for.

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When and how did the two of you both get into music? Who are some of your greatest creative idols?

MANNIE: My parents first got me piano lessons when I was in the fourth grade in Tanzania. Before that I was always listening and dancing to music, wanting to be like Michael Jackson.

SHANE: I was born and started playing music soon after… or maybe the other way around. I grew up idolizing my older brothers who played in bands.

What led the two of you to joining forces? In what ways did you two working together strengthen the artistic potential and execution of your latest releases, “Blood” and “Fathers”?

SHANE AND MANNIE: Our collaboration was really born out of conversations we were having with each other. We spent hours together talking about the state of the world, our place in it, and our responsibility to it. As creative people it was only natural that those conversations turned into pieces of art that we shared with each other and build on together.

Working together has been easy because neither of us are driven by ego. We both feel comfortable sharing our ideas with each other, knowing that the other person will be ready to listen and lend a hand creatively as needed. Like when Mannie brought up the idea of playing a piano during parts of “Fathers” and Shane enthusiastically said, “We should also set it on fire!”

 Where did you find inspiration for “Blood”? What inspired “Fathers”?

 SHANE AND MANNIE: “Blood” is a piece exploring the interrelation of personal heritage and societal structures. The lyrics of the song get right down to business, talking about the weight of history that flows through the blood in our veins from the very moment we come into existence. The visuals of the music video celebrate a historical family hunting trip, splicing together 8mm footage that was filmed by my (Shane’s) grandfather and company while in the beautiful snowy forests of Delmarva in the 1960s. Many outdoor spaces have been dominated by white males in the US. Generations ahead of me (Shane) trudged through the forests with guns, and were perceived as caretakers of nature. This perception may not be equally held about people of other races in outdoor spaces with guns. I (Shane) find great joy in outdoor spaces, and has found peace there that is not equally accessible to all people. The music video for “Blood” is a stunning look into a mental wrestling match between a respect of family heritage and an awareness of unequal social structures.

 The “Fathers” story began on MLK’s birthday in 2021. The King Center (ran by Dr. King’s family) posted a color picture of him at home, having dinner with his family. I (Mannie) had never seen the picture before, and in that moment, I said out loud, “They never let us have our fathers.” Seeing as even when he was alive, Dr. King’s family barely got to spend time with him as he was doing all the things that have made him legend. Around that time, Shane and I got together to catch up and in typical fashion got into deep heart to heart conversations about the legacies, and fatherhood in America. Not too long after, another young Black man was unjustly executed and pictures of him and his three-year-old son made the rounds. Again, the words, “They never let us have our fathers” came back to me. Having learned from the events of 2020, I turned my phone off for the day and focused on self-care. The very next day, the fully formed piece came to me.

 What was your experience shooting the music videos with Andrew Larason for “Blood” and “Fathers”? How did these visuals best align with the songs?

SHANE AND MANNIE: Andrew’s been a friend for a long time so working together with him to bring our vision to life was a delight. He’s extremely talented, patient, and kind. Andrew’s the rare breed of person who has a wealth of creative ideas and the technical know-how to pull said ideas off. He’s also got an amazing eye, and has been able to capture some amazing shots for us. Super grateful to create with him.

The visuals are perfectly paired to their respective songs. “Blood” is a song that investigates heritage and racial inequity. The visuals are a combination of new shots, filmed in the rubble of a historical farm, and old shots from a 1960’s family hunting trip. 

The startling visuals for “Fathers” are perfect. Every second of the film is intentional, and packed with metaphor. It culminates in the burning of a piano, a scene that has countless metaphorical interpretations.

Do you have any other exciting projects on the horizon?

 SHANE AND MANNIE: We’re excited to announce that we are working on a full project together titled, “Bones of a Nation.” The conversation that we started with “Sh!t Storm” and have now added to with the release of “Blood & Fathers” will continue. “Blood & Fathers” is the current EP and video project that is being focused on at this time. We’ll have more to say soon, but for now be on the lookout for the Shane Palko & Mannie T’Chawi collaborative project, “Bones of a Nation.”


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