Ebony Manusama is a vocalist, writer and producer who has returned from transformative stint in the US with her brand new creative project, Baptiste. I stop by her inner-suburban Melbourne share house to chat about music, feminism, and personal style. All the good things.
Ebony has worked on a few successful projects including the five-piece outfit Who is Zoe and her solo project Ebony Hare. While all quite different productions, her perspicuous voice is a theme throughout – bringing a haunting largesse to her work.
“Baptiste is a different beast than Ebony Hare. I worked with an outfit called Night Flare - and we created this thing together. There’s lots of synths and string samples. It brings my Joni Mitchell vocal vibes to the synth pop world.”
There are elements of life imitating art which have found an unexpected synchronicity with the project. Having moved to the states in 2014 with her then husband, Ebony underwent some deep personal transformation which led to her coming out as queer -
“I grew up in a very conservative world, and that really prevented me from exploring that aspect of myself. I think living in San Francisco really exposed me to a way of being comfortable within myself, and being out.”
The influence of her Christian upbringing and belated coming-out both strangely converged on Baptiste.
“The word Baptist refers to being born again in the Christian world, and it was actually unintentional that I landed on that name. But then with the new EP and the first single being called Start Again, it felt like a nice transition where a lot of things came together.”
The project is the culmination of Ebony’s triple-threat status as a singer, writer and producer. Refining the elements of the craft that happen off-mic has been a real focus in her work and her mission as a capital M, Maker.
In my hard-hitting Fab Social Journal style, I ask what it means to be a woman in that world. After a sharp inhale, Ebony tells me that being recognised for more than her voice is a struggle.
“It’s hard to be taken seriously - and what I’ve found the hardest is men taking credit for the work you’ve done. It happens all the time. I am trying to be taken seriously not just as a musician, but as a producer and a writer.
"It’s like an actress’s work being credited to an older male director. She is just there to look good and be shaped by the men around her. Or look at someone like Bjork, who is an incredible musician and producer. But when she launches a new album, people will ask ‘who produced it?’ - because even someone like Bjork still doesn’t receive credit for her work. People will look for the men in the production team to heap the credit on.”
I feel like this story is so damn old, that we should be rounding the corner on a new dawn any day now. Right? I for one will be making a point to plug Ebony’s work with an all caps WRITTEN AND PRODUCED BY. Let’s do this for all our sisters at the sound desk – seriously.
From my vantage point perched on Ebony's bed, I can see a carefully arranged collection of snap-back caps and a decent collection of jackets. It just so happens I brought along a jacket for Ebony to style – our Shire Bomber – a delicious charcoal silk cotton blend with a fawn silk lining, in an oversized off the shoulder fit that is 100% cool girl. (No this is not advertorial, I am actually in love with this piece and Ebony rocks it like a boss.)
“I look like Tasya van Ree” she tells me, which I take as a screaming endorsement. This is how we make sales – we turn every woman into her style icon with a carefully placed garment. Like fashion fairies.
Ebony walks me through her approach to style and some of the pieces in her closet. An All Saints WWI style trench, a vegan suede bomber by local designer, a large collection of snap-backs, and shoes for every look.
Everything Ebony shows me is 1) fabulous 12/10 would wear, and 2) has a story and life. Ebony has a personal style she describes as “part Brooklyn street-wear mixed up with an All Saints, Jack London thing.”
The military style pieces are super interesting to me. While The Fabric Social is a proudly peace-toting feminist operation, we hall pass much of the military aesthetic. The trench coat was designed as a utility coat in WWI. The bomber jacket (arguably just as much of a wardrobe staple) also began its life as military pilot wear in WWI, hence the name. Ebony clearly agrees, and has hoovered up all the tailored goodness those dark days offered the world.
Looking through her wardrobe, Ebony explains that her strong sense of style is something that was not always easy to express - “The fact that I’m queer is a big part of who I am, and that really informs my style. I think when I was not out, I had a very confused sense of style that was complicated by feeling that I need to dress like a ‘woman’. After coming out, I’ve really embraced androgyny."
Our Shire bomber steps effortlessly into Ebony’s look, and her collection of thoughtfully procured pieces. “I don’t like to buy often, but when I do, I like to buy well. And I think that is one of the fantastic things about the rise of ethical fashion – it is not as hard to buy quality design and to enjoy fashion. Your fabric is so incredible, and has such a rich story that actually levels up the design. It is a unique special thing that becomes a beloved part of your wardrobe.”