Interview: Mo Sella Exudes Danceable Positivity & Friendship on Debut

Washington D.C. local Mo Sella just dropped his debut album, Stories of a Manhattan Apartment, an ode to the life he lived as a college student in New York City. He was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt, before moving to Saudi Arabia for a few years — and he credits living in so many different places for his eclectic taste in music.

NYC wasn’t the last stop for Sella — he currently resides in Washington, D.C., where he’s getting his degree in business at American University.

“Experiencing different cultures is always very empowering,” he says. “I convey what my experience was, and that’s a way of telling a story as well. So that’s the same thing as the way I tell stories through music.”

And on Stories of a Manhattan Apartment, he’s dedicated to telling stories of positivity; a ‘things are going to be okay’ mindset pervades the album.

Bringing the funk of D.C.’s music scene and the hip-hop and R&B of New York’s, Sella’s debut will win over many listeners looking for a fresh, balanced palette of danceable, positivity-centered music.

“There’s a lot of terrible things going on, and I’m just trying to stay positive, trying to make music that can be an escape for people,” he says. “If someone’s feeling down or something they can turn on a song and feel a little bit better… Cause it does for me. Writing music, making music, it’s definitely a therapeutic process for me.”

He noted “Remember the Name” as an especially poignant track in consideration of his hometown — he moved around often while growing up. He said returning to Egypt after many years and noticing differences in Cairo as well as within himself was an emotional experience, and helped him realize the personal growth he’s gone through

He mentioned the phrase “channeling energy” several times in our conversation; he’s intent on taking energy from different aspects of his life and bringing them into his music. But while this mindset seems natural for collaboration, he says he’s more used to working solo.

“I typically like to be alone,” he said. “[I] just like to sit and relax and be with my thoughts and let them come naturally, but as I’ve started to work with more people and become more collaborative, I started writing around more people, and it’s an interesting dichotomy between writing alone and writing surrounded by people,” he says. “It’s definitely different energy.”

Additionally, he actually enjoyed the new challenge of collaborating with people — each of the features on the album are first-time collaborations. But despite the roadblocks he’s faced in making music during a pandemic, things are going smoothly.

“It’s really cool that you can work with someone from across the country and still get that same energy when you’re on a track together.”

Further strengthening his music production process is his friend and manager, Justin Mandel. The two are first and foremost friends; they met at American, and that bedrock of friendship is one that strengthens their professional process of trying to make the best of Mo’s talent.

“Justin’s amazing. I feel very comfortable with showing him my music, taking his input. Even when we disagree I know he always gives me the freedom to express what I want to express and have my music be my music.”

When asked to compare Stories of a Manhattan Apartment to a professional football (American soccer) player, he chose Mohamed Salah, likening their Egyptian upbringing and well-stamped passports.

“It’s a story about me, an Egyptian artist, who has experienced different cultures, like he in his career has played for clubs in Italy and England. I just love him so much,” he said.

It’s a high-reaching comparison — Salah helped lead Liverpool to a Premier League title this past season. But Mo Sella could be reaching higher. With his talent and support, the sky’s the limit. Check out Stories of a Manhattan Apartment, streaming now on all platforms.

Many thanks to Mo Sella and Justin Mandel for setting up this interview!

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