Zulfiqar Mannan’s “Big Mouth”: a review

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Big Mouth is the brainchild of a brown boy both liberated and oppressed by his college-campus-diaspora, crossing “campus over campus” to find his place. “The international kids whisper in their pretty, proud accents how I’m ‘so ridiculous’,” Zulfi says. He expresses his constant inability to understand: one thing he knows for sure however, is that he will never settle. “And my mother does not know who I am”, he mutters, however unashamed – Zulfi revels in his own peculiarity, laughing at the irony of the English language – which, as it happens, is the language he chooses to write his songs in. “English is weird, a bit racist, mostly classist but above all, weird and convoluted and easy to manipulate into and through jargon,” says Zulfi. For an album celebrating difference, the very opening track packs a punch – Zulfi subverts the quintessential trashin-the-hotel-room verse by announcing “I ball too hard I call ‘em grey geese/Take a picture, Hollywood, I’m always sayin’ cheese”. Where rap focuses on showing off and one-upmanship, Zulfi’s verses focus on the destruction of these very metaphors. “Everyone hoped, or was scared, that my Big Mouth was going to get me into trouble,” he admits.

The bubblegum-popping second track, “Big Mouth” lyrically muses with the likes of Lorde and Marina and the Diamonds – although, this song was written in collaboration with his friend Mustafa, who wrote it “in one take due to the genius that is his brain”. “Big Mouth” captures Zulfi’s middle-finger to the universe as he announces “I walk like a dog, I’m four arms out/You walk aimlessly with your big mouth”. The following tracks, “Stickers” and “Look” both offer Zulfi’s insights into heartbreak and longing. The genius in Zulfi’s work lies in his ability to bring his body into the forefront – his lyrics are sensuous, self-deprecating, highlighting the burdens of being “marked” as in the song “Stickers”, he sighs, “Used to put me in your lap/Now I’m just a sad sack”. He is still defiant; “I’m gonna break every single f***ing rule.” However, where “Stickers” is provocative and cheeky and exasperating, “Look” is aching and shattered, almost morbid. “Look what you did to me,” he berates his lover. He seems to seek inspiration from the masochistic Lana del Rey as he sings, “I stayed up seldom and only with you/You could just punch my face black and blue”.

Zulfi’s album closes with the ambitious “Goodbye (Acid Academia)”, a heartwarming ode to his friends in college, to partying, coffee-shop reading at “‘bucks” and experimenting with drugs. “I been sitting, smoking, tripping, typing essays in a mania.” Zulfi immortalizes his college experience by legitimizing it, taking notes from Frank Ocean’s “Futura Free” by naming his friends and referencing real-life events; he keeps it small, specific, emphasizing the dichotomy between his at-home life and existence on campus. “We would take extra minutes walking or several meals stalking/As I read poems from my cracked iPhone screen”.

Big Mouth is a confession, a love-letter to the heartbroken, a beacon of hope for all the hopelessly misplaced. It is loud, bold and raw. Zulfi seems to acknowledge the transience of life but he uses it to his advantage – he remains anonymous, just another kid enjoying parties, but at the same time turns the experience into a personal one by bearing his own heart.  “My suite-mate hates noises, let’s stay a while.”

You can stream Zulfi’s EP here: