My name is Mantawoman aka Reylon Yount (Manta/Rey), and I am a musician and performer who specialises in playing yangqin. The yangqin is a percussive string instrument from China that has 144 steel strings that the player strikes with bamboo mallets. I grew up studying Chinese folk music, came up in the contemporary classical scene, and now am making music of my own.

I have had the opportunity to play alongside legends like of Yo-Yo Ma and Rhiannon Giddens, feature on GRAMMY and Sundance Award-winning projects, record on film soundtracks for Marvel and Netflix, and tour internationally with the Silkroad Ensemble. When I came to London in 2017 to pursue graduate studies in music at SOAS and Goldsmiths, I had a chance to centre my roaming practice and listen more closely to my direct relationship to the instrument. I had learned how to shapeshift my sound to fit into any genre, but what was my sound? What was I trying to say as an artist? Co-founding London-based transnational music collective Tangram with Alex Ho helped me explore these questions through the lens of diaspora. Lockdown further catalysed this creative transformation. The stillness and gravity of that time caused me to come to terms with parts of myself I was keeping silent. It was in this environment that I came out as genderfluid. The themes of shapeshifting and fluidity I had been exploring through music suddenly took on a new significance. This reflection, and my newfound process of writing songs on yangqin, led me to birth a new performance persona: Mantawoman.

Inspired by the ocean, Daoist philosophy, and my journey coming out as genderfluid, Mantawoman embodies fluidity as a healing response to fragmentation. She is a sacred siren tempting voyagers (audiences) towards change and self-transcendence. Like a drag persona, this avatar allows me to perform and create from a bolder, more authentic place. Leaning into my authenticity has helped me hone in a unique sound and songwriting style that synthesises yangqin, voice and electronics. My latest release, Aftershocks featuring lie,e (Emmy the Great’s new project), felt like another coming out; I can feel that I am on the right path, a refreshing current that feels queer, collaborative and celebratory.

I am thrilled to be bringing all of this — these creative insights and synergies — to fruition in a debut EP and live show, to be developed with Tangram in a concert at LSO St Luke’s on 31 August and 1 September 2023, and then premiered at the Purcell Room on 15th October 2023, as part of the Southbank Centre Studio residency. The work will explore heartbreak as a metaphor for change, ultimately conveying the expansive nature of love. With the help of collaborator and director Emma Johnson, I will orchestrate an audiovisual deep dive into the fluid nature of being human, hopefully serving as a breath of fresh air for anyone out there who feels boxed in by the world.

When asked what they are looking forward to about their Jerwood New Work Fund project, Mantawoman said,

I am looking forward to showing audiences who I really am as an artist. I feel that my journey so far, as blessed and amazing as it has been, led me to pigeon-hole myself as “the yangqin player.” Now, empowered by the persona of Mantawoman, I feel ready to incorporate conceptual aspects, physical movement, video art, and nascent acting elements into my performances, to make them more rich and surprising. I am also incredibly excited to work with some talented artist friends, old and new, including Emma Johnson, Momoko Watanabe Gill, and United Freedom Collective.

Mantawoman. Image by Eivind Hansen