Creating Clarity Through Music
Syndik8 Records, Lynxxx, Show Dem Camp, Ladipoe, The Collectiv3, Black Magic, these are only a handful of the collaborators of producer Ikon Ekwuyasi – one of Nigeria’s most prolific producers. After years of operating successfully behind the scenes, Ikon switched hats and effortlessly became, Ikon – rapper. His latest effort, Hungry To Live, which came out in November 2018, is by far his most intimate offering, taking us on a very delicate and important journey through his life and, more significantly, the loss of his brother, the grieving process and the murky waters of depression as a result. Here, in place of a traditional interview, we invited Ikon to share his story in his own words.
I lost my brother many years ago, when he was killed by a drunk policeman on his way home. It’s been over a decade and I have only recently started to deal with this loss. As a young teenager living in Nigeria, there weren’t many avenues to help me deal with the grief, anger and trauma- so I suppressed all of it. I became a different person, I lost my faith in everything and everyone.
I was numb. I was on autopilot, always trying to occupy my mind so I didn’t dwell on my reality. But grief has a way of manifesting itself; waking up in the middle of the night in tears became a routine. I began to feel unworthy in some way, I can’t explain it. Not undeserving but I felt alone. Socialising was difficult and I became accustomed to the loneliness, finding it easier to navigate the world alone than to risk losing a loved one again.
It was hard to navigate this space as a man in Nigeria. I felt an almost compulsory need to smile and be ‘okay’ in public. I honestly felt like I couldn’t discuss my thoughts and feelings with my friends, which was emotionally stifling. Eventually these emotions manifested themselves in unhealthy ways. I would drink until drunk and only then could I purge myself of these emotions, from crying to shouting and yelling. I realised that I was ill, and that my behaviour was not “normal.” I considered seeking professional help but always felt that there were insufficient avenues, from support groups, to therapists, available in Nigeria. The inherent stigma towards mental health in Nigeria gave me the impression that I wouldn’t be able to find someone who would objectively assess my issues.
“It was hard to put myself out there like that because I knew I could never take it back once it was released. But it was me claiming back my reality.”
I’m grateful for the support system I had (and still have) in my friends and family. One of my best friends would stop by every day after work just to sit with me. Occasionally, my younger sister and I would share memories of my brother and, while painful, it brought us some comfort. But I still struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts. It wasn’t so much the act of killing myself but rather the idea that not existing and not being alive would be okay, good even.
Creating music was actually a lifeline for me, it helped me begin to process. Every time I created something, particularly my album, I felt as though I was emotionally unburdening myself. I had reached a stage in my grieving process where I needed to speak on my loss, to bare my soul so that I could no longer live in denial. It was hard to put myself out there like that because I knew I could never take it back once it was released. But it was me claiming back my reality.
Grappling with such deep-seated feelings actually made me a better creator so I am thankful for that. It caused me to really consider the overall purpose of what I was creating and I developed a patience with the process that allows me to evoke true feeling and to dig deeper into what it means to create. I think because of that, the album resonated with people who’ve never been able to really understand my loss or even their own feelings of grief and depression. I’m glad it’s been a catalyst for a few seminal conversations raising awareness about mental health and how we as a country deal with these issues.
One of the biggest things I want people to understand, is that depression is not uncommon. It isn’t rare and it is something we need to do a better job of managing. For me, I’ve become familiar with the triggers and how to live a healthy lifestyle. I seek balance in all facets of my life with a focus on nourishing my mind, body and soul. I have a new found joy in learning new skills, attending church, going to the gym and being in the studio. Although I still have waves that remind me that depression can still creep in, a heightened sense of self-awareness has equipped me with the knowledge that dealing with depression itself does not get easier. But you can become stronger in the face of it.
This Essay was originally published in our May 2019 Mental Health Issue.