INTERVIEW | LOWKEY DISCUSSES MENTAL WELL-BEING AT ‘SOUNDS OF AN UNQUIET MIND’

lowkey

“Sounds of an Unquiet Mind” was an event organ­ised by MIND in Tower Ham­lets and Newham (East Lon­don). In par­ti­cip­a­tion with Beats Learn­ing and Queen Mary Uni­ver­sity of Lon­don, the even­ing was a cel­eb­ra­tion and expres­sion of men­tal health through the cre­at­ive arts. I caught up with one of the per­formers at the event, UK Rap­per / Act­iv­ist Lowkey to dis­cuss mat­ters of the mind.

What made you want to take part in the “Sounds of an Unquiet Mind” event?

I was asked by MIND if I wouldn’t mind com­ing and per­form­ing. And so, I was happy to do that because I think men­tal health is some­thing that can be heav­ily stig­mat­ised in our soci­ety, and we’re in a situ­ation where it’s become a spe­cific­ally acute phe­nomen­on among men of my age and my demo­graph­ic com­mit­ting sui­cide. It’s the biggest killer of people in my demo­graph­ic so really I feel that it’s an import­ant cam­paign to aid in whatever way I can. I think that there are def­in­itely some dis­crep­an­cies and con­trasts in the way dif­fer­ent people are dealt with by men­tal health ser­vices in this coun­try. What can be defined as men­tal ill­ness is quite dif­fi­cult to quanti­fy; how is it you can work out who is and who isn’t suf­fer­ing and what they are suf­fer­ing from. It’s fraught with many prob­lem­at­ic aspects so I think that it’s import­ant to make that bond and to strip it of any stigma that there may be to wel­come people, to let people know that it doesn’t define you, you are not your men­tal ill­ness, and you are not this defin­i­tion that has been thrust upon you in some cases. Your life con­tin­ues before and after, you still have a life to live and things to con­trib­ute to the wider world.

When you say “my demo­graph­ic” what do you mean?

I mean men of my age in this coun­try.

The age range being between…?

In their 30’s. I’m in my 30’s now and the biggest killer of us is sui­cide. It’s very sad and I think that’s largely due to a kind of aver­sion to talk­ing about these prob­lems because we’re put in a place where we often mutil­ate our fac­ulties of emo­tion­al expres­sion in the name of an idea of man­hood, which is com­pletely unreal­ist­ic and is based on the kind of por­no­graph­ic­a­tion of what it means to be a man, put in these kinds of super­hero terms and emo­tion­less terms, and it’s deeply deeply dam­aging. Once you’re able to cre­ate spaces where men feel com­fort­able express­ing them­selves, you’re start­ing to get to a bet­ter place.

What, if any, per­son­al exper­i­ence do you have with men­tal health?

My broth­er died in 2004, it was some­thing that is dif­fi­cult to this day to get my head around. We know that he was suf­fer­ing but he wasn’t really dia­gnosed dur­ing his life­time with any­thing. It’s a dif­fi­cult situ­ation and since then I’ve worked as a youth work­er in a youth centre that was, of course, privat­ised and sold off by the Tory coun­cil, where we were work­ing with many people who had many dif­fer­ent con­di­tions. It was inter­est­ing as well because some of the symp­toms that I would see and some of the ways of com­mu­nic­at­ing were famil­i­ar to me from my exper­i­ence with my broth­er. So it’s def­in­itely some­thing that’s very close to home and I think it’s just about find­ing a way to cre­ate shared moments of joy with every­one.

Were you doing music before or after this peri­od of time with your broth­er?

I was doing music before, dur­ing and after.

How would you like to express that music and men­tal health can share a link or be used syn­onym­ously?

I think what music does is, it facil­it­ates an expres­sion of the soul which is not really facil­it­ated by many oth­er things. I think it allows people to express them­selves in a very organ­ic and dir­ect way. Oth­er forms of work do not provide that kind of oppor­tun­ity. So I think it cer­tainly can provide, in some way, a refuge but it also can provide a cath­artic out­let for people to deal with what they’re going through and also deal with their isol­a­tion. It’s an inher­ently social act because when you’re cre­at­ing some­thing music­al it’s for oth­er people to hear, but even if in some ways you’re locked in a socially isol­ated place; it can provide for you a kind of eman­cip­a­tion from that isol­a­tion and that insu­lar­ity. I think in that way music is a really beau­ti­ful thing. It’s good for mak­ing friends, good for bond­ing.

Aside from music and writ­ing, when you’re in a shitty place in your life, is there any­thing that you employ on a day to day basis?

Oth­er than music?

Oth­er than music.

Yeah. I think mar­tial arts; I was enjoy­ing kung fu and box­ing. It’s not for every­one of course but I think it’s good because it gets the endorphins going, again it can be social. It can actu­ally allow you to express your­self in some ways, but what it’s also about is con­stantly con­front­ing your vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies and your weak­nesses, and so you have to assume the pos­i­tion of a stu­dent in almost every situ­ation. You are also able to live the idea that a tree is not grown in one day. So, what you’re try­ing to do is cul­tiv­ate some­thing that will become vis­ible over the space of years rather than over the space of seconds or a day or weeks. Espe­cially in a soci­ety where instant grat­i­fic­a­tion is peddled to us at every turn, doing some­thing like that allows you to invest your­self, invest your body in it. And also you’re con­front­ing fears; they may not be massive fears, but they’re still fears. Being scared of being hit by someone, it allows you to live that and see that you can sur­vive your fears and sur­vive when your fears are real­ised. So if you are hit in the face, you can take it and carry on. Like I said, it’s not for every­one, they might not be inclined that way but I do think that’s it’s been massively bene­fi­cial for me. I def­in­itely intend to study and train more in that regard.

Oth­er than that I think read­ing is also great, because whilst it is a sol­it­ary prac­tise, it’s also inher­ently social because you’re tak­ing in some­body else’s ideas, you’re absorb­ing their ideas into your ima­gin­a­tion and so it’s a way to be social for an anti-social per­son or for someone that doesn’t want to go out­side; they can travel the world just by read­ing. So I think that that’s anoth­er great thing to do.

You’ve said that a couple of times about these things being social. Do you feel that being social and integ­rat­ing into com­munit­ies is a kind of relief for men­tal health issues?

I do think that we live in a time when there is a pro­pa­ganda war against the idea of the col­lect­ive. It star­ted with Thatch­er say­ing that there is no such thing as soci­ety, there’s just indi­vidu­als. We have to assert that we are a col­lect­ive and find a col­lect­ive con­scious; I do think that provides pro­tec­tion for people. I think in many ways, if you’re look­ing at the cases of people com­mit­ting sui­cide every week in this coun­try, every situ­ation is dif­fer­ent from each oth­er and I don’t want to cast dis­per­sions on peoples’ exper­i­ences but there is pro­tec­tion in the power of the col­lect­ive and I def­in­itely think that needs to be act­ively fostered.

Thank You Broth­er Kareem

Bless­ings

Read the review of ‘Sounds of An Unquiet Mind’ here to learn more about the pur­pose of the event.

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Aisha

Aisha

Aisha is a Writer and Research­er based in Lon­don. She has spent over a dec­ade in the enter­tain­ment industry. She Thanks you for read­ing.

About Aisha

Aisha
Aisha is a Writer and Researcher based in London. She has spent over a decade in the entertainment industry. She Thanks you for reading.