“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
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