“Man, can’t even lie, I’m confused and depressed right now,” Wale tells me via a phone call on a Friday midnight. “Plans aren’t working, disappointments here and there, life issues bro. I don’t know what to do.”
Wale is an upcoming artist with dreams. Like most established acts before their blown years, they either hope their music gets heard on radio and a helper reaches out to them or somehow, somehow, a record label sends them a DM. Wale hasn’t had any of these. A few reposts of his songs here and there but nothing concrete has emerged from his rollout plans for the songs he’s put out.
It’s not only Wale who’s in this depressed state but can’t talk about it openly, in the last few years we’ve seen superstar acts depict scenarios of depression either through their tweets or lyrics in their songs. When Burna Boy lost his Grammy award category to Angelique Kidjo early last year, what he felt was documented in the lyrics on Twice As Tall opener: “I remember when I couldn’t level up/Cause the Grammys had me feeling sick as fuck.”
One might be puzzled to ask: What makes an artist depressed?
Artists experience bouts of depression for various personal reasons. Some reasons could be because of the pressure to create hits as alluded to by Lil Kesh. Social media bullying and comparisons are also major factors as admitted by Wurld in a recent interview. There’s also the factor of record label issues and pressure to meet fans expectations or surpass previous achievements. A lot goes on in the headspace of a Nigerian artist.
But artists can speak about these things publicly. Our music space has conditioned us to keep moving and mask the pain with other activities like partying or downing bottles of hennessy in the clubs. When the artist returns home, depressing thoughts reappears.
Compared to other music spheres where artists detail their pain and struggle into tracks, less of an artist’s struggle or battle with addiction or an unknown issue is inscribed in Nigerian music. Artists like XXXtentacion, Juice Wrld, Dutchavelli are known to be open with their experiences as a form of catharsis. But as Harrysong said in an interview; “It’s a disappointment if you say you’re depressed.” The Nigerian society expects you to be strong, thus less of that is heard in Nigerian music.
Several Nigerian artists have had their personal battles with depression in the past. Waje in 2018, mainly due to frustrations with her album release, Lil Kesh recently opened up in an interview, about having a mindset of creating hits, Harrysong also in 2018 had a bout of depression. Which leads to this question: Is there any structure helping music professionals get through their troubling times?
The Guardian revealed in 2019 there are only 150 psychologists serving 200 million people in the country with 3.3% of the nation’s health budget tending to mental health. In the music industry, there isn’t a program or initiative developed to assisting artists have a better grasp of their mental health.
In recent times, record labels in other climes are setting up mental health services for music professionals that are on their payroll. 2018 had Sony Music UK teaming up with Mind, a mental health charity to provide mental health services for their managers. More recent is the much publicized LVRN’s initiative of offering therapy to artists.
Is there a similar thing happening in the Nigerian music space? Nigerian artists might not speak about these things or insinuate being depressed. But this menace pops up year after year without being addressed. It’s imperative record labels and artists’ bodies fashion out an initiative not only for the artists, but also, the professionals who work with them.
This article was written by Olabode Otolorin; connect on Instagram with him here