Sometimes we don’t know what we have when we have it.
After the release of my album, One Day Soon, I experienced one of the longest and lowest periods of depression in my life thus far. I suffered it mostly alone in my apartment during a cold, grey winter in Toronto. Most people I know where completely unaware save a few who cared, and cared to know. I am lucky to have a handful of close friends who supported me though it. The album was not doing what I wanted, a relationship I was in ended between when the album was released on Oct 7 and the album release celebration on Nov 11, I found myself arguing with friends and avoiding them as I only wanted peace, I felt drained, I was left with a great sense of isolation and loneliness.
I wanted my music to be ‘successful,’ I thought the energy that I put in would come back in a form that would help me pay my rent, for longer than two months and not drive me into debt. I felt immobilized; many days I didn’t leave my apartment, often I didn’t leave my bed.
The truth is, I don’t know what I’m doing. I am an artist, that is the only thing I ever wanted to be, the only thing I ever wanted to do, I have other interests of course, but they always lead me back to something creative, something about communication and purpose. I have failed a lot, made a lot of mistakes, but how is it possible when you know so clearly what you should be doing that it never really works?
One day I was having a conversation with my friend Sarah. After an hour of listening to me complain about what I wanted, who had done me wrong and what I expected that did not come true she quietly said “were you attached to the outcome?” I was still for a moment, “yes, yes I was, yes I am.” I have told many people about this moment since it happened, including her, simple and to the point, yes I was attached to a specific outcome and no; that did not happen. I would not say that in an interview “I wanted this album to generate money for me” but that’s what I wanted. I want to make money as an artist, so that I can be an artist full time.
The reality is this, I never made music for money, I didn’t put energy into music as a money generator, I made/make art because I love it. I am not naïve, money is important because I need it to live; I am not a child of wealth living off their parents, I don’t believe that who money is not important, however, it is not the driving force in my artistic ‘career.’ I now know that I want and need my art to make me money, or balance it with something that does or I will have to stop. My art making me money and not being shy about that is different however to making my art for money.
I frequently watch a documentary called “Glass.” The film is about Philip Glass a now well-known American composer. At one point in the film Glass says that he spent years financing his own orchestra by working as a cab driver and a plumber to ensure that he could play his own music. At the beginning of the movie he blurts out “there is plenty of music out there to listen to, you don’t have to listen to mine” how stubborn, how foolish, how inspirational; maybe not that bright, but it worked for him. My friend Ravi sent me an article that K’naan wrote in the New York Times that’s been circulating the internet, him and I have the opposite problem apparently, not compromising and elusive success, or finding success through compromise, some balance would be nice.
A few months ago I started editing the footage from the album release gathering that I co-presented with my friend Keisha-Monique on November 11, 2011 (11/11/11). I was in South Africa at the time and as I went through it tears welled up in my eyes, how amazing that day was. On November 11, 2011 I was tired and stressed, I was unhappy with the sound and the lights, it seemed like a million things were going wrong, the sound threw off my performance, I wanted to do something more innovative with the band, I wish I had more rehearsal time, I just wanted to do a great show, something that people hadn’t experienced in Toronto before; I didn’t have the resources. It was hard for me to enjoy it. But as I looked back and saw all the faces, all the artists, all the people in Toronto that came out to celebrate with us, I shed tears, how amazing. I emailed Keisha and Kemba (the coordinators), my band-mates and a few others who participated in creating that night and I thanked them for making such a beautiful celebration.
I have been trying to be an artist for so long that I didn’t even realize that I had become one. My vision of success was tied to money, I still struggle with that balance,. The energy that I wanted to create I was at least in the process of creating; for a moment it was there. Despite the imperfections something happened that I am now proud of, I missed a lot of it in searching for perfection (I’m a virgo, sue me).
So much has happened since the album came out, not the least of which was being invited to Capetown, then all across South Africa, then Ethiopia, Rwanda and back to Nairobi, I didn’t spend a dollar. The energy that I have been trying to gather and put out keeps coming back in waves and sometimes in the most unexpected ways.
I still am having difficulty paying my rent, I still want to spend all of my time being an artist, I still want to do big things, and build things, and support others in building things for themselves, I still want to build a space that fosters this energy, but I realized, albeit a little late that I am successful and I appreciate those who have followed me on this journey. I will keep pushing, one way or another and maybe I’ll get there one day soon (sorry, I had to do it).