~Time is never wasted. Time will waste you~
The best ones are when the words come to you. When a story spooks, stalks and gnaws at you. The ones scripted beforehand and yours is just to execute. The best ones are when the muse has you on a noose. When it obliges you to do what it says to cut loose from its chokehold.
What I’m talking about isn’t anything superstitious or dogmatic. It isn’t a higher power; an otherworldly calling. It isn’t a preserve of some form of artistic aristocracy. It doesn’t discriminate against the erudite or ignorant nor does it shun the poor for the well-heeled. It’s the power of art and it entraps whoever dares to meddle in it. Its more like a call of nature, when it comes knocking, you got to go. You have got to heed the need.
In the thick of the pandemic, I found myself prowling my Instagram feed for gossip. I’d frequent the app to distract myself from alarmist news. Mostly about the atrocity that was Covid. I’d find myself sinking in ennui and what better app to sate my escapist tendencies. In my pursuit for a dopamine hit; I bumped into the man who’s made his bones writing love songs. The bard of romance himself. Officially known by the government as Jacob Obunga. To his fans, Otile Brown. He had since gone live seemingly looking to while away time connecting with his sentimental fans.
While at it, with what looked like a spliff pressed between his lips and a guitar against his torso, Otile broke out in song. He looked disheveled singing from the comfort of his home. He’d take up song requests from his followers and slay all of them in acapella. Music came easily to him. The chap could croon in his sleep.
Soon enough he’d cut short the ballad bonanza to talk. Essentially about his songwriting process. How he curates, creates and executes. Explaining his motions from soup to nuts. What I expected to be an outpouring of creative wisdom proved otherwise. My perked ears and heightened anticipation were left high and dry. For his secret, pans out was no secret at all. There was no exclusive elixir that made Otile different from the rest of us. Of course, he possesses exceptional vocal prowess given most of us boast a croak for a voice. But when speaking of his creative process, it sounded uber ordinary like he was reinventing the wheel.
He banged on about lyrics following melody the whole time. About how the words never write the song. About how the sound precedes and words follow. So long as there’s a rhythmic sound matters less where he hears it, studio or not. It’s the melody that’s the raw material. Once a melody so much as registers in his head he starts humming to it.
He sequesters himself from people to optimize his concentration levels as well as forgo the risk of appearing crazy. Like a canary, Obunga hums to these sonics. Humming is the cue summoning the lyrics his way. The more he hums so does he write without overthinking or analyzing too much. Trusting it will eventually make sense and pan out beautifully in the end. He will listen to the instrumental for as long as he needs to. Its as if the tune is a guiding light in the dark to a hidden treasure. His task as a musician, is purely to follow the light through the abyss and it will lead him home- to the coveted trove.
For every masterpiece produced, melody came first and song wrote itself from alpha to omega. Just like that, in a two-minute spat were we all revealed to the artistic secrets of a musical savant. It sounded too simple to be true but that would pit my word against his. Yet I don’t have a single love song to my name. Apart from my bathroom karaoke album where I do most of my clanking.
So, I believed him. And with the fullness of time, understood him.
The sacrosanct melody is the muse for Otile. It’s the object of inspiration enabling imagination. Its what opens the floodgates, allowing the best ones (songs) to follow him.
With the passage of time, I came discern what he meant. This phenomenon after all wasn’t foreign at all. In fact, it was very common. I tried to put a name to it and lurched on intuition. But I’m also afraid my desire for labelling things might water down this feeling because its hands down a force of nature.
I realized it comes in different forms and shapes for different people. As we have established for Otile it’s a melody. For some it may be the strum of a guitar. For some a scent. Others a nudge, shove, push, a traumatic experience. For others it may be a place, a distinct location or situation. For many different people its many different things. For Eric Ripert, late Anthony Bourdain and Chef Ramsey it is the confines of a kitchen. For others, its booze and drugs. I have it on good authority the best rap albums we got from Lil Wayne were a brainchild of codeine. Whatever it is, there’s a source to the creek and its not for any of us to judge. Creative juices stem from every corner of this circular globe.
And as for me… as for me and my regressing hairline and balding dome? It shows up in the form of restlessness. An anxiety so bothersome it won’t wane till I yield to its will. Normally that’s my prompt. Its how I know something needs to be said on paper. Expeditiously.
Yet this time I direly tried to ignore this sensation albeit unsuccessfully. I tried to ward off the bully that browbeats me to write. I was incorrigible in my decision of not picking up my computer and scribbling something on a word document. I was confident I could beat this unpleasant restlessness to a staring contest. And for once, in my young life, see to it that the muse blinks first.
At 18 what I made of adulthood was having the privilege of not answering to authority. No more gulag-like school uniforms. Nobody is giving me grief about cutting my two-inch long nappy hair. I didn’t have to suffer the inconvenience of constantly explaining where I was whenever I left the house. Old enough to face the world, so I thought. More so, I reveled knowing I had completely said good riddance to high school – tired of seeing boys all the time, even a whiff of testosterone nauseated me.
18 was an exciting time because I felt like a dog unbound from a short leash. You know, like a cow breaking free from its restraining tether and was now at liberty to graze God’s expansive meadow.
18 was a ball because I spent my days playing football. It was a fun do because I spent my days doing seedy things in seedy dens in the CBD. My friends and I; in conjunction with the daughters of Babylon fresh from high-school, communed at these spots almost every day except on Sundays and got randy! Hookahs, liquor, video games and blaring music were the accompaniments to these rendezvous.
In hindsight, I’m eternally grateful to thee for I was carnally responsible, some took the circus too far and became parents. By no means am I lambasting their character. Procreation will always be the endgame anyway. I don’t think we were any sleazier than the average man. We weren’t errant kids. It was merely an exploratory phase. Suddenly; voting, alcohol, looking at girls sideways and buying prophylactics were all legal. Kenya is a free country. We had to exercise our individual rights and freedoms bwana.
18 is when I first got arrested, got dispossessed of one shoe and my belt and finally realized I was answerable to a badder authority; the law. Its’ when I blazed my first joint. At 18, I spewed my first courtship fib and hoodwinked a girl, I love you. We broke up soon after I joined campus because I was convinced Uni was destined to be Project X.
According to the government were of age since we strolled around with IDs. But at 18 I was juvenile, intrepid, and delusional. Young and fierce nothing could stand in my way. No way Jose.
Shifting gears to the ‘Four Seasons’. Years 19 to 22. I’m now buddy buddy with bouncers across Westlands seeing as I’m usual suspect over weekends. These were years of beating sherehe proper, without a qualm. Years of balancing uni and the high life. Years of chasing tail. Years of mitigating my plagiarism count on assignments. Of reneging on school deadlines and attending Monday morning lectures knackered as a bummer. Many moons of ecstasy were those years. Years of freedom without responsibility. When a doe couldn’t catfish me because the world had not yet started wearing masks for survival. They went by in a blur, like a waft of wind breezing yonder.
This was the epoch of epic concerts and music. Wasafi music stirring us to a slumber in matatus, come the #playKE music movement, then Burna boy performing in 2018 and trashing Kenyan audiences at the airport before leaving, then Konshens at racecourse in 2019 and at last came our saving grace. The irreverent gengetone wave that rendered international acts feckless although briefly until everything went silent courtesy of a virus from Wuhan. All this was happening while the government stole our future away from us, Kenya’s debt ceiling rising from 2 to 8 trillion.
As fate would have it, a pandemic would befall us and that’s where the bottom fell off. Things went awry globally. Individually, life started wringing me out too. I started feeling something was amiss within and I hardly could explain what it was. An eerie feeling.
Life began to feel like there was more to live for than good grades and skimpy skirts. More than the pittance I was making while working to sustain this charade. Mind you, I had been working throughout my campus life which was something to be proud of. The pay was sufficient for a final year student. In fact, it was acceptable bearing in mind the ugly unemployment stats. Regardless, such rationalizations wouldn’t hold. It would occur to me though I worked a small job mine was no small mind. I wanted more. Expanded territory. Raised floors. Higher ceilings. Out of reach horizons. The warrior within dared to dream. At this rate, I risk coming off like Pepe Minambo, Joel Osteen or reverend Victor Githu but hey; hear me out.
On the other hand, I felt like an ingrate who was blinded by avarice and unable to acknowledge my luck. I didn’t like that my spirit was asking for more yet I had enough. Enough to toot it and boot it every now and then. Yet, there was an unyielding sense I was merely getting by; refraining from stretching boundaries. I felt like I had settled for too little too early. There had to be a greater apogee out there. For days, I’d feel like a shark in a pond. It was time to budge out of the comfort zone. Only I wasn’t ready. But it kept scraping at me, willing me on to abandon the familiar path to take the road less taken.
I chose to stick to my guns. I wasn’t going to offer audience to a measly feeling. Maybe it was just a stomach bug, butterflies. Feelings are irrational, they don’t bear relevance in logic. The world doesn’t progress on emotion but rather on reason, calculation and caution. Those who indulge in feelings aren’t sensible they relinquish control. To that end, I was as convicted as a Prophet Owuor adherent.
But the bug wouldn’t fade. I couldn’t shake it off. I needed a way out.
I chose escapism embarking on a hedonist spree.
Viktor E. Frankl, “When a man can’t find meaning in his life. He distracts himself with pleasure.”
On the 5th of July 2021, I turned 23. The memory of the day is as lucid as an epiphany to me. It hit me I was in a hole and I had kept digging. I had sunk neck-deep in a canyon.
23 was supposed to be my Jordan year. It was to signify championships and major wins in life yet I was so dislodged from that. I was everything but prosperous. I was preposterous.
On my last birthday, as I emerged from the wayside; I convened a meeting with self. Asking within is it this bad? My inner child would nod in vigorous agreement. My then being was a radical departure from who I ought to be. I felt like those drunkards in central who imbibe cheap liquor then shout, “Nani huyo amezima stima!?” only to learn of their lost sight. It was pitch darkness. Grimmer than the reaper. If there was a eulogy for people who die while still alive, the byline on mine would read, ‘Gone too soon.’
The inevitable followed, sinking to a depressive state was imminent and out of question; as I sought answers to fill the gaping emptiness. I had long abandoned things that filled my cup. My writing went to the dogs, football lost its sheen and even my unyielding libido dared to desert me. Haha. Life was so bland it felt like I was nibbling at raw cabbage.
There was a silver lining though. I knew whose fault it was and soon set out to get after him. It wasn’t an overnight venture. It took me nine months to nab him but eventually I got him. The feeling ignored would become the antidote acknowledged.
Today I will turn 24. My inner child will be gleeful and hopeful. Carrying forward only one dime of a lesson moving forward. Heed the feeling mate. Sit with it, cherish, conversate it and serenade it. By all means engage it then make sense of it.
I remember in primary school, one Mr. Khamasi my C.R.E teacher kept hammering in our heads Emmanuel means, ‘God is with us’ But I kept on insisting it meant, ‘God within us’.
Perhaps I was wrong and he was right but I see how my insistence on my own definition adds up right now. You do not have to be religious to understand we are creatures of creation. Everything surrounding us started as a thought, idea, feeling and inkling. Every outcome we see is a manifestation of sensation. The god within me kept speaking but I was determined not to listen. My depression would then be a no-brainer given my refusal to participate in creation. We become feckless when we refuse to do our part, pull our weight even when it means reinventing ourselves. I still work the same small job by the way only with an ambitious appetite now.
At 24, I find myself more at ease because I listen more intently. My Jordan year of supremeness was devoured by locusts but I have another shot at the bull’s eye with my 24th. Kobe Bryant donned those numbers and he was nothing short of stratospheric. 24 echoes Jack Bauer, remember him? Yeah, you know the vibes.
24 is my official entrance to real adulthood and I’m chomping at the bit. I’m pressed to take on more responsibility for myself, my family and country. To do well by myself and the world around me.
To ultimately serve an intrinsic purpose that will be of extrinsic value. Haha, that line will give Pepe Minambo a run for his money.
At 24, I’m looking to cast my net out into deep seas and trawl out big fish.
How do I plan to go about this? I have no idea but I just know because the feeling tells me so.
Intuition leads. Reason completes.
To 24. Skol!