"Music gives me a purpose..."

When you hear the words ‘Blue Monday’, your first thoughts might be the euphoric New Order classic. You might not be aware however, that today is also dubbed ‘Blue Monday’ as it is statistically the most depressing day of the year.

Whilst scientists and psychiatrists alike have called the validity of this into question, it still serves as a bleak reminder for some of a persisting negative mental state. Think of it as the Valentine’s Day for the clinically depressed — a time to capitalise on what is already an everyday reality.

As with love, depression is part of the everyday for many. I, unfortunately, deal with this, however, alongside the medication and therapy comes my own form of respite from the madness. Everyone has their raison d’être, the very thing that keeps them going. Mine, as with many other people, is music.

It might seem generic, but the power of it can’t be underestimated. It’s almost like a reflex action. When everything gets that bit too much. When you’re overthinking. When you just want to run away, you turn on some music. Regardless of genre, you’ll find something that enables you to carelessly escape for that brief moment.

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By virtue of it being what I do for a living, music gives me a purpose. Without it, I couldn’t guarantee that I’d even be here right now, which is a rather terrifying thought. I’m human, I’m fallible. A simple song can put me at ease and remind me that that’s okay.

I encountered somewhat of an identity crisis with music, more so when I was younger. As a young black girl, I guess there are some genres that would be expected of me to listen to, so I felt like somewhat of an outcast listening to a lot of music growing up that didn’t fit into a certain stereotype. Being able to escape into a world where none of this mattered is really what makes music so powerful to me.

Authenticity or lack thereof is a source of great panic for myself, and others. Whether it’s someone wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the trademark Stones tongue and lips off the high street or the shame that comes with not knowing every word at a gig, for many music fans, authenticity is everything.

As a teenager, I did everything I could to appear authentic, even if it seemed arduous and tiresome. I wanted people to take me seriously as a music fan. However, the anxiety of not ‘looking the part’ always stuck with me. Sometimes I look back at that awkward teenager, ashamed to publicly admit to listening to Take That’s version of ‘Could It Be Magic’ on repeat for fear of it ruining her street cred (though how much street cred a gawky black kid from a middle class suburb bordering Essex has is debatable).-

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Now, I’ll openly admit to loving tracks like that. Keeping up the facade is mentally draining and these ‘guilty pleasures’ are all part of the journey and your identity. I shudder to think what kind of person I’d be had I never listened to Take That. I was a shell of myself. A fraction of the personality I am now. I chose to lock myself away and consume myself with all kinds of sounds. The Who, Liz Phair, Prince - anything and everything.

I predominantly listened to music from before my time in an effort to escape to the past, to a world that I could romanticise and imagine without any troubles. A world in which I don’t exist. Whilst I do still listen to a lot of music that predates me, I would also consider myself to be very engaged with the present and future. You could argue that this might be by virtue of my involvement in the music industry as a career, however, it’s also a reflection of my mental state. It’s a sign of hope.

Nonetheless, there are moments in contemporary music that have stopped me in my tracks. Moments that have echoed my poor mental state exactly. Lying motionless in my bed, I stick on ‘Just Breathe’ by Petite Noir, in which he continually tells me to do just that. In my bedridden state, even rolling over seems like effort, this track reminds me that one step towards recovery is by just breathing. Though simple, the power of lyrics such as this, in their ability to capture listeners’ thoughts and feelings is immeasurable.

The sense of giddiness whilst you await the release of your favourite bands’ new album. That unique roar you hear from the crowd as soon as the lights go out and curtains rise before the headline act. Hearing a track for the first time that is destined to be a lifelong favourite. These are moments I now cherish more than ever. These are the moments that make music so special to me.

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Words + Photography: Jumi Akinfenwa

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