Unpacking Mental Health with TOBi
Nigerian-Canadian rapper TOBi explores his upbringing, embracing vulnerability, and growth beyond mental health challenges in his album STILL. Using music as a creative outlet, he now wants to bring the conversation outside of his music and into the community. We sat down to talk about the inspiration behind his upcoming event: UNPACK Toronto on August 28.
The first track from your album STILL references “post-traumatic growth.” What does that phrase mean to you?
This is a phrase that just came to me when I was reflecting on my life a couple years ago and then I heard it a couple weeks later on a podcast with the speaker describing the exact feeling that I experienced. To me it is our brain's ability to respond to traumatic events in a positive manner and become stronger than before. I have been fascinated and amazed with the concept of neuroplasticity for years and it has been influential to my journey through it all.
The album is emotional and candid. It challenges notions of masculinity, and encourages men to embrace softness. Do you find embracing vulnerability can be a healing act?
It definitely can be a healing act as it is the initial step in the process. For me, it is allowing myself to feel both positive and negative emotions in order to grow as a person. Acceptance is usually termed the first step and to me vulnerability opens that window to allow for new possibilities to be realized.
How does the act of creating help you move forward and heal from trauma?
Creating helps me with the first step, which is acknowledging how I feel in the moment. It allows me to process my innermost emotions on my own before reaching out to my trusted inner circle. I think healing can work from the inside out and the outside in. The outside being the environment and support systems and the inside being our resiliency, virtues and core beliefs. Creating has helped me strengthen that inner world to take on life's challenges as a primary means of coping.
The phrase “It’s easy to get locked in place…” rings through the track “Locked In.” Often, challenges with mental health can be something that takes away one’s sense of motivation, making them feel “locked in.” Have you ever felt this way? If so, how have you overcome these feelings?
I have felt this way. At different points of my life but most noticeably when in a state of limbo. A state where there was a lack of direction, an existential crisis of sorts. I wish I had the answer to this question for people but since we all have unique life experiences, I know it's not a one-size-fits all approach. For me, it was a rooting myself in my purpose, self discovery and a renewed interest in the process of life.
You studied biology and psychology in university, how has that knowledge informed your understanding of mental health?
Having that academic background definitely got me more interested in the nuances to mental health and how multifaceted it is. It deepened my curiosity about the topic and allows me to approach it with a tact and genuine intention. It's also allowed me to look at mental health from the individuality of brain chemistry to cultural and societal impacts. I'm definitely in awe of how impacted our inner worlds are by our environments.
Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming event UNPACK Toronto?
From anxiety not being recognized in the DSM until 1980, to it becoming the most commonly diagnosed mental illness today, I would like to address the topic with care and understanding. We've heard of the stresses that come with being an artist from time in memoriam but in the 21st century, these factors are either still present, compounded, or reduced entirely. My goal here is to get a state of affairs for artists in the GTA in 2019, seeing what works in our community, what gaps need to be filled and increasing mental health competency for all of us!
What was the inspiration behind putting this event together?
I care deeply about this topic and know that it affects everybody in some way, shape or form. I think Toronto is a very inclusive place with amazing people of all backgrounds and I believe it can be a positive model for communities around the world.
What is one thing you want attendees to take away from this event?
I want attendees to leave this event with a deeper understanding of mental health; coping skills for themselves and their circles; and increased self-efficacy.
UNPACK Toronto is bringing constructive discussions of mental wellness in the creative community to the table on August 28, 2019 at Red Bull Canada. Join TOBi, Gavin Sheppard, Haviah Mighty, Nova B. Rutherford, and Dr. Andrea Myrie-Nurse for an open discussion focused on education and healing. You can RSVP for the event here.