There should be a time and place for everything. Moments when we feel connected and moments when we can be look within and focus on personal matters. On the surface, there might not seem to be anything insightful about this observation, but in actual fact there are cultural differences in the way these matters are negotiated. When I was a youngster, I had opportunities to take time out to be by myself in some settings, whilst in other cultural contexts I was regarded as weird for wanting to do the same thing.
As a young adult, I felt I had a duty to somehow be part of a communal energy. Perhaps this was due to the circles I found myself moving in as an emerging artist who happened to be of Black African heritage. There was a prevailing sense of a need to make a contribution towards a group effort to assert the presence and rights of people like myself in the society I lived in. Do young Black men in Britain feel the same nowadays? I don’t know.
Habits are formed from regular practices. Would I have felt the need to deal with these expectations if I wasn’t a performer? I was attracted to classical singing partially as a means of finding myself. Making an impact in the business brought with it another set of boundaries that needed to be dealt with. Was this healthy for my personal development? Maybe it gave me some discipline regarding being a team player in creative endeavours, but in other ways it made me feel stifled.
Then came the time when I had to spend a lot of time alone, away from my usual social circles, due to work commitments. I felt withdrawal symptoms from the isolation, but I did get a chance to reboot my way of engaging with the world.
Years ago, a friend who enjoyed being surrounded by people came to visit me and he said “we need people” – a subtle criticism of the silence in my abode. I was still figuring myself out at that stage, so I had no immediate response to what he said. If I could respond to him now, I would say “different strokes for different folks”.