Overture: I wrote this essay with intentions to pitch to a music website but ultimately decided to self-publish.
I have always been a loner. Since I was a kid, I mostly kept to myself and could go hours without interacting with anyone, lost in my own little world. I didn’t like talking because it usually required a lot of energy that I couldn’t muster. I remember how I struggled with expressing the thoughts in my head and how I couldn’t stop hyperfixating on how my voice sounded — whether it was loud enough, if I pronounced words correctly. I desperately wanted to be like every normal kid. It’s what my parents hoped for and they never hid how they felt in that regard.
I thought growing up would change me. I thought I would grow up and stop spending so much time in my head, that I would have many friends, that I would blossom into a social butterfly and live in the moment. But instead I became more of a loner as I grew up, shut out from reality on most days and trapped in my imagination. Many of the friendships I had were surface-level and I scarcely ever opened up to my friends about anything. In my years in the University, the people I met and became friends with simply assumed that I had terrible mood swings, especially because there were moments when I would come out of my shell full of life and I would make them laugh, before crawling back into my shell. I became more self-conscious and sometimes felt weird in my skin, questioning why everything felt different for me. I was convinced that there was something broken inside of me that needed fixing.
I suffered so much anxiety trying to change myself. I wanted to be more accessible. I wanted to be able to exist for long outside of my space. I needed to be able to connect with people and build meaningful friendships. Ironically, I found more solace in my own company. As the years progressed, life nudged my friends and me down our individual paths and I sunk deeper into my world. I became distant from my friends and family, and I would go months without calling or seeing them. Being a freelance writer, I hardly ever stepped outside of the house. And when the Covid-19 pandemic hit and we were forced to stay indoors, I was already too tired to even feel anything. I was hardly a stranger to spending my time alone; I felt like I was detached from the world.
As I retreated further into myself, I sought comfort in Omah Lay’s Boy Alone. The first time I listened to his debut album, I felt like I was in a therapy session and my therapist was saying the exact things that I needed to hear. His music served as a cushion that I could lay on and my worries would immediately dissipate. Omah Lay’s superpower lies in his ability to express his feelings with poignant euphonic melodies and painstakingly honest lyrics. With sombre piano chords and mild percussion, he delivers the type of music that you cry to before you sleep at night and kickoff your mornings with. He meanders delicately between Highlife and RnB, using his favourite instrument: His vocals.
Boy Alone saw the singer revealing his struggles with fame and addiction, his mercurial mood and recurring mental health issues, and as much as some experiences were unique to him, it felt like we were living the same life. The allure of Omah Lay’s music for me is his curiously poetic mode of expression, which he deploys masterfully. He is a gifted composer who has a profound understanding of music — the rules that govern it — and how to suavely break the rules. Starting his music career as a producer, Omah Lay has a propensity for selecting instrumentals that complement his ability to distill his experiences into witty lyrics and enchanting wordplay.
My days as a loner started to become more meaningful and precious to me as I dutifully surrendered myself to the album. My existential angst was somehow relegated to the back seat and my shoulders suddenly didn’t feel so heavy. Boy Alone evoked something in me that several other Nigerian albums (have) failed to do. The album gave me the permission to take a break from berating myself for who I am. Where words weren’t enough to express my thoughts and feelings, Boy Alone seemed more than sufficient. Omah Lay became my voice, and anytime I listened to the album, our worlds became entwined and I lived vicariously through him.
On mornings when I wake up in a gloomy mood, I revel in the rejuvenating power of Boy Alone. The moment I hear certain lyrics like “Sometimes I’m happy, sometimes i’m sad, I don’t know what’s over me,” there’s a freedom that follows. Being a loner, I fight most of my battles alone. I hardly ever open up to people about what I’m going through. The blowback is that I spend my dark days alone and I become so overwhelmed that I find myself stuck in a rot, unable to leave bed or get anything done. In such times, I return to Boy Alone and suddenly I’m reassured that nothing is wrong with me. Or rather, I’m reassured that even if something is wrong with me, it’s okay. There’s great comfort in knowing that I might be by myself but I’m not alone.
Although his music often has a mellow feeling attached to it, Omah Lay excels in the art of making dance music. His music strikes a balance between connecting with your emotions and completely letting go of them. There’s a track where he’s imploring a lady to ease his pain with her bubbly disposition. There are times when you can no longer withhold the pain alone, no matter how much of a loner you are. Life pushes you till you reach a mental nadir and salvation comes in the form of a friend. I’ve been there and listening to “Soso,” there’s a resounding feeling that takes hold of me and I’m reminded that I don’t have to fight my battles alone. You are allowed to rest on the pillar of friendship and unburden yourself, he tells me while hatching out melliflous Highlife melodies.
Beyond friendship, there are times when I crave deeper intimacy. As a self-aggrandazing introverted loner who is constantly analyzing my thoughts, emotions and actions, I always find ways to sabotage my relationships with women — when I’m fortunate enough to be liked by a woman. Relationships have a way of unpacking the unresolved trauma tucked somewhere in my brain: My trust issues and fear of commitment form impenetrable walls that do not allow any person I’m with to know me deeply, which is why many of my relationships are superficial. This trauma stems from my experiences of heartbreak and betrayal in my teen years. Hearing Omah Lay sing about the pain and disappointment that comes with heartbreak on “Understand,” even in his adult years, reminded me that getting heartbroken is nearly inevitable in romantic relationships. You just have to pick your poison.
Over the years, I’ve lost people very dear to me: My mother, my friend (who is more or less a brother), my half sister (whom I never got to tell how much I love). It’s been extremely difficult dealing with the feeling of grief alone. It’s a heavy weight to carry and I became more withdrawn while trying to process the uncomfortable emotions that come with grieving. I fell into a cesspool of despondency, not willing to engage in any activity or do anything productive. It felt wrong to simply move on with my life as if my entire world didn’t crater after the loss of my loved ones. With “Never Forget,”a song that Omah Lay made as a tribute to the deceased, I found a new appreciation for life and realised that those who I’ve lost still continue to live on in my heart and memories; they are gone but not forgotten. Not living life the best way I know didn’t honour them.
Singing in a high-pitched voice on “Safe Haven,” Omah Lay remarked that he feels ultimately at peace whenever he goes on tour. He derives comfort in performing his songs to fans, stating that without touring, he would be in a terribly dark place. “Safe Haven” resonates with me particularly because practising my craft is one of the few things that help me escape the dungeon that is my mind. Writing helps me make sense of my thoughts and feelings, and helps quiet my racing mind. It is an outlet of expression for me, and I cannot begin to imagine what my life would be like without writing. It makes me feel alive and is the perfect and most rewarding distraction from the harsh realities of life.
I even reconnected with old friends and acquaintances over our shared love for Boy Alone* I preached the gospel of the album to anyone who cared to listen, on social media and in person. If I could climb the top of a mast to scream that the album saved my soul from sinking, I totally would. These days, I take walks with airpods plugged in my ears, completely engulfed by one of my favourite albums of all time.