How a rap artist who died of Covid impacted my life.
Covid sometimes kills, but encouragement lasts forever - and changes lives.
After googling a particular track by rap artist 'Ty', I was shocked to discover he died of Covid last year, aged 47. I've never followed him that closely and the last time I listened to him was 18 months ago. But yesterday, I found myself wanting to submerge into the steady thumps and flicks of a track I couldn't even remember the name of. I found it - Let's Start - and with it the sad news.
As I read the Independent's obituary, a memory flooded into my mind. It was an unusual experience when I was eighteen of a workshop with Ty's drummer, after which I was added to the guest list for their show. "Really?" I thought, "what the heck!"
I turned up at Exeter's 'Cavern' and shuffled my way past the queue towards a huge bouncer who was protecting the narrow staircase leading down to the dance floor. "I'm on the guest list?" I asked, wondering if Ty's drummer was actually joking with me.
Bouncer said, "Name?"
A single nod and he stepped aside.
Downstairs I found myself between the iconic brick archways lost in a crowd of another hundred people.
I was awkward on my own, but remembered the kindness of the drummer. I spotted him on stage behind his drum kit busy tightening his snares.
In the same venue earlier that week I'd been at a drum and bass workshop with him (Ty's drummer) and Ty's bass player. It blew my mind. At eighteen, I was considering a career in music and this world of jazz hip hop fusion was growing on me. Live was my passion and these guys - real musicians working off each other and breaking it down for us novices - were talking us through 'stretching a beat' in real time. Just wow.
At the end of the workshop, I plucked up the courage to introduce myself to the drummer. I hadn't planned what to say but thought if I wanted to move forward with my career I better start making connections. As we chatted, I realised I wanted a lesson with him. That's why I'm here! I'll ask him to teach me...
And I did. He said yes, gave me his card and told me to call him but that I'd have to go to London for a lesson.
"In the meantime," he said, "I'll put you on the guest list for Friday night..."
I was amazed. I've got connections baby...
I'd never heard of Ty before then and had no particular interest in rap. But now, because his drummer put me on the guest list I was there, amongst a handful of other true Ty fans.
During his set I began to hear grooves the drummer and bass player had demoed earlier in the week. Unlike pop-rap, or just pop, Ty introduced his musicians as equals. More like a jazz group they were all geniuses in their own right.
The whole episode marked me and I've only realised since reading Ty's obituary. Such a simple sequence of events that caused me to feel valued, favoured. To be invited inward to a hidden and precious place where fewer people have been. To absorb from those who have ingloriously grafted for their position and to have those same people freely welcome you in without resentment.
Whilst I never pursued a career in drumming, I was infected with something else - something far more profound and lasting... more contagious even than coronovirus.
It is the work of encouragement. On its own that may seem a little flimsy - what, just encouragement? But yeah, because an encouraged person is a courageous person, and a courageous person is infectious. There is no question since that incident seventeen years ago, I have grown in and replicated courage in my life. I have done a lot more than speak to a professional drummer off stage, and I have experienced a lot more favour than being put on a guest list. You see, my experience back then (and others that were similar) sowed a seed that's bearing fruit now. For that, I am grateful and I feel connected to Ty, his drummer and his music because of it.
Whether Ty created this atmosphere around him (I suspect he did from what I've heard of his philosophy), whether his drummer was naturally encouraging, or whether he hardly noticed the few minutes of interaction with an over-excited wanna be drummer, doesn't really matter. The moment marked me and should be counted at least as a tiny speck in Ty's own legacy.
How can we all contribute toward creating a super-spreader culture of encouragement?
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