Life In An Album III: TY Bello's Greenland
[*All sentences in italics are lyrics from various songs in TY Bello’s debut solo album, Greenland].
It is 2:00am. It is 9:00pm. It’s Midnight. My heart is beating, my chest is tightening, my eyes are twitching. There’s a war of raging and racing thoughts in my mind. The thoughts feel like an avalanche, a hurricane, impending doom. The thoughts deconstruct to fear. I cannot see the fear, but I feel it. It feels like a pile of pillows, pushing me deeper into my bed. I feel it so tangibly I can almost grip it with my palms…but it is too large, and it shifts shapes as it travels from my brain to my chest. After the gravity, comes the restlessness. I toss and turn. I google. I pace. I eat... I am in Tulsa. I am in Washington, D.C. I am in Maitama. I am in Brooklyn. I am having an anxiety attack.
If I trace the fear to its source or follow it to its conclusion, always, the root of it is some variation of these questions: Will I amount to much? What will my imprint on this universe be? Will my parent’s legacy be my ceiling or my floor? Will I fulfill my God-given purpose? What if I fail? What if I fail again?
And at times like this, like clockwork, I hear a sound. Its decibels rise above the heart beating, the pulse rising, the panic echoing:
How can I let you fall?/You know I won’t
You should see life through my eyes/I knew that I would love you, long before time began
You should never ever ever doubt me/I have never told a lie
I will keep my promises to you/And everything I said I would, I’ll do
You know my word is life, my word is integrity...
The voice is TY Bello’s, the message is God-sent.
I first heard TY Bello, acclaimed Nigerian photographer and singer, when she was a member of a gospel girl group called Kush. Her debut solo album, Greenland, was released right around the time I first started experiencing anxiety: 2008. It was the summer before my senior (final) year in university, and I was trying to figure out what to do next. Law school had been part of the life plan I had drawn up for myself in sixth grade. But there was one big problem: I had to take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) and I generally suck at standardized tests. Also, I wanted to go to a top tier law school, but I didn’t know anyone who had. I didn’t even know any American lawyers, so I needed to figure the entire process out on my own. This was when the anxiety started to set in: What if I can’t do this? What if I’m not good enough for my dreams?
Whenever I would start to feel worry or doubt, I would hop in my car for a ride and sing along with TY:
Tearing down the limitations of my mind
As I lay hold of things I have never seen
And I have never heard
I have only just begun
I’m on my way to destiny
You can come and take a ride with me
To the land of hope and liberty
Where God himself makes room for me
He makes room for me…
I played Greenland, nearly every day, for a year. I played it on Saturday mornings while I drove from Tulsa to Oklahoma City for LSAT prep classes with printed MapQuest directions. I played it on my way home from Barnes & Nobles on Saturday nights after poring through sample admissions essays. I played it on weekdays on my way to school. I played it in my car. I played it in the living room of my first apartment. I played it till I knew every adlib, every run, every crescendo. I played it till I was 100% certain not even TY Bello had heard the songs on the album as much as I had (still am).
For me, Greenland was celebration (For every prayer and every seed I've sown/the Lord of the harvest knows/I'm reaping back a hundred-fold/the land is green - it's green
ooooh!), hope (Speak the word and it’s done, I know, I know, God you are God), and conversation (I get that empty feeling when there’s no one around/I just want to be with you Lord). And when I got a rejection letter from my first-choice law school, Greenland was comfort (You know how to put a smile back on me/Even when it seems the world around me is crumbling).
I’ll tell you what the biggest antidote to fear is: faith. “And faith comes by hearing, and hearing the word of God” (Romans 10:17). Greenland became my faith sound, and eventually, my victory cry: in 2009, I got accepted into a top 20 law school that at the time had an international law program (my interest) ranked #7 in the U.S. But that wasn’t all, I got a six-figure ($$$$$$) academic scholarship that pretty much covered my tuition for the three years of the program and my rent for the first year (You know me I dance like a fool, I worship you, Baba, Baba, Baba, Baba….)
Anxiety has come and gone at various life intersections since. I’ve been feeling it a lot again lately as I make some important decisions. I’ve also recently re-discovered Greenland (thank you, Spotify).
And, again: it is 12:00am. I am in Abuja. The song “Vital Voice” is on repeat. I am remembering the sound. I am remembering the story attached to the sound. I am singing with TY.
I am singing as prayer:
Vital voice in me
Still small voice in my heart
Speak to me…
I am singing as cognizance:
It’s beginning to happen
Everything I’ve been searching for
A brand-new level in my life
And all the stormy weather I’ve been through
Made me who I am
This woman I’ve become…
I am singing as resistance:
A vital voice in my heart
Telling me that I’ll break through..
And as I sing, I start to feel it. It comes in through my nose and reaches my belly. It is light. It is airy. It is slowly solidifying in my heart as worry turns to worship. It is God’s perfect love, driving out fear.