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Manchester rapper Quest talks to CALM...

Veteran Manchester poet and rapper Quest, of 90’s collective ‘Sub Dark Crew’, has joined forces with London based music producer Patrick Luke of the ‘Sonskrif’ label, to use music to highlight the issues surrounding male mental health problems.

After working together in the past on jungle, hip-hop and drum & bass projects, the two men reconnected to develop the Meld project. Using a blend of contrasting moving imagery and audio, the Meld project was debuted to critical acclaim at The Pumphouse Gallery in South West London during Black History Month in 2011.

"It’s a really great sounding project with plenty of depth and emotion. Very moving", (DJ Krust-Rebel Instinct/Full Story Records)

Marching with swagger out of the urban furnace, the creative team transformed the audio aspect of the project to create the Meld EP. The record aims to raise awareness of depression in black minority, urban white and ethnic communities in the UK. Meld is an audio indictment of how the mental health system is failing the everyman.

In addition to Patrick’s music production and instrumentation, Quest uses his dynamic lyricism and personal experiences in battling mental health to add a rare legitimacy to his ultimate aim of spreading the positive message of getting more men to speak out about their problems, a notion that is a vital part of CALM’s message.

Quest blends his calm poetic expression with subtle activism, focusing on how negative aspects of society create suffering and then, once the damage is done, fails and stigmatises it’s victims.

Quest was the founding member of the ‘Interlyric’ workshop who regularly visited community projects in the Manchester area with the aim of helping vulnerable members of the community to outwardly express their inner frustrations through poetry, rap and spoken word. Through these workshops, many young men gained the ability to express themselves and gain confidence and self-belief, something that is sadly lacking in many vulnerable young men in the UK today.

The roots of Quest’s own personal troubles stem from the uncertainty of his childhood move from Jamaica to England. Under the youthfully optimistic view that life would be better in the UK, he became disillusioned when he experienced racial abuse and community stereotyping in his new home country, which eventually had devastating effects on his mental state.

He soon became another invisible member of Manchester’s inner city estates, struggling to find work and becoming lost in a disjointed and convoluted welfare system.

It was with luck that Quest found support in a friend who stood by him, who became his advocate and provided him with guidance and support in his times of inner turmoil. She helped him through the daunting amounts of red tape required by the newly adjusted benefits system, and aided him when his depression and anxieties clouded his application to everyday life.

For people suffering from depression and mental health issues, the help of an advocate is essential in order to meet vital needs, create opportunities and complete personal admin that may be missed. An advocate will help in writing application forms, be a supportive voice in interviews and are also key in the protection of the human rights of the person they are guiding.

Quest’s ‘superwoman’, came in the form of Marie Chapman, who is also the progressive and positive force behind CPR ‘Communicationz Promotin Recovery’, an inner City organisation in Central Manchester highlighting mental health awareness in urban communities.

Helping hands of guidance dominate the ethics behind the creative processes of the Meld project, using ideas of advocacy and self-discovery in their art.

One of the overriding causes behind Quest’s feelings of isolation in the past come from the way so many of his contemporaries became obsessed with the notion and need to be ‘cool’. He wanted to distance himself from this ubiquitous term that can create alienation and feelings of worthlessness amongst those who fail to fit the remit.

He also noticed how old friends distanced themselves when they discovered that one of their own had become entwined in a struggle with a mental illness; just at the point when their friendship was most needed, they walked away.

‘We want to be too cool and we see our friend suffering and now we don’t want to be around our friend because it isn’t cool to be around somebody like that. I don’t want to be like that. If you want to be cool, you be cool over there. My main issue is talking to people who don’t want to be cool, who want to be real’ says Quest.

It was real people Quest met in the community projects he used, and then later contributed to, who gave him a clearer perspective on his life and guided him in the direction he wanted to head in; a direction that lead to the ability to speak out for those who struggle with mental illness.

Quest’s and Patrick’s artistic direction on Meld has drawn on the differences between what is real and what is not; contrasts between emotional darkness and light and the urban and rural environment. Meld also pinpoints the healing properties of natural beauty in the urban environment, utilising bursts of green space that can be found even in the hardest urban block.

It is the reconnection with the natural environment that Quest stresses is important to regain good mental wellbeing. As in most urban environments it is often easy to miss the limited green spaces.

Pointing out an often over looked preventative measure, Quest and Patrick believe that in creating new green spaces and rejuvenating the tired recreational areas in urban districts, an individual’s recovery can be heightened and in turn, by developing these green spaces, can also give the wider community stimulation and stability.

Through driving lyrical tracks like ‘Sweet Bitter’ and the solitary ‘Heart Scream Out’, Quest paints a social portrait of a man’s inner turmoil, fighting to set himself free from a society who ignores and leaves the impoverished and vulnerable behind.

‘On Meld, some people have listened to it and said, how is this mental health? For me, as a vocalist, it was giving them a picture of my reality. How I perceive things as it’s happening to me. Whether I’m on a high or low, or how I deal with whatever is triggering me to be high or low or to be depressed’,

Crippling, blinding moments of deep depression are nudged out of the way by flickers of hope,

‘Some people will listen to it and be captured by the darkness alone, forgetting those little sprinkles of light’ Quest explains.

His ultimate message is one of support, shouting out to those in the shadows, encouraging them to come into the light and express themselves without fear of judgement or ridicule.

Quest and Patrick, although they have both had their own personal and profound experiences with depression and anxiety, have an enormous amount of positivity to offer, and as their profile grows so will their guidance and support of others.

You can download Meld Ep from Boomkat Here.