Students in Nigerian universities have stories to tell, but hardly anyone to tell them to. For our weekly series, Aluta and Chill, we are putting the spotlight on these students and their various campus experiences.
The subject of this episode is Bisi Kuti, currently in his final year at Ladoke Akintola University of Technology. He talks about his anxiety and how he made the big decision to take a break and focus on the thing that gives him control – music.
Tell me about how you got into school?
In 2011, I got admitted into the one-year pre-degree program; this was my gateway into LAUTECH. Subsequently, I applied for animal production and health, but I didn’t get it. Somehow, they thought agricultural engineering was the best fit for me. But I knew from the start that it wasn’t going to work.
Why did you feel that way?
For starters, calculations stress me out. So, I felt like I was always going to be at a disadvantage if I stuck with it. My grades were in shambles after my first year; that was the sign I needed.
What did you do?
After a year of torture at agricultural engineering, I applied to transfer to crop production and soil science.
Did you feel at home there?
Only partly. It was a little bit better, but it was also more stressful. There was a lot of farmwork and other practicals. These weren’t much of a hassle because I liked it better there. However, switching departments wasn’t enough to mitigate my anxiety about school.
Wait. When did the anxiety start?
From day one, man. I’ve always hated going to places filled with people. I won’t even lie, socialising freaks me out. Even when I visit people, the restlessness starts to kick in after 15 minutes. Now, imagine spending the minimum of an hour in classes full of students, especially since I can’t up and leave whenever I want to.
Do you think the school itself contributed to that?
Uhm, I don’t know. I feel like it would be the same thing if I was in another school.
What I can say about this is that the sheer number of students in my class could have been a contributing factor. We are about 300 students, but sometimes, we have lectures together with other departments in the faculty. The numbers rise up to more than a thousand on a good day. I was never built for that. The thought of going to class alone triggered my anxiety. The hours I spent in lecture rooms were hardly productive too; I was always so fixated on getting myself together and avoiding totally freaking out. That meant a lot of private studying to catch up.
When you first noticed the anxiety, how did you handle it?
I tried as much as possible to isolate myself from the rest of the world whenever I could. I didn’t feel anxious when I was in my shell, so I retreated to it as often as I could. Eventually, I started going to class only when I absolutely needed to. I know you’re going to ask if it affected my grades; yes it did. I was really going through it. Also, there were lots of strikes and with everything, my disillusionment about school kept building.
The only thing that made my life bearable was music. And at the beginning of my third year, I just thought to take a break from school and focus on music.
I’ve been making music for as long as I can remember. It was the primary focus for some time, but when it was time for university, I pushed it to the background. However, seeing as university wasn’t really working out for me, I just went back to it.
When you said you took a break from school, did you mean a total break?
A total break.
That sounds like a big decision. Was there a process to how you made it?
Not exactly. It wasn’t like I made a decision on the spot. It started with me limiting the frequency with which I attended class. I did this for a while until I just stopped going altogether. I would have loved to balance the two, but it wasn’t working out
How long did you spend away from school?
Two years, to my parent’s chagrin. I understand why they would be upset about that, but I had to do what was best for me. I was paying tuition, though. I only wasn’t attending classes or writing my tests or exams.
So how did the break go?
I put academics on pause in 2016. Of course, music is money-intensive and fortunately, I was making some money from my investments in cryptocurrency. I pumped that into my music, creating as much content as I can and giving them a massive push. I made my first EP in the same year.
How did it do?
In retrospect, it wasn’t as successful as I would have liked, but it got over 1000 plays in the first month. That was huge for me at the time. It was enough to keep me going.
The momentum was there, so I continued riding. I made the second EP in 2017. Of course, it did better and got more buzz. I got more than 12000 plays on that one. It was also the one that really got me out there. It didn’t make sense to stop there, so I continued.
The third EP was in 2018, and naturally, it was the biggest of the three. It’s got over 62000 plays and counting. I also made two videos off it. I have more than 260000 plays on all the stuff I’ve put out recently. It’s great.
Did you encounter any difficulties?
It was a rollercoaster, man. I used to record at my producer’s house, so I was there most of the time. We would start recording as early as 6 AM and keep at it until nightfall. That was the routine. The third mixtape was the hardest to make. It took more than 8 months to complete the project. I can’t complain, though; it was the one that banged the most.
So, while I was confused and lost on one hand, on the other hand, it opened me to how creative I can be. However, a lot of people close to me didn’t get what it was about – that it was a mission to be in control. I felt like I was in control of my life for those two years. But it had to end and I had to go back to school.
Why did you decide to go back?
Making music was great and all, but I needed the degree. Besides, it didn’t make sense to start a big commitment such as school and leave it when you’re almost done. In 2018, I went back, re-registered my courses and became a student of LAUTECH again. It was really hard, though. The anxiety was still there. And the system was still as fucked-up.
I’m in my final year now. I have a couple of months left and my eyes are set on the finish line.
There is a little bit of a problem. After I transferred departments, no one knew where to find the exams I wrote in the previous department. So now, I have a couple of ‘Awaiting Results’, which is what happens when they can’t find your papers. I’ve made lots of rounds to the department to complain and even search for them myself. I found some, but I’m still waiting on the others. I’m just here, hoping that they find them miraculously.
What happens if they don’t find them?
I will have to rewrite the exams. I’m not ready to even think about that. I just hope that they will find them.
I guess fingers are crossed on that. How was it like combining music with academics when you went back?
I pushed music to the background again. Not that I stopped totally, but I didn’t spend so much time on it. And oh, in that time, I took up and got serious with freelance photography. That sort of filled the void.
Now, what do you hope to get out of school and your music in the long run?
I’ve been done with school for some time now. I just want my degree, man. On the music front, I hope to churn out more great content, and who knows what might happen in five years? Maybe I will be selling out the O2 Arena by that time. Let’s leave it at that.
Are you currently studying in Nigeria or elsewhere and do you have a story to share about your life in school? Hit me up on firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to talk to you. Cheers!
Can’t get enough Aluta and Chill? Check back every Thursday at noon for a new episode. Find other stories in the series here.