What does it mean to be a man? Surely, it’s not one thing. It’s a series of little moments that add up. Man Like is a weekly Zikoko series documenting these moments to see how it adds up. It’s a series for men by men, talking about men’s issues. We try to understand what it means to “be a man” from the perspective of the subject of the week.
Nonso Bassey might not be living his best life yet, but the actor/singer is definitely living a life of gratitude. ”I’m very thankful for where I am now in my life,” he says. “The last few years have been a learning curve for me. And I’m just thankful that I’ve come out the other side better, more determined, and just more thankful to be alive.”
When we talk, his emotions are sincere, infectious even, forcing me to sit back and look at my life through a different set of lenses. After all, if someone could find gratitude in the face of pain and a gruelling journey of self-discovery, then maybe, just maybe, there might be something for the rest of us.
In this episode of Man Like, Nonso talks about how his mum’s death has inspired him to chase his dreams with vim, navigating two industries that continue to doubt his talent and his journey to overcoming self-doubt and insecurities.
When would you say you had your “man now” moment?
I’ve felt grown-up for a while now, but what shook me was my mum dying last year. Having to step up in a way that I’ve never really had to, that changed me. I’d often heard people before say, “You’re never fully grown-up until you lose a parent or both parents.” And that was so true to me last year—stepping up, footing bills, paying school fees now. Like hey, na wa o—this adulthood thing is real, like, there’s no going back. So, if anything, it has made me more determined.
I’m so sorry about that man. How are you doing?
So, last night, I had a bit of a diary session with myself and I broke down. I realised I’d been on a steady go-go mode since she passed, and that’s because her death pushed me to confront the fact that I’d been holding myself back for a long time. I had been living in fear, and it forced me to start the process of letting that fear go. I’m done waiting to live.
Gratitude has also been very helpful for me. I’ve become a lot more thankful for everything—for everyone in my life, for every little kindness, for every mistake, and for every wrong done to me, because they all contributed to making me the man that I am today.
You mentioned that you’d been living in fear, holding yourself back. Why?
Who knows why we do these things to ourselves? I grew up knowing I had the talent to do anything I set my mind to. But the older I got, the more life and people socialised me into being afraid and limiting myself. I remember coming into the entertainment industry through music, then I got into acting and had this identity crisis because everyone kept telling me to focus on one thing or asking if I was good at any of them. People in music thought I was unserious and people in the film industry didn’t think I deserved the roles I was getting.
All of this takes me back to when I was younger and because I was doing a lot back then, I didn’t fit in anywhere because I was sort of everywhere. I didn’t know my place then and after joining the industry, I still couldn’t figure out my place. I was very insecure. Things are changing now though. I’m currently figuring out my shit and getting more confident in who I am.
How are you figuring your shit out? I need pointers, please.
Journaling plays a huge part. The more I write about how I feel, the more I’m able to understand and express those feelings to other people. I’ve done this on and off for a couple of years. It has taught me a lot about who I am and why I do certain things. It’s also a way to make sure I don’t forget parts of my life.
Talking about memories, there’s this thing where people fear they might forget the people they’ve lost over time, do you have that fear?
I don’t think I have that fear. As painful as it is to lose someone, death is a part of life; it’s part of some big picture. I’ll die one day and nothing will matter. She has lived her life and I’m glad she was around to support me because she was my biggest motivator. Back when I was scared to chase a creative career and I had a 9 to 5, she was the one who called me aside and asked me to go for it. The next year, I was on The Voice.
What I can do is make sure I attain a level of excellence in my career that honours her.
That’s so moving. How do you manage both parts of your career to achieve this excellence you’re gunning for?
I focus a lot on the talents I’ve been given and what I want to do with them, as opposed to the industries they fall under. It can be overwhelming because I have multiple interests and passions and to a large extent, that’s why I’ve had to struggle with my identity crisis. But now, I can confidently say my approach to combining the two has changed because I’ve realised I can’t do everything at the same time.
These days, I think hard about what I can focus on now, and I embark on that project. What’s the next step and how does this part fit into my big picture? I’m exploring ways to tell stories with my talents, but also taking it one step at a time. I have completed the puzzle in my head, and now it’s time to put the pieces together.
You spoke about hesitancy from both the music and film industries when it came to your work. How did that affect you?
It was awful. I felt this need to please everyone and when that didn’t happen, I hid in a shell and did my best not to stand out. But now, I don’t let these things faze me. I’m not religious, but there’s a part in the book of Isaiah that says, “You will hear a voice behind you, saying ‘This is the way, walk in it’” This has been my guiding compass. I go with my gut and work on whatever I want to work on.
A word! But do you ever feel self-doubt?
I’d like to say I’ve been confident from the beginning, but one place I struggle with self-doubt has been making friends. I’d never felt worthy of love or good enough for myself and other people. It has affected me in more ways than I can express, but I’m working on it.
Do you remember when this feeling of being unworthy started?
I can trace it back to 2019 which was a dark period for me. My music wasn’t working out, I was robbed, l lost my car and I lost relationships too. I felt like I was fighting a losing battle. I had to take a step back, become a hermit and listen to myself. I guess that worked out since I’m much better now.
Switching gears to being a Nigerian man, what are some of the things you have learnt about yourself as you’ve grown into a man?
I’ve learnt that I am a leader. I have always known, but I took it for granted. Leadership is service, doing things for other people, and thinking about people, not just your agenda for getting ahead. I’ve also learnt to give myself and my time to something bigger, to other people. I’ve learned that I care about other people. I’m not in a rush, because what is for me is for me, and what is not for me will not come to me. That is the biggest thing I have learnt as a man: how to love and think of other people.
Nonso for president! So when you think about the concept of masculinity, what comes to your mind?
I think the word is what we make of it. We’ve always defined what is, and you know culture changes. Being a man to me means taking care of my own, providing for my own, stepping up, taking initiative and building something that’ll outlive me.
Have you ever felt like your masculinity has been threatened at any time?
Not really. Growing up, I had six sisters. And growing up around that feminine energy tends to rub off on you. I grew up making more female friends and being more comfortable around girls. But it’s not a threat to my masculinity.
So I’m curious about what brings you joy these days?
I go to a really tall building, climb up to the highest floor, or the roof (if I have access to it) and just view the city. I love city lights; they do something to me. Sometimes I go to the beach on a Monday, when I know I would be the only one there, and just dip my feet into the sand and listen to the ocean. You know I am an artist. These things just inspire me to create. But something funny that brings me joy is washing plates and frying plantain. As much as I hate cooking, I can fry plantain all day.
LMAO. So would you be open to washing my plates?
LOL. No problem.