The first time I happened upon one of her Facebook posts, my instincts told me that Bassey Ikpi was an influencer of gigantic proportions. Within a race, where even the mention of ‘mental health’ is a taboo … and on social media, where perfection is everything; she just is.
After I researched the impact and longevity of her work (I love being right!), I knew this interview was only a matter of time …
Name: Bassey Ikpi
Work Titles: Poet, Writer, Presenter, Content Provider and Mental Health Advocate
Describe yourself in three words: Underachieving overachiever, empathetic
Previous occupation: University student
12-month goal: To have my book finished and ready for publication, talk show on air and doing well, to be finally settled and optimistic. I have spent the last two years, anxious. I just want things to calm down.
Describe your outlook and what makes your practice of your craft, unique: I am a dreamer, for better or for worse. I’ve always taken insane chances and watched them pay off in some manner. I think what sets me apart is my ability to take a thing we all feel and shine light (or darkness) from another perspective.
Your greatest career achievement to date: That’s a difficult one, because I’m so self-critical. But I think it was the NAACP Image Awards. I did a poem for Serena and Venus Williams.
On the importance of international appeal: It’s very important. I am international artist; it’s just now that I am trying to come back and centralize my work in Nigeria. It’s been more difficult than I anticipated. I just think we are an increasingly global society. The Internet has made the world so much smaller. The reach is bigger. We are more connected than ever. Having insular and closed-off art or art that is Nigeria-specific or Lagos-specific or Island-specific is foolish. The world is huge. We have to get beyond, “That’s not how it’s done here.” Do it a new way. It’s OK; I promise.
Most important piece of equipment you use in your career: My laptop, Mackenzie Bookman.
A typical day for you is: This may seem like a cop-out, but I really don’t have a typical day. I’m not that organised. Unless I have meetings or appointments, I just basically do whatever, when I get around to it. I’m a night owl, so I can be up until 3am working … but that’s usually because I didn’t do anything all day.
Where would you like your career to be in five years? Media powerhouse. Not just as an artist, but also as a producer and platform-creator. I came up with the name “Basseyworld Unlimited” when I was 11. I wanted to own television stations, magazines, publish books and produce movies. I’m not sure that will all happen, but part of it can. I want to be able to give access and opportunities to like-minded people.
What is the hardest career decision you’ve ever had to make? For my health, I decided to quit touring and find something else to do. It was all I had ever done and the money was good, but it was constant work. It took a real toll on me.
Your biggest career mistake: Honestly, focusing just on Nigeria, in the last two years. I lost a lot of opportunities, because I wasn’t in the United States. I definitely put all my eggs in one basket. I didn’t anticipate it being so difficult to get things off the ground, here [in Nigeria]. So, I didn’t keep my eye on the States or other places. Career suffered severely, as a result.
Most common, yet avoidable mistake you see in those who aspire to practise your craft: Not studying others. People believe, for whatever reason, that you can be a writer without ever reading any other work. I remember I met someone who said, “Oh yeah, I write poetry. I hate reading though. So, I don’t write.” How in the bloody hell can you be a writer and not read? Also, people aren’t great assessors of ability. They listen to friends and family who just encourage them and don’t offer real critique; so, they think any misstep is “hating”. This craft takes work like any other. If you find it easy, then I’m here to tell you “You’re probably not that good.”
Single piece of advice you’d give an aspiring ‘craftsmen’ in your field: Whether it be presenting or writing or spoken word, you MUST study the great ones. You need to see how the best do it and apply that to your voice and story. You can’t be a presenter/interviewer and not study early Oprah or Barbara Walters. You can’t be a poet and ignore the great writers that came before you. It’s cool to “have your own style” but it’s more important to have your own voice.
You live in: Lanham, Maryland. But I take month-long sojourns to Lagos
Favourite food: Ethiopian food (vegetarian) and ekpang. I eat around the snails and periwinkles, though.
Biggest spiritual/life lesson you’ve learned: Leap and the net will find you.
What do you do for leisure? I have traits of both an introvert and an extrovert. I like to be around people and I’m great in groups. But I really prefer my own company, most of the time. I read or watch television. I can sit at home for days, by myself. I’m not sure if that’s healthy, though …
One app or piece of technology you cannot do without: My iPhone. It connects me to everything and I can write on it.
Your most over-used word/phrase: I wish it was something more profound but I spent a lot of time around hip hop in New York. I just discovered this the other day but I say, “Dope as f*ck” a lot. You would think as a writer I would come up with a better answer, but this one is the truth!
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