It was Damen Samuel who said, ‘I think everybody knows on an unconscious level what’s good for them and it’s about bringing that to the forefront of their minds.’ When I asked Damen Samuel about what he thought was good for him, we entered into an unassuming conversation about Depeche Mode, the magic potion of music, youth criminals strumming their way to behavioural change and how the harmonics of sound connects you instantly to the universe!
I’ve been following Damen Samuel’s jazz-trail for a while now, so when he agreed to an open conversation about how music can improve mental health, I was called to focus and look past his handsome Nigerian/German looks and delve deeper into the mellow, wise world of this independent musician. He is also a father of two adorable sons and is a youth social worker, with a budding interest in music therapy.
It seemed blatantly obvious when Damen Samuel reminded me of how instantly music can transform your mood. ‘You press a button and right away you are one with someone else’s sounds – it’s pretty much magic. Not even drugs can kick in as fast as music does. There’s nothing that captures the essence in such short amount of time.’
This insight got me thinking of the many self-destructive ruts I’m famous for, of negative thinking, resistance to optimism, addiction to pain and stubborn laziness. Upon hearing of his obsession with music – that it’s the first thing he puts on in the morning and the last thing he turns off at night – I was beginning to realise how much I take music for granted, especially when he likened it to love. He said, ‘No one ever told you but [music] it’s natural, like love. It comes into our life and it’s a part of us.’
Damen Samuel’s love affair with music had him pacing the night-time streets alone with a walkman and his thoughts. He explains that when he was younger, challenges of race and the raucous mischief of boys being boys, probed him to turn inwards, to reflect on his thoughts, avoid trouble and gain new perspectives. He reached for black market casette tapes from Poland, of The Cure, Depeche Mode and early U2 numbers. ‘Those times were like gold!’ He reminisces, ‘Especially walking and being with yourself and just the music, which creates this intimate relationship with your own company. The songs go through your mind and you have conversations with yourself through the music. It’s always been with me and its always worked.’
Damen Samuel managed to side-step suicidal thinking, the provocation of racial discrimination, alienation and prolonged bouts of puberty blues, simply by tuning into the power invested in his walkman. I was moved upon hearing about how paramount music has been to his wellbeing, literally distracting him from going to the dark side and drifting away. Whether he picked up a guitar and played his problems into the ether, or actively turned to a particular style of music to ride out distressing emotions, it was becoming evident in our candid conversation that this travelling troubadour embodied what he claimed as gospel:
‘Music is like therapy. I don’t have to pay anyone, I just pick up my guitar and I experience instant calm and connection to the universe; relief of stress. It puts me back at ease and in balance.’
From face value I sensed that Damen Samuel is generally an upbeat, easygoing guy, raising a beautiful family with his beautiful, yogini wife and contributing positively to the community by assisting youths in the criminal justice system. Yet, the more I listened to his music, the more the depth of his reflective nature came to the fore. His knack for embracing the shadows of life and being comfortable with states of melancholy and angst, is prevalent through the moody tones and dimensions that he traverses as a musician. His melodies speak volumes of stories that echo down jazz alleyways of New York City. His style is typically described as acoustic folk, a mellow mixture of jazz and soul, offering soothing sounds that are bound to take you on a journey. And you can safely assume Damen Samuel’s spirituality is inextricably bound up in his commitment to music when he says, ‘I think it’s a very common thing as a musician to feel like a transmitter. A lot of the time you can’t explain how a song came about. I see music and art in general as something that brings us back to the universe, makes things easier, and clear and clean in communication. An artist receives this through the universe and then others relate to it. You may never cross paths but you have touched lives.’
I’m over the moon to hear of Damen Samuel touching lives in his very own workplace, recently asked to incorporate music into his youth social work. Less as a music teacher and more as a musical role model, he introduces playing music into their lives as an alternative way of meeting the day and meeting their distress. ‘Im trying to teach them different ways of dealing with their emotions. There’s a lot of mental illness there so I’m helping them to find ways to channel their anger and other heavy emotions through song and playing guitar. I’m not overly skilled on the theory of music so they don’t feel intimidated and can relate to me easier. They also know me already as a social worker so the trust has been established. I encourage them to have their say through the music, or write a song for their girlfriend.’
I tell Damen Samuel that I believe he is an extremely positive role model as a creative, empathetic, responsible male in the community and that I think it’s wonderful for these kids to see that there are other ways they can move through their challenges. The fact that Damen Samuel lives and breaths music is an inspiration for us all, especially when we fall into the habit of brooding over our suffering, silently. Adamant that music has kept him sane through the troubles of his youth, Damen Samuel has developed an invested interest in music therapy. He goes on to relate how the magic potion of music was not solely a remedy for growing up in the face of difficulty, but as you can see through this video clip, has been an avenue for healing grief through the loss of his father and child.
When I ask Damen Samuel how we can all be reminded to do the good things we often forget to do for our wellbeing, he leaves me with some simple yet profound advice, kind of like the way I experience his music to be in its non-invasive but evocative manner:
‘Why not make it easier for yourself to remember what works,’ he says. ‘When you’re unwell it’s harder to put things in place. Make the things that are helpful easy to access so that they can kick in as soon as you get stuck. Have things in place for certain times. Have music handy, dance, practise guitar – not even as a profession – have instruments around the house as an appreciation for what music can bring into your life. Put music on loud and dance!
The more you are aware of the positive things that bring you back to the here and now and to the universe, the more it can help you get through the hard times. I really see music and art as healing, moreso than medication. The medication has its place but it doesn’t always address the cause. Things like music are from the same source so it’s much better than just medicating ourselves. With the flick of the switch music will help you get moving.’
‘It was Jeff Buckley who said: “I want to give back to music what music has given me”. And on that note I’m ensuring Damen Samuel is ready to rock n roll on my playlists for my own moments of nostalgia, or when I’m fretting for love or peace of mind. For I know, just as he knows, that we all share the same scales of emotion and thank goodness we have these gifted transmitters of heart and soul, like Mr Samuel himself, dedicated to harmonising all our stories so that they never go unheard of.
Damen Samuel’s Website
Damen Samuel on Facebook
Damen Samuel on Soundcloud
I would love to hear your thoughts on this musical note ….
Love always, Charlotte Claire, The Babyfacedassassin