DJ and producer Naughty Boy has told Sky News that music “saved” him during lockdown and has called for more “special protections” for the industry – as the UK faces a second wave of COVID-19.
The award-winning British star, whose real name is Shahid Khan, said music has a “power” that can help people more intimately than some relationships – claiming it aids wellbeing both “mentally and spiritually”.
He has urged Chancellor Rishi Sunak to offer greater support for those in the creative sector.
Mr Sunak recently warned there would be “hard choices” to come and “everyone” will have to “adapt and adjust to the new reality” as he attempts to balance the books following the coronavirus crisis – especially as unemployment was “likely to increase”.
For the double MOBO-award winner – who has produced songs for the likes of Beyonce, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith – music has provided Khan with a lifeline for one of the most emotionally challenging periods of his life.
“My biggest struggle during lockdown was living with my mum who has dementia,” he said.
Khan’s 66-year-old mother Zahida was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2019 after a stroke two years earlier.
The La La La hitmaker told Sky News that looking after his mother, and watching her condition worsen at the height of the pandemic, took its toll on his own mental health.
“As a family (dementia) can seem like a lonely experience… you don’t think anyone will understand. It does affect your mental health.
“Especially as Asians, everything is very closed (private)… you don’t really speak about what’s going on in the family… mum’s at the point where we don’t know what she’s going to say.
“Even though I have a live-in carer – I know not everyone can – it doesn’t make it easier in an emotional sense.”
Khan recalled the most difficult experience with his mother was when she recently failed to recognise the 35-year-old.
“There was one point where mum was walking around the house, holding a picture of me in Egypt. She said, ‘look, that’s my son!’
“I thought… mum’s not remembered me. I got scared.”
“I’m learning about dementia first hand – I wasn’t given a blue print. I’m learning as I go.”
Khan said during this testing period, it was the “power of music” that helped his mother cope with the change in routine.
“Music is a memory bank. Everyone has a favourite song. Everyone has a song that takes them back to a special moment or place.
“For my mum… it’s a Bollywood song… her wedding song, Baharon Phool Barsao. It’s beautiful.”
“Her favourite video of mine is Running – a song with Beyonce – because it’s under water, it helps her relax.
“Even having a piano – playing for mum when she’s anxious is calming for her.”
“It’s not the best experience – but as long as I get a glimpse of mum, a smile, something that reminders her of a happier day… that’s enough for me right now. I’ll do this until the day I die”.
Khan firmly believes that the music industry, for this reason, should be “protected” as, he candidly remarked, “it’s helped a lot of us”.
For the DJ, producing new music and working on his album to “give people new memories of music” was the perfect escapism.
“Music saved me during lockdown”, he said.
“I would’ve fallen into that rabbit hole of thinking nothing is going to get better ever.”
Khan believes completing his album holds a wider purpose. He wants to help others heal, feel moved, and recover from the past year.
“During lockdown, my achievements didn’t mean anything. What good is success if you can’t help others?”
Khan told Sky News he wants to counter the “helpless” and “hopeless” feelings that came with the first wave – and may come with a second – by giving “people new memories of music”.
“Thank God we are still physically here, healthy. If I didn’t have music during those three months, if I wasn’t able to continue making music of course it would’ve affected my mental health.”
He added: “As a nation we need to be more aware of mental health just as much as our physical. It’s important to remember both things are as important as each other.
“Melodies… words… songs. When you’re feeling alone, a song becomes you friend.
“Those things help us sometimes more than we help each other”.
This is why, he stressed, “we should protect music”.
The government introduced a £1.57bn rescue package in July to help the arts and culture scene recover from the shock impact of COVID-19.
Khan recognises this, but still thinks more needs to be done.
“Everyone’s had to make ends meet, especially this year.”
“I also understand how much of a difficult year it’s been for him as chancellor, looking out for every industry. But I think music needs more of a special protection because beyond 2020, music still will do what it does.
“It helps people.”