Blessing Offor photo by Kay Walker
Creativity has sometimes been equated with madness. A little inner dysfunction seems to manifest rather brilliantly as outward artistic harmony. In fact, suffering itself has been known to give artists that extra push they needed to go all the way. The list of musicians who have battled depression or economic hardship, who have gone to rehab or overdosed, goes on and on: Nick Drake, James Taylor, Elliott Smith, Whitney Houston, Steven Tyler and Michael Jackson. Likely, there are more on the roll call than not. A piece last year in the Guardian noted creative artists rank fifth in the top ten careers associated with depression, suggesting such reasons as the rampant use of drugs and alcohol and the “craving for acceptance and love from their audience.”
Another explanation may be that personal misfortune often generates an impetus to produce, to distract from turmoil, or to interpret obstacles in a positive fashion. One of Jackson Browne’s best works, The Pretender, was at least partially inspired by the suicide of his first wife, Phyllis Major. The album has been said to show a deeper character in Browne, and was ranked in the top 500 albums of all time by Rolling Stone. It features a track co-written with his wife’s mother, titled “Here Come Those Tears Again.”
The reason behind this theory is relatively straightforward: crazy people have crazy thoughts, and sad people search for reasons. Furthermore, those with restrictions seek limitless boundaries. They find absurdity in the mundane, and beauty in the darkness. And then, they make good music.
Blessing Offor, a blind musician currently based in New York, prefers not to dwell on any privation associated with his impediment. Rather he uses his music as a vision of life. A pianist and saxophonist, the 23-year old blues and jazz savant writes stories about the world, not from the perspective of one who can’t see, but of one who sees quite clearly. Offor was born blind in his left eye, eventually losing sight in his right by the age of ten. He began playing piano in elementary school, taking on songwriting as well in middle school. He contends his blindness has never made the art of his craft any different. Perhaps, his sense of hearing is even enhanced or put to greater use by the limitation. Some people believe blindness can augment pitch perception and spatial location skills (See “Blind People Hear Better – Truth or Myth?”) Regardless, Offor doesn’t care. He can play and that’s all that matters.
“I don’t like to write about any personal difficulties because music should be a universal language, and a majority of the population is not blind and not affected by it,” he explains. “Music caught me because of the emotional and spiritual element, and when I write, I hope it to be a conduit to these deeper dimensions.”
Though young, Offor has been navigating the business for awhile. After introductory talks with EMI a few years ago, Offor worked on an EP with an established Nashville producer. The label ultimately didn’t go for the record, but Offor continued making music independently, and put himself on the road doing shows. That’s not to say the industry hasn’t treated him with plenty of excitement. The soulster has performed with legendary acts like The Temptations and The Average White Band, and was featured on the Bravo reality series, Platinum Hits, this summer. In the latter case, he admits blindness came to his advantage.
“Some people would say there’s never a time to play the ‘blind card,’ but I think there are particular instances when it’s okay,” he comments, addressing a slippery slope where talent falls secondary to sympathy. “If you are drop dead gorgeous, and you’re going in for a job interview, the natural inclination is to play to your strengths and show off your attractiveness. I don’t think of blindness as a strength or a weakness. It’s just something I am…But if there is a time when it’s a strength, I’ll play to it. With the show on Bravo, I had that angle. So, if I know I’m a good player, and if the fact I’m blind gets someone to listen to me a few seconds longer, why not?”
Offor adds, “If my blindness is ever seen as a weakness, I don’t touch it with a ten-foot pole.”
No one wants to be limited by adversity, yet with music and art, talent is almost glorified by suffering. You haven’t made it until you’ve gone through it – a paradigm of creative victory – and playing into that role can certainly be useful if it doesn’t overshadow your skill. For those, like Offor, who are able to get past whatever misfortune landed on their plates, in the long run it can be a benefit.
Plus, as Offor suggests, there’s no reason to be overcome by personal weakness. Even with a live show, he feels there’s nothing about being blind that distresses his art.
“Of course, it helps having been able to see for many years, but it plays no part in the musical experience of my shows,” he remarks. “There’s a difference in me and someone like Lady Gaga who is more of an entertainer. My shows are only about the musical experience. I’m able to engage fully with the audience through my sound, and if you come to listen and hang out, you could close your eyes and you wouldn’t miss anything.”
The distinction between creators and the rest of the world is often their ability to transform water into wine, to stretch the limits of life and either move beyond them or manipulate them as catalysts. It’s why an artist can play the hand he’s dealt better than most. Call it a problem; call it a disorder or an impediment; call it brilliance.
For more on Blessing Offor and his music, check out: http://blessingoffor.com/ and check out the track below.