To the outside world, she lived a charmed life – she was a successful rapper, her Instagram shots painted a picture of glamour and fun and things were looking bright for one of Mzansi’s rising stars.
But behind the glittering façade was a young woman trapped in a dark, fragile place. For every sexy social media pic there were body-shaming comments and despite the progress she made as a rapper, she had to fight her way through a male-dominated industry to make herself heard. Adding to the pressure was the fact she needed to stand by her mother as she underwent brain surgery.
And it all became too much for Gigi Lamayne (24). She sent out a stark tweet last year: “7 July 1994 – 3 November 2018”, announcing her intention to end her life.
Gigi, who’d been battling depression since childhood, had reached breaking point and took an overdose of pills. She was found by her cousin and assistant Nicole Nleya and rushed to hospital, where she was treated for the overdose, then for depression. She has now resolved to “protect her peace” – and to help others in similar situations.
“I’m in a much better space and it’s really down to learning how to get out of toxic environments,” she tells DRUM. She has a new album in the works and, the muso recently launched her Gigi Gang Show, a music festival with a concert and discussions on mental health. “We will be dealing not just with depression but also abuse,” she says.
“Abuse is due to your environment and may play a part in depression, and we are trying to trace back to that.” Having grown up in a home where she saw her mother physically and emotionally abused by her father, Gigi now wants to use her experiences to help others. “People with depression are not bewitched and we are not unstable,” she says of the stigma that surrounds mental health issues. “I hope by telling my story I can help people understand that.”
Growing up in Soweto, Gigi always wanted to be an entertainer and was at her best when she was on stage. “As a pre-schooler I performed Brenda Fassie’s Vulindlela and I remember how my mom said after the performance what a strange child I was because at home I was shy, but on stage I wasn’t afraid to perform,” she says, laughing.
After school, Gigi opted to focus on her studies at Wits University, where she graduated with a degree in anthropology and media studies. It was during her university years that her dream of becoming a star came to fruition when she won a talent contest judged by Khuli Chana. “He said to me, ‘Whether you win or don’t win, I want to work with you’, and that’s how he ended up being my mentor.”
Despite being a rising star, she never considered dropping out of school. “There was pressure on me because there had never been a graduate at home. I know my mom would have agreed if I wanted to drop out but I knew she wouldn’t have been happy.” After completing her degree, Gigi signed to Mabala Noise for a year before moving to Ambitiouz Entertainment. But it wasn’t easy for her to get the freedom she needed to grow as an artist and as an individual, she says.
That – combined with other underlying personal issues – sent her spiralling into depression. “I was brought up in an environment that was super abusive so when you walk into an industry that is equally abusive, you are forced to grow up and move on with things.”
The industry “abuses” included navigating the male-dominated business,body shaming and colourism, being criticised for her fashion sense and being pitted against other female artists.
At Ambitiouz Entertainment, her former record label, she was signed up with several other artists, she recalls. “And you look at everything and ask yourself, ‘How am I going to be prioritised here?’ I realised this wasn’t what I needed. I need people who are just dedicated to me. Her struggles weren’t helped by social media, as users would regularly discuss the shape of her body and what she was wearing. Gigi says she eventually became desensitised to online trolling.
“I don’t feel anything anymore, that’s how bad it has become.” Along with the pressures of her career she had to be strong as her beloved mother, Sarah (56), had to undergo brain surgery in October last year. “I flew to Cape Town for the operation but I didn’t want to see her like that so I flew back to Joburg,” she recalls, tears welling up. “Then I remember speaking to some people on the phone and the next day, I was just so tired,” she says, her voice cracking.
She then decided she couldn’t face life anymore and took an overdose. But she’s on the right track now, she says, and is going for therapy to help deal with her depression. Her therapist has taught her coping skills to help deal with music industry pressures too. “I know that [the industry] can’t change but I can,” she says.
She’s learnt to no longer be emotional or confrontational. “I prefer to smile and walk away,” she says, adding that “there is power in being silent. You don’t have to air everything.”
Gigi is learning to appreciate the “little things in life”, she told Metro FM in an interview. “I have started meditating and reading up about depression. It’s something I have learnt to deal with every day. We’re not dying or mentally unstable – we are simply misplaced in the world. We are people who care too much.”
Now with a new album in the works and a much healthier state of mind, 2019 is looking good for Gigi. Key to this has been her resolve to remove herself “from people with toxic energy”. “It’s really important for me to listen to my gut. It’s about controlling my environment and being cautious about who I bring into it.”
As for her private life, Gigi would rather not discuss it. Newspapers last reported that she’s back with her on-off boyfriend DJ Citi Lyts. But she brushed it off, saying she needs to concentrate on her career and her mental health. She is happy she’s working as an independent artist now as she has greater control over her music. “I decide when I want to release music, and I make the decisions about what to do.”
Her latest single, Fufa featuring King Monada, has been steadily climbing the charts, she has a new album on the way and for the first time in a long time, the future is looking rosy. She’s on the right track, Gigi says, and she’s going to stay on it.