Iggy London is trying to break down barriers. With discussions on issues from identity to money often dominated by samey voices in the fast-moving bubbles of social media and £6.50-a-pint craft breweries – using particular language, coming from particular places of experience – there are vast swathes of people being left out of the dialogue entirely. Not speaking, not spoken to. More often than not, those are the people who need to be heard the most. The number of taboos placed on Black men especially often means that the most vital conversations are kept secret, or simply not had at all.
In his electric new anthology MANDEM, London opens the floor to open, honest expressions of Black masculinity. Enlisting some of the most engaging voices across contemporary arts, from Jordan Stephens to Caleb Femi, the essays dig into everything from the importance of role models to the relationship between mother and son to navigating the pain of heartbreak as a guy; the writing full of energy and humour, speaking to the personal while also asking bigger questions like “what does contemporary Black queerness actually look like?”
“This book is not just for the woke,” London writes in the introduction. “This book is not just for the politically correct city creatives living in Shoreditch’s trendiest apartment. This book is not just for the people who listen to podcasts and are well-versed on speaking about the effects of gentrification and the staggering cost of living […] This book is and will forever be a book for the people.”
Read an exclusive extract from MANDEM below, taken from Iggy London’s ‘The Audacity of Heartbreak’:
Two weeks. It took me two weeks to realise that I wasn’t dying. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I don’t really get sick. I haven’t had the flu in years. So you could imagine how confused I was when I was contemplating calling an ambulance to take me straight to the hospital and have doctors commence surgery on me right there and then. Naturally I took the only civilised approach. I flipped open my laptop and went onto Google, searching for guidance on what I could be experiencing. It turned out my symptoms were fairly common. I was bed bound. I hadn’t eaten in two days due to a lack of appetite. I had difficulty carrying out normal daily functions. I had this sharp, persistent pain at the centre of my chest and the only thing I seemed capable of doing was sleeping.
It’s sad now that I think about it, but after a bunch of negative lateral flow tests and listening to Summer Walker on repeat all winter, I finally realised the cause of all my troubles. I was suffering from a classic case of heartbreak. Have you ever woken up and your chest feels like it is fighting through cardiac arrest? You can’t think straight. All of a sudden the songs that speak to you are the harmonious cries of R&B songstresses. Artists crying about how they were done wrong. You play songs on repeat. Again and again. Until you know every lyric, every chord change and every adlib.
I learned that there’s actually a technical term for this – stress cardiomyopathy, a.k.a broken heart syndrome. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Someone should have sent me a memo. Spoke about it in the local news bulletin. Taught me about it in primary school. Anything to prepare me for this very moment. To give me some sort of reprieve from this unwanted agony that I was feeling. The government should have called a state of emergency when the first outbreak occurred. The first person to experience it should have alerted us to its severity. An epidemic – no, a pandemic! How it could take you out in one fell swoop and leave you feeling in a perpetual state of sorrow. How it could cause mind fogs, anxiety and loneliness. But there I was, in my single bedroom with a bucket beside me just in case I threw up and my phone opened up to an Instagram account I had been staring at for an hour. I was heartbreak’s latest casualty.
It’s safe to say that in 2021 I wasn’t trying to be caught up in the raptures of love. Sorry Anita Baker. Hinge kept me busy. My weapon of choice. Oh, and by busy, I mean on a constant flow of dates. I had recently stopped linking someone that got way too attached for my liking and I was out on the town. I was known for that. Decent guy, Nigerian. Moderately funny, depending on who you’d ask. Too confident for his own good sometimes. I’d go out on these weird nights in Shoreditch or Soho with a couple of mates and I wouldn’t talk much. Had everyone thinking I was some sort of mystery man from the movies. Fuck boy vibes some would say. I say flirtatiously strategic. Ducking and diving any form of commitment for fear of losing my youth. So once we were out of lockdown, it was obvious to me and to everyone that knew me that I wasn’t going to settle down for anyone. Hot boy summer and that.
My profile was deliberately curated. Carved out to be desirable to the masses. Black Casanova. Ex-poet. Five-foot-eleven-ish-when-I-breathed-in-type brother. Dark chocolate complexion Lindt Excellence type brother. Spoke in a low voice, Forest Whittaker type brother. I would introduce myself with a hello and then a smize – a playful yet enchanting expression of the eyes. That would do the trick every damn time. Later that night, either at mine or theirs (I don’t discriminate), we’d get our freak on – that ‘boom boom shake the room’ energy. After a couple rounds, we’d both be satisfied. But little did I know that this lifestyle of mine wouldn’t last forever. One day I would actually meet someone, that would change all of this and would unearth things in me I didn’t know were there.
When I think about it now I honestly laugh.
I arranged the date. Dalston at 6pm. Just thought it would be another one to add to the list. Bored out of my mind from staying indoors, a nice chat whilst eating Turkish food seemed like fun.
My soon-to-be ex walked down the stairs of the restaurant and towards the table I was sitting at. I was flabbergasted. 5’7, caramel complexion. Dreadlocks. Looked way better than their pictures. Like way better.
They walked into the room with an air of confidence and said…
‘Hey Iggy, how are you?’
I didn’t flipping know how I was. I mean, I had just laid eyes on perfection in human form. Let me get my thoughts together first! Blood rushing to my loins. A hit of pure dopamine at the slightest glance.
‘I’m good. How are you doing?’ I said.
‘Good. Just going to run to the toilet quickly. I’ll be right back.’ ‘Alright’, I said.
What proceeded was something I didn’t think could happen to me. The chemistry was chemistry-ing. Turns out my soon-to- be-ex liked musical theatre. They were a writer, like me. Caribbean, Jamaican specifically. Well travelled. Spoke that good Queen’s English. Loved all different types of food. We were celebrating their second alcoholic beverage since they quit a year ago. I gave it all I could give. The charm. The knowledge of wines. The conversation was flowing as much as the drinks. If I had it my way, I wouldn’t have left at all. We would have stayed talking and drinking all night but the closing time didn’t care about love at first sight. We stood outside of the restaurant, facing each other with our jackets in our hands.
‘This was fun, we should do it again soon,’ I said, chilled and mellow, but holding back the words ‘Are you free tomorrow then?’
My tone calm. I got this. Instead, I said ‘Yeah, I’ll give you a shout next week or something.’
Despite my best act to appear unbothered, I knew the shoe was on the other foot. I wasn’t in control. This encounter left me wanting more. I had feelings.
Six months. It took us six months to break up. Well, we weren’t really together. And by break up, I mean I received a voice-note on a Monday morning from my soon-to-be-ex whilst they were on their way to a rehearsal. They had been out the night before and decided they wanted to be single. Crazy, right? My mate saw them grabbing up another guy in a club. Something about us not being on the same page. About not wanting to rush into things. I didn’t know what to say.
When the voice-note ended, my mind instantly flashed back to all the times they introduced me to their friends. The times I drove them to perform at gigs and they kissed me just as they got out of my car. The drunken nights together. The heart emojis that we left each other before either of us laid our heads to go to bed at night. That deep stomach laughter we had when we thought the dumbest meme or TikTok was funny. I was confused because as far as I was concerned we were both on the same page. In fact, we wrote the damn book together.
The mind does a funny thing when you first experience heartbreak. It produces this highlight reel of all the best moments, usually in slow motion – so damn dramatic. So you find yourself laying down, remembering the smallest of things, from their smile, to how they walked or the tone of their voice when they call your name. This can last hours, days for some – but more often than not it can last for weeks, months and in some cases years!
Nothing could save me. Mayday, mayday, man down, man down!
Four months. It took me another four months to get over my ex. I realised that I was going through the final stages of heartbreak – acceptance. But by that time I had experienced all the things you go through when you are heartbroken. Hope can be the biggest torturer. I didn’t want to actually move on; to figure out life without them and have to deal with the reality of the situation. That my ex was always going to be my ex and there was nothing I could do about that fact. But sometimes we get so used to certain people being in our lives that we can’t fathom living without.
It took me a while to get used to it. I usually ended things, now I was on the receiving end. But hey, sometimes, a good humbling is needed in life.
So take this as a formal announcement. Men go through heartbreak too. Even the strong, silent, tall(-ish), dark and handsome type… Everybody hurts. Underneath it we feel it, just like the women do.
MANDEM is published by Jacaranda Books on 9th March 2023 in hardback priced £20.
Edited by award-winning artist Iggy London and featuring essays from Caleb Femi, Christian Adofo, Ashley Hickson-Lovence, Athian Akec, Dipo Faloyin, Okechukwu Nzelu, Phil Samba, Sope Soetan, Jeffrey Boakye, Yomi Sode and Jordan Stephens.