Born in Brazzaville, Congo a few years before the 1998 civil war, Minu Bidzimou knew he wanted to be a doctor before he even knew what being a doctor meant. In fact, all he longed for was to emulate his uncle, a displaced medical school student living with his family, who would open the door of their home in the middle of the night to help the sick and injured, while Minu held a petrol lamp and fetched supplies. “I was probably around four years old,” he recalls, “and it was only as I grew older that I realized that was medicine and it was what I needed to do with my life.”I needed to do with my life.”
That dream became a plan after Minu’s family immigrated to the DC area when he was in middle school, and he immediately excelled in science, as well as wrestling. In 2014, he enrolled at Grinnell College in Iowa, his passion to become a doctor as fervent as ever, although with an added interest in scientific research. For four years, he ground his way through coursework and chemical synthesis research. In April 2018, he began Duke’s MD-PhD program. And with more time on his hands before his graduation, he turned his attention to the keyboard his parents had bought him for his first Christmas in America, and he started making music.
Unlike some artists on Quadio, Minu has no plans to make music his profession, nor does he hope for it. Music is his avocation, his creative outlet, and his necessary respite. And rather than displace medicine, he told Quadio during a recent video call from his off-campus house in Durham, it actually makes him a better doctor. In the conversation that follows, he explains how.
Listening to Unconditional, it’s kind of hard to believe you only started making music two years ago.
Not exactly two years ago. I was always interested in playing songs I heard on the radio, and that first fall in the U.S., when I was 12 or so, I would go on YouTube and try to find videos where they show you how to play the piano. There was actually a website that kind of mimicked a piano with the computer keys, and I would go on it and just try to figure it out. My parents saw that, and that’s when they got me a keyboard, which I still use. I made “Unconditional” on it. Same one.
But over those ten years, were you making music?
Definitely not consistently. I took a few lessons, trying to learn how to read notes. But it didn’t really go anywhere because of my focus on school. Then senior year of college, that’s when I started producing. I was accepted to Duke, and I was passing all my classes. I felt like I was on top of the world, right? So, it's like, "Hey, what is this Garageband thing doing here? Let me open it and try it out." It just went from there. I didn't necessarily have more time, but I was able to allow myself to explore other things that I've always wanted to do but I never really got to do.
How did you learn how to produce?
Let’s just say I have a lot of appreciation for the educational videos on YouTube. And I listened; I listened to a lot of artists and asked, “How did they do that?” But I also wanted to invent something new, that no one had ever heard before. I would add the sounds of crickets or people thudding in the forest. I was experimenting a lot, and finally, I put a song on SoundCloud, and it had like 300 plays. I had cousins in Europe, in France, who were like, "Oh, I like your song. I heard it, it's pretty good. Keep working on it." And that was encouraging. So I just kept trying different sounds.
Did you have a genre in mind?
I had an emotion in mind, actually. I’ve come around to a sound that’s R&B and soul, with some pop and some Afrobeats, but more than a genre, I definitely want to convey a positive emotion that makes people feel more than just the music. Like with “Unconditional,” I want people to feel a sense of unconditional love. And the emotion, whatever it is, it has to be real. When I make a song, if I don't feel it, even if you say that's the best song you've ever heard, if I don't personally enjoy it and I don't have a connection to the music, I'm not going to let you hear it. Or replay it again.
It’s kind of amazing, isn’t it, that you’ve finally found the time to be making music in med school, which is known to be all consuming?
I had to make a decision. When I got to Duke and started medical school, that was a big moment for me because it was like, "Okay, is this a hobby that I just want to do when there’s time here and there? Or is this something that I really enjoy and I want to continue doing with some kind of real commitment?"
And the verdict was?
I told myself you make time for what you care about. And I really care about music and I really care about making it. And so, I just kept on working on it. I will say, the things I made in the first year of med school, I don't even know how I was able to listen to them. It's a process.
Did your classmates know what you were up to?
There is definitely a positive attitude in my class especially, and also in the school in general, in terms of well-being and being able to find things that you enjoy. It’s something that they always advocated for us to do. And so, it wasn't something that was looked down upon. When I would say, "Hey, last weekend or last night, I was making music." It's like, "Oh, cool. Awesome."
Aren’t there times when you just don’t have time to make music?
When I started making music the challenge wasn’t not having time to make music. The challenge, to be honest, was when to stop making music and go to bed or stop making music and study for that exam. It was harder because once you feel something, you sense that, if you were to stop at the moment and close your project, when you came back later on, you might not have the same inspiration. But I’m learning to do both: setting an alarm on my phone at which time I will stop what I’m doing and being able to maintain inspiration for days until I can allocate the appropriate time to express it onto my workstation.
Do you ever think, “Maybe I should have been a musician?”
Well, I am. Sometimes people say to me, “What will happen if one of your songs makes it big?” and I say, “What if?” It doesn’t matter. My current desire in music is to work with upcoming artists, and collaborate on different songs and projects so that their interpretations of my production can profoundly touch the listeners. As long as I do that, I’ll be smiling.
Careerwise, I see myself as a physician scientist. That's what I'm training for and that's the ultimate dream. Music, I also want to do. I can do both and I can do both well. The only difference is I may not be putting out 100 tracks a week of music. Maybe I put out one, or maybe I put out two.
It’s not an either/or?
The opposite. I have many hats that I'm wearing. I'm wearing a hat as a musician, I'm wearing a hat as a researcher, and I'm also wearing a hat as a friend or wearing a hat as a doctor, or doctor in training. And so through all those things, I think of myself as a healer, right? I help people. I alleviate the burden that they have so that in that moment when they're with me or when they get to go home after the hospital and they're listening to my music, they are feeling better and they're improving. That's something that I think connects it all together.