In 2017, the Sonoma County wildfire destroyed her family’s home. She, her husband and her two children narrowly escaped. After realizing the fire was encroaching in the middle of the night, they left their house with only the clothes on their backs – Abrams’ son couldn’t even find his shoes – to drive two-and-a-half miles through their fire-engulfed road. Their entire neighborhood was destroyed.
The fire was a wake-up call for Abrams, a physician who at the time was working at a federally-qualified health center caring for the underserved and practicing tele-medicine from home.
“I was out of those jobs,” she said. “The clinic I worked at had burned down, and I didn’t have a home, a computer, anything. I remember realizing this was a sign that I really needed to follow my dreams.”
That dream involved pursuing a career as a professional musician. Since then, she has released three albums under the name Eki Shola, with a fourth coming out later this year. She’s played shows in the San Francisco Bay area, London and New York City and won several awards, including an invitation to perform in the 2018 NPR Tiny Desk Contest tour.
“It was a decision I mulled over in my head for two or three years,” she said. “Never in my life would I have thought that I would switch to music, but I felt that was the time to do it.”
Abrams has always played music. She took piano lessons as a child and played throughout school, including playing vibraphone and keyboard with the Cornell Jazz Ensemble. Music had always just been a hobby, though.
“Medicine was the one thing I wanted to do,” she said. “Since I was five years old, I remember wanting to be a doctor.”
At Human Ecology, Abrams majored in human development with a concentration in gerontology. “I remember thumbing through the Big Red Book with its pages of classes was so magical,” she said. “It was so hard to narrow down what to take.” Some of her favorites were human development courses with Professor Emeritus Barbara Kozlowski and design courses with Professor Emeritus Shelia Danko.
Born in London to Jamaican parents, living in Cornell’s International House played an important role in helping Abrams understand and connect with cultures from across the globe, she said.
“My college experience really taught me to be self-reliant and understand there are multiple paths to one particular goal,” she said. “The rigors of Cornell and the support I received from Human Ecology taught me this go-getter, I-can-do-it mentality,” she said. “We were taught a curriculum, but at the same time we were taught how to critically think about what’s being taught to us. That’s been incredibly valuable to me.”
Abrams went on to get her medical degree at Mount Sinai School of Medicine of New York University.
She reconnected with playing music during a life-changing experience after her mother’s death in 2012. “I was home planning her memorial with my family, and we all took a break,” she said. “I started playing the keyboard, my brother played bass, my dad played percussion and my sister played the violin. We jammed for two or three hours. It was the most cathartic experience I’ve ever had. I remember after that thinking, I have to do music.”
Abrams will release her fourth album, titled “Essential,” later this year. It is the third part in a trilogy of albums inspired by her experience in the wildfire. She says the she is thankful for the experience of being able to reevaluate her priorities after that disaster. “A crisis makes you reassess what your purpose is,” she said. “Whose journey are you following? Are you abiding by someone else’s expectations? I have learned to take some space to have a little more clarity and I am following my journey.”