This story appeared in edition 16 of Mid North Coast Now, you can read the full issue by clicking here
An interview with musician Afro Moses in his Tinonee home ends up delivering way more than is expected. I'm given a gift that resonates much longer than a mere interview.
I turn up with my newest prize possession, a RAV Vast drum - a steel tongue drum I have purchased in a Middle Eastern tuning. I want to hear what he can do with the instrument, after we have talked.
He immediately places a rug over a djembe drum and sits my tongue drum upon it, as a makeshift stand. However, he doesn't touch it, he requests I play it for him - a daunting and quite terrifying spot to be put in, playing before a master musician, a man who can turn his hand to any musical instrument he is presented with.
So, instead of an interview, I'm getting an impromptu music lesson - a lesson unlike any music lesson I have had in my life. A lesson vastly different to the usual Western lessons many of us have endured. Afro's teaching isn't technical at all, not on this instrument at least. Think of this instrument, Afro tells me, as your boyfriend. Sleep with it in your bed. Develop a relationship with the instrument.
He wants me to play with love and joy. He urges me to let go of self judgement and just let my heart sing.
What I would like to say is how we can minimise our judgement and criticism, and always see the good. Because when we criticise ourselves, we criticise the world. When you love yourself, you love the world.Afro Moses
His teaching embodies everything Afro is - a man who wants to spread love to the world, a man who wants to share his knowledge of music and spirituality to those who need it most.
In fact, I'm here to talk to Afro about teaching - his big life dream is to build a school for street kids back in his home country of Ghana in West Africa, where he plans to teach them not just music, but nutrition and matters of the mind.
“I bought the land in 1994 and I built a house," Afro explains. He has built a music studio on the land, called Afro Moses Krom (translated as Afro Moses Town). He dreams of building more houses on the land for people to rent.
"The whole idea would be a school of the mind," he says, not just for the local street kids, but for Westerners to stay, to learn to play instruments such as the kora (African harp), kalimbas (thumb 'piano') and djembe (drums), to sing and dance and retreat from Western society, to heal the soul.
From fame to obscurity
Afro grew up in the village of Ateika in Ghana, the son of poor parents who used music to spread the word of God. It's a place where Christianity and Voodoo coexist and blend, where superstition is rife, where people believe in witchcraft and Jesus Christ at the same time.
At an age earlier than most, Afro can't remember exactly except that it was somewhere between seven and 11 years old, he thought on what he would do with the rest of his life. He told himself to think of three things he was passionate about, and chose one of the three.
"I thought, ‘wow, I love to draw houses, to be a draughtsman'. I also like tailoring, I can sew. Then, music," Afro said.
“When I finished school I played music in Ghana. So then I made a song in Ghana and it became a big TV hit. They played that song before the news. So when I worked in the street, children followed me. I became famous. Then I found out it was hard for me to be there, because I was becoming famous but I didn't have anything. So people said 'oh, you’ve got to go to Europe'. I dreamed of going to Europe, but when I reached Europe, nobody knew me.
"So I became depressed. I went down. Very hard to walk and talk. Because I couldn’t see me. I had to ask myself, am I dead? That’s when I went into a depression," Afro says.
"But it’s good. Today I know what depression is. My dream didn’t come true, but it took me five good years then and I started to improve. Then when I came back to Ghana, people were at the airport. 'Hey! Where have you been?!' Then the spirit came to me again."
Living in Australia, Afro hasn't found the fame he had in Ghana. He is known on the Australian world music scene (he won the Living Legend Award in 2012 at the African Australian Awards, and was twice voted Ghana's best International Music Ambassador), but struggles to get gigs locally.
“Even now I don’t have a proper job. Gigs don’t come so often. But I’m so lucky that I even get as little as I get.”
What little he gets he uses to help achieve his dream. He is looking at starting a foundation to fund the school, while supplementing funds by offering package tours to Afro Moses Krom to Westerners, where they, like the street kids, will be offered teachings on music, mind and nutrition. He also envisages a similar 'school' on the Mid North Coast.
“The school could be there, and here too. Because when I’m here I can get some students and I can encourage them
to go to Africa, and make a Facebook page where they can interact with the people in Africa so when they go there they are known already," Afro explains.
“Where I come from, in my village we have three schools, and one school has 500 people. They only have one computer. So I’ve been thinking of how people here have laptops they don’t use anymore that I can take to Ghana, and phones they don’t use.
"About three years ago I took about 20 phones and gave them to the old ladies, and now their children can call them, they can talk to them, it’s so amazing. Because you see the thing is, I’m not trying to spoil them. The world is changing and we have to change ourselves too."
Afro believes we can start changing ourselves by purely coming to love ourselves.
“What I would like to say is how we can minimise our judgement and criticism, and always see the good. Because when we criticise ourselves, we criticise the world. When you love yourself, you love the world," Afro says.
"Always see the good in everything. This is what my grandmother told me before I travelled. When you take one ‘o’ from good, it becomes God. And God's love is unconditional, you don’t need to reject anybody. And if you focus on the good, then the good will come."
Although bought up "brainwashed" in fear-based Christianity and Voodoo, Afro has spent many years researching and studying spirituality. It is what he has learned along the way he wants to impart to the street kids in Ghana, so they too can move away from fear and superstition, and towards the importance of loving themselves.
Afro is celebrating his birthday with a gig with his band, the Afro Moses Spirit Band, after the Twilight Markets on Tinonee Road at Mondrook on Saturday, March 23. For more information call 0448 916424.