The Making of MOJA: Research, Interviews, and Travel

Posted on 
May 24, 2021
12:27 am

Although the characters in MOJA are fictional, they are based on the true stories of millions of enslaved people throughout the history of Africa, America, Cuba, and other nations. MOJA was born when its creator, lifelong roots musician Carl Gustafson, set out in search of an answer to the question: “Where does the music I love come from, and why did it happen?” 

To truly understand this, Gustafson spent several years of his life in Africa, Cuba, and more than 40 other countries. He spoke to professional historians, local musicians, native tribespeople, and current-day slaves — yes, they exist.

Throughout his eight trips to Africa, Gustafson traveled off the beaten path to ensure he was hearing as many stories as possible from as many different types of people as possible. He backpacked all around the continent, often with translators guiding him. 

He interviewed people who typically are not consulted on these issues, and he asked them personal, emotional questions to learn their true stories. 

Gustafson walked the slave trails, putting himself in the minds of those who walked them 200 years earlier. He sat in the dungeons and chained himself to the ledges to try to feel what they felt. He saw the dhows of a former slave ship with his own eyes, then sailed in a small boat from Zanzibar to prison island and felt sick like they did. 

He took in these experiences and asked himself how they must have been feeling, being so close to home but so far from any possible escape. 

Although Gustafson is a musician and not a historian, he has seen these places in Africa with his own eyes and spoken to those who live there. He has first-hand insight and perspective that not many others do. 

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