I was standing on the base of a light post on Broadway, looking for breaks in traffic to get a good photo of the Cable Building (see here), when a man driving in the rush hour traffic shouts out to me. It took a few moments to place him. It was Michael Ahuja, the owner of Shona Gallery, a SoHo business owner whom I had befriended and written about with a shop selling African art objects and furniture - see here. On my way home from my office, I would often drop into his shop and chat, usually about Africa.
When I met Essau Pwelle and found out he was from Tanzania, I was quite excited and eager to tell him of my passions for Africa. Essau, who hails from Yenzebwe Village, has been a resident of the USA since 2003 and currently resides in New York City. He is a 4th generation banjo maker and, in conversation, told me of the African roots of the banjo. He has played banjo since he was 14 and is also a singer, songwriter, performance artist and event organizer.
Even in a place as large as New York City, it never ceases to amaze me how many acquaintances in common there are between people that I encounter. In conversation, I found out Essau knew Michael Ahuaja. I told Essau that all with all this passion, it was still unlikely I would ever go to Africa. Why?, he asked. Fear of the known and unknown, I answered. There is an aura of mystery surrounding Africa, fueled by books with titles like Heart of Darkness and phrases like Henry Stanley's "Dark Continent." He assured me, as did Michael Ahuja, that I would find Africa to be to my liking.
When I had occasionally spoken to Michael in our chats about any of my business difficulties or stresses, he suggested I liquidate and move to Africa. Surely this was insanity, but he assured me that I would find it the palliative I needed. He described an idyllic life in various places, as did Essau, who spoke of those he knew who found great joy in Tanzania and made their residence there.
When I asked to photograph Essau, he was quite accommodating, moving into various positions. Unsatisfied with the various conventional shots I was getting (see here), I crouched down, shooting upwards for a silhouette. After all, as I told Essau and others around us, we need some drama - this is not a man from New Jersey, this man is from Africa :)