British Ghanaian Afrobeats star Fuse ODG and his longtime manager Andre Hackett want their new educational app to revolutionize how young people learn Black history.
Originally published on OkayAfrica
Ghana continues its reign as the ‘place to be’ these days. In the last few months, there have been a number of festivals and initiatives that are uniting the African diaspora through culture, tourism and business opportunities. Events such as AfroFuture (formerly Afrochella), Chance the Rapper’s ‘Black Star Line’ Festival, and the swathes of U.S. celebrities who have since ventured to the country for its ‘Beyond the Return’ initiative are just some of the ways in which Ghana is fast becoming an important social and cultural gateway for West Africa and the African descendants in the West.
For British Ghanaian Afrobeats star Fuse ODG it is all this and more–it is home. In fact, when OkayAfrica caught up with him, he’d just come back to the U.K. after overseeing a writing initiative that he helped put together for young Ghanaians. And he’s become known for a career that’s been built on producing music that enlightens and showcases narratives about the continent and its diaspora, in the most authentic of ways.
From his fiery speech about changing the perception of Africa at the 2015 MOBO Awards, to the star-studded lineup of collaborations with the likes of Wyclef Jean and Damian Marley that have shaped his artistic trajectory; from working with Ghana’s 2019 ‘Year of Return’ Initiative, to creating his own line of dolls, which celebrate Black feminine beauty, it’s clear that a vision for a better Africa is undoubtedly a calling for the South London native.
His mission to enlighten, educate and empower Black youth is now being extended through a new tech enterprise, an app called the School of New Africa or SONA, that he’s launched with his long-time friend and manager Andre Hackett. It’s inspired by, and is a natural continuation of, his ‘This Is New Africa’ mantra that spearheaded him to fame during the 2010s. SONA is aimed at young people from ages six to 17 but people of all ages and backgrounds are encouraged to use it.
AN APP BUILT AROUND CORE PRINCIPLES
“The app has always been part of the vision because I’ve always been passionate about telling our own narrative and just making people understand the reality of what Africa is to us,” Fuse ODG tells OkayAfrica. “That’s why the MOBO speech was so important because it was the biggest stage that I had at the time–and even for Afrobeats [as a genre].” ODG says he’s used the many different platforms available to him to pursue this vision–from music to fashion, videos, and the Nana Dolls. “One of the ways we knew where it was lacking was education,” he says. “We never had the depiction of how powerful our past is, and it has been very selective by just focusing on slavery. It did not align with our ethos. So for us, building our own curriculum was always part of the vision.”
There are various apps on the market to educate users on different aspects of African and diaspora histories. African Facts is an application that offers facts about Africa and the flags of all African countries, as well as shares daily African proverbs, while Ambani Africa allows users to play games, read short stories and learn vocabulary in seven African languages, including Swahili, Setswana and isiZulu.
What sets SONA apart is that it is built on three core principles and areas: ‘Love,’ ‘Power’ and ‘Knowledge.’ ‘Love’ is exemplified by a daily affirmation tracker to help build confidence. ‘Knowledge’ features games that allow users to discover hidden African histories and cultures, and learn languages like Swahili, by going on special missions that transform desert lands. The ‘Power’ element lets users collect money through the game, and teaches them financial literacy.
The team behind SONA enlisted the support and expertise of reputable and well-known academics in Africana studies including “Cultural Memory Specialist” Anthony Browder, who is director of D.C.’s IKG Cultural Resources, Robin Walker, author of Before the Slave Trade, and Nigel Stewart, founder of the School of Pan-African Thought in London. They wrote scripts based on their specific expertise, which were, in turn, passed onto entertainment writers who made them suitable for production.
ODG’s longtime manager Hackett helped develop the storylines for one of the games–drawing on a much-loved figure in continental African and Caribbean folklore. “I used to hear Ghanaians speak about Anansi, and they’d ask me what I knew about Anansi, and I’d reply ‘Brudda, what do you know about Anansi?’” he tells OkayAfrica, with a chuckle. “This is something that we [Jamaicans] held onto through that trauma, and through further research, our team found out that Anansi is an important character throughout the Caribbean and South America, so he was a perfect character and guide to use.”
MORE THAN JUST A GAME
The app is currently available for pre-order, and OkayAfrica was given a sneak peek into how the game Hackett helped develop works. It begins with Anansi the spider explaining to the player that the world has become a desert and is on the brink of extinction. The player can prevent this from happening by planting seeds of affirmation that are voiced through their phone. The next level involves filling ‘cups of knowledge,’ acquired by answering quizzes. The water that is collected is used to foster seeds that help to build forests in a desolate land.
SONA is a long-term goal that ODG and Hackett have always wanted to fulfill. Lockdown during the pandemic provided an important opportunity to bring the project to the fore. “If it wasn’t for the lockdown, this is something that we couldn’t have launched now,” says Hackett.
“During the lockdown, we couldn’t tour, so we started developing it. It intersects with the music. I designed a lot of the process and the storylines, and did so listening to Fuse ODG’s ‘Libation,’ as the song is so futuristic. It inspired me to develop the app in its final form.”
Fuse ODG and his manager have created an app that aims to make it fun to learn about African cultures and histories. (if this caption isn’t used above).Photo courtesy Fuse ODG.
Another special feature that ODG is excited about is the pocket money feature that’s part of the ‘Knowledge’ section of the app. “You can sponsor your child or niece or nephew to learn about their histories, and as they’re doing that, they can unlock the pocket money you give them. They can learn how to deal with their budget, which is important for children to understand from an early age,” he says. Because mobile money is more prevalent on the continent, he hopes to connect with banking partners there so that young people can easily access the money they’ve earned from fulfilling the SONA challenges set by their elders.
The use and recording of affirmations and phrases of self-love is a key aspect of the app. “Essentially, we are in a special place in time where people are falling in love with themselves as an African community,” says Hackett. “We were very conscious about doing the work in the subconscious. Unless you have a psychological revolution, you cannot have an economic revolution or political revolution.”
School of New Africa Facebook.
Hackett adds that his Pan-African sentiment was borne from his upbringing at home. “My parents raised me to have a different level of confidence,” he says. “My mum is a Pan-Africanist; she used to take me to Kwanzaa and put me in African clothing, and she took me to Egypt when I was seven, where I identified with the people [that built that civilisation]. As a Caribbean person, the seed she planted in me has taken me far.” He and ODG hope this app will help the next generation of parents to instil confidence in their children.
For ODG, the app is part of a larger aim to encourage his audience to become active in bringing about social change. While in college, he began to understand the power of action in bringing about change in his local community, particularly when it comes to issues like youth crime and the mischaracterisation of young Black boys in the media. He was inspired to produce a documentary on the matter, which in turn garnered interest from media outlets such as the BBC. “It taught me that there is a way you can tell your own story, or a new narrative by doing something constructive for the community,” he says.
“Before Azonto blew up in the U.K., we went on tours across Liberia, Equatorial Guinea, Rwanda and the Congo, where we saw the beauty in those communities,” he says. “It brought us back to how underrepresented Black people are in the media. And that’s essentially how T.I.N.A. [This Is New Africa] was born. It’s how I learn to become more Pan-African, by travelling through Africa, seeing how beautiful our people are, and not seeing that translated in the media.”
For the musician, the world has become an interesting place for bringing about collective change, especially in light of post-George Floyd discourses on community building, class and race. “We’ve been marching [and] protesting,” he says. “The real protest begins with the mind, it begins in our homes and it begins with our families.”