“I saw my first guitar in 1994. My first real original guitar. Shikwetepo was playing live. With a full band. It was my first time to see something like that. I couldn’t sleep that night. I just kept dreaming of playing my own original guitar. But I started building my own guitars long before that.”
I gave him a confused look “But Alpheus – how did you know how to build guitars when you had never seen a real one?”
He thought about his answer for a moment. “It was in school I think. Where I first saw that kind of guitar. On a piece of paper in a book. Then a few years later we were given a broken guitar. They knew we would like it. We studied it thoroughly. The first guitars we built from 5l tins of engine oil.” he smiled to himself at the memory.
- Where was I in 1994? I was about to move to Namibia. Completely unaware that I would still be here so many years later. And that Alpheus and I would be having this conversation today.
“Oh I remember my first show!” Alpheus face lit up with excitement. “At a Shebeen in the north. People came and paid 5 dollars at the door. I started performing around the time of Independence. There was no one playing music in this time of national celebration – so the people loved my music. It was pure happiness. And they would even call me for parties.”
“That sounds incredible! I wish I could have seen that! When did you start playing music?” I asked.
“I think I was born as a musician. It started with me playing around at home, taking two sticks and making different sounds around the house. But people always asked me why I spent my time on these things. And my father was totally against it. He would beat me when he found my guitars and throw them away or destroy them.“
“I can relate. Music was not favoured in the house I was raised in either. But you didn’t let your father stop you?”
“I kept building. I would start over again and again. Because it was the only thing that I liked. After I finished my job and touched the strings of the guitar I would always feel more ok. I started keeping them in the bush so my family wouldn’t find them at home. Even at school they had started punishing me.
But then other people said – leave the boy. He must do his work – because that is his position in the world. Don’t worry about him.”
He persevered. He kept following his calling. Against all odds. I was deeply inspired. “But Alpheus, why do you think your father was so against your music?”
“All of the elders were like that. They said no, don’t follow the music. It’s not ok. Music will take you away. Far away. Music will make you think so much that you just want to go somewhere and then I will lose you.”
“He didn’t want you to go!” I exclaimed seeing the fatherly fear behind the destruction. “He didn’t want music to take you away. That’s why he was destroying your work!”
“Yes, those were his reasons. But all I can respond to this day is: This is my talent. I can’t stay without a guitar. My life is music and music is my life.”