Stani Goma’s path to Australia wasn’t like most.
He arrived in Australia in 1989, not directly from his native Republic of Congo, but from China where he’d been studying pharmacy.
That year saw events unfold in Tiananmen Square, with the unrest sparking concern among his peers. The decision to leave for Australia was not entirely his own.
“The decision was made by a group of friends, fellow students in China during the unrest,” he tells SBS News in his native French.
“Some of them ended up leaving Australia but I remained; I got stuck in Melbourne.”
It was in Melbourne he had the idea of launching a radio program solely dedicated to African music.
“I thought, if I’m going to live here, I cannot bring the food, but music I can certainly do something about,” he says from the studio in Collingwood.
Back then, in the early 1990s, there were far fewer people from African countries in Melbourne than there are today, and Stani says they would often get together to listen to music from home.
“Coming from Africa, where music is not just something you do in your spare time as entertainment … it’s an important part of everyday life.”
“There is an African saying that music is food for the spirit.”
In 1992, Stani secured a two-hour time slot on PBS Radio and Flight 1067 to Africa was born, named after the radio’s frequency, 106.7FM.
Close to three decades on, the program is still running, making it Australia’s longest-running African music show. And there’s still a lot of ground to cover.
“It’s not just a radio program; it’s a journey into the many cultures and stories of the African continent,” Stani says.
It’s not just a radio program; it’s a journey into the many cultures and stories of the African continent.
Besides supporting someone’s settlement journey in Australia through music, Flight 1067 to Africa also provides listeners with the opportunity to discover various genres of music and cultures from across the vast continent, Stani says.
“One of the things that I sought to achieve is also to allow, within us, to discover each other. For example, someone from Ethiopia to hear music from Zimbabwe or South Africa or Rwanda or Burundi.”
Jason Tamiru is the son of the first Ethiopian migrant to Australia and his mother is of Yorta Yorta (Aboriginal) ancestry.
He stumbled across Flight 1067 to Africa serendipitously one weekend while flicking through radio stations to entertain guests at a barbeque.
He says for an African and Aboriginal man – who at the time had never been to Africa – Stani has filled many gaps in his musical and cultural knowledge.
“I guess, in Australia, and in Melbourne, we starve for different sounds. Different stories, different knowledge … As a black man, I’m forever starving for it,” Jason says.
And he remains a big fan today.
“My impression of Stani is his voice, and also the music, and the incredible knowledge that he has … and also the understanding of what Australia is.”
And Stani is keen to point out his program isn’t just for migrants. He wants to introduce African music and cultures to the wider Australian audience.
“It allows people from Africa to learn more about their continent, and for non-Africans, it is a window. It gives them access to various musical cultures from the continent,” Stani says.
He also didn’t stop at a radio show.
Music for the masses
On top of the radio program, Stani also runs an African music festival and created the Melbourne Traditional African Ensemble (M.A.T.E).
“The ensemble brings together musicians from different African countries who play a traditional instrument,” he says.
He has taken the ensemble to perform at the prestigious Melbourne Recital Centre, bringing African music to a whole new audience of concert-goers.
“It was really bringing pan-Africanism in the Australian context and acknowledging in the Australian context that it happened in Australia,” he says.
“It is here to be experienced not only by the African community but also by people outside of our community. The concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre was absolutely amazing.”
When asked to play with M.A.T.E, listener Jason didn’t hesitate one bit.
“I’m Indigenous and I’m African… then man, I’m starving for this connection to connect with other African brothers and sisters… I said ‘get out of here! Of course I’m interested. Sign me up’.
“When the opportunity comes along and they need a didgeridoo player, clapsticks, Stani would call me and I’d drop everything and be there every time I can. I had so much fun.”
Kofi Kunkbe, a musician from Ghana, also performs with the ensemble. He says it has provided an opportunity to meet and connect with fellow African Australian musicians.
“I see the group as a place where we all come together. For me, I can meet friends through music.”
After nearly 30 years running the radio program, Stani says he has witnessed the growth of Australia’s African communities through the good times and the bad.
He recalls particularly the negative portrayal that some African Australian communities, and especially young people, have received in the media in recent times.
In response, he says Flight 1067 to Africa sought to provide a safe space for African youth in Melbourne to navigate the difficult times.
The radio program has also served as a launching pad for African Australian musicians, who have gone from being listeners to producers of their own genres, adding to the multicultural fabric of Australia. It’s something Stani says wouldn’t have been possible in the 1990s.
“Now we have people like [Zambian-born Australian rapper] Sampa The Great who grew up here producing her own music and topping the charts.”
And Stani himself is showing no signs of stopping.
“Every day, someone somewhere in Africa is making new music. And what we are trying to do is get hold of that and share it with people in Melbourne and in Australia.”