Jason Mraz's middle name could easily be "optimist."
But the singer-songwriter, who is known for his feel-good, hippie and hopeful demeanor, says going to Ghana to free child slaves took his optimism barometer to a new level.
"When I first arrived at the shelter, the kids were applauding us and singing songs for us, and it just showed me it doesn't take too much time for a child, once he's free, to return to being a child," said Mraz. He returned from Ghana last week after visiting the country for five days with the organization Free the Slaves.
In a recent interview, Mraz talked about his trip, what his family thought about his going and how it is influencing his music.
The Associated Press: How was it when you first arrived?
Mraz: To be honest with you, I said, "What am I doing here? Like, what can I really contribute?" I'm an artist and certainly I have an audience I can communicate with, but I'm an unknown artist when it comes to Ghana. Who am I going to uplift, move and inspire over there? So I certainly had my fears 'cause the work we were going to be doing certainly came with its share of dangers.
AP: Did you free any slaves?
Mraz: I was not part of a rescue that actually freed a child because as I discovered with many of the rescue missions, a trafficker, an owner of a child, a slave master will hide that child and in our case they did. We had the child, we're taking pictures with the kid, you know, and the whole community was there to see. It was apparently set up that today was the day we were going to get the child, but the chief of the village and the owner had mysteriously disappeared and within minutes other community members locked the child away in a hut, dead-bolted the lock and we were standing there helpless.
AP: Was this your first time in Africa?
Mraz: I'd only been to South Africa prior to this trip, so this was my first experience in West Africa and it really was a field trip like no other. ... It became very real to me. Also, seeing that slavery still exists in our world, that too became very real to me. So it was my first time in West Africa, but it probably won't be my last.
AP: How did your family and friends react when you told them you'd be heading to Ghana to free slaves?
Mraz: Well for most of my family members, they were like, "You be careful!" And from all my friends, they were like, "You go get them." ... You definitely feel like you're Indiana Jones when you're out there, but you're not out there with a weapon, you know, you're not forcing anyone to do anything. You're educating communities.
AP: Did you write songs during the trip?
Mraz: I choose not to write songs, I'd rather emote songs. So I would pick up the guitar and sing about my experiences and I found myself writing for these children, you know. If these kids don't yet have a voice, maybe I can be a voice for them.
AP: Your last CD was a platinum success and won two Grammys. Are you feeling pressure as you create the next album?
Mraz: There may be more pressure from the record label side and the management side of the industry simply because we want to see the same success. ... I just want people to get that they make a difference. I'm one person and I've already seen the difference I can make and so I want to pass that along.