Inside of Joshua Ahazie’s mind live hundreds of songs. Since he was a kid, he would hear a melody and then he would hear all the parts — the vocals, how to play it on the piano. How it all went together. “I really thought I was going crazy,” he said. But he soon realized it was a gift.
It’s this gift of seeing how different pieces can go together to create a whole, he says, that has helped him succeed as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business — he’s graduating Monday, May 14 at the Hearst Greek Theatre — and has given him the vision to launch his company Atide, which works with Nigerian entrepreneurs to raise money for social good in the country. For this year’s pilot project, Atide aims to enhance the education of 1,000 school kids by the end of 2019.
Following is a written version of the podcast episode:
Inside of Joshua Ahazie’s mind live hundreds of songs.
Since he was a kid, he would hear a melody and then he would hear all the parts — the vocals, how to play it on the piano. How it all went together. “I really thought I was going crazy,” he says.
Ahazie grew up in Nigeria. Every morning, he and his family would sing prayers and he would compose songs in his mind. “Initially, I was really scared. I felt like I couldn’t control what my brain was doing and I was just like, ‘What exactly is going on?’ I was just a 6, 7-year-old kid.
But he soon realized it was a gift.
His dad put him in music classes, but instead of reading the music like the other students, Joshua would sit and listen to everyone perform. Then he would copy them, no matter how complex the songs were. He even did it with Beethoven’s “Für Elise.”
He plays more than a dozen instruments — piano, guitar, saxophone, bass guitar, drums… the list goes on, but his favorites are piano and sax, for now. “It’s always changing,” he says.
As an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Joshua joined UC Jazz and practices with a group of musicians, often playing music he’s written — but not written down.
“I play with musicians, and they’re like, ‘Where’s the sheet music?’ I’m like, ‘No. This is the basic structure and interpret it the way you want to interpret it.’ And it’s very beautiful because different people have different elements and different dynamics in how they play the instrument. So allowing them to express themselves within that structure always makes for a very beautiful recording.”
It’s this ability to see how pieces can fit together to create a whole, he says, that has helped him succeed as a business student. He was named one of this year’s best and brightest business students by Poets and Quants. And he’s graduating from Berkeley Haas on Monday, May 14 at the Hearst Greek Theatre.
And this gift that he has of composing music has also helped him launch his new social enterprise, Atide, which means “We are here” in Yoruba, a Nigerian dialect. Joshua says it sums up what his company is all about.
“Nigeria is a place that has amazing people, amazing ideas, amazing culture,” he says. “And I want people to be able to see that. And they can only see that through its people.”
Atide uses the skills and ideas of Nigerian entrepreneurs to raise money for social good. For this year’s pilot project, the company aims to raise enough money to enhance the education of 1,000 school kids by the end of 2019.
They’ve already partnered with some entrepreneurs, who will create things to sell, from photos to dresses, on the Atide website. With each sale, a percentage will go to helping kids in schools in Lagos, Nigeria, paying for supplies, classroom and playground improvements and safety programs. The rest of the money will go to the entrepreneurs and to the company.
“This way of giving back is more sustainable because you’re using ideas that exist within in the country — ideas in business and tech and art and fashion — and using it as a way to allow people around the world to give and also take back from the culture that exists in Nigeria,” he says. “It’s a very beautiful and strong culture.”
At Haas, Joshua says he has been encouraged to look beyond himself and use his strengths to better other people’s lives.
Joshua came to Haas as a transfer student from Berkeley City College in 2016, so he knows how tough it can be for transfer students applying to Berkeley.
So, as the vice president of student affairs at Haas, he started a program for prospective transfer students called Envision Haas. “We’re allowing these people who have looked at Haas as some faraway, impossible school to relate to the application process.”
The program includes a campus tour, an info session with the admissions office and a Q&A with a student panel. Since it launched last October, more than 400 people have registered for the program.
What’s next for Ahazie? “I need a break. I’ve been going hard for too long, so I definitely want to take some time off to relax.”
He just moved into an apartment in Berkeley with his older brother, who graduated from UC Berkeley in 2014. His two younger sisters will be attending Berkeley City College in the fall, so pretty soon they’ll all be living in Berkeley.
His parents still live in Nigeria and eventually, Joshua wants to move back. But for now, he’s going to stay in the Bay Area, working to build up Atide and as always, play music whenever he can.