The world of hip hop is quite an intriguing one, not only as a type of music but also as an attitude.
I remember listening to it as a young girl and finding it very sore on the ear. Back then there was not a single Motswana hip hop star; it was all international.
Rhythm and Blues to me was a better option because there was far less swearing and cursing.
This week, I experienced one of those rare moments of paradigm shifting. All because I got an introduction to local hip hop and got to spend a whole afternoon chatting to a hip hop veteran, one of the few guys inside our borders who, in my opinion, has taken this genre and given it a revamp by mainly cleaning it up and making it about inspiring others and growing responsible leaders within the local music industry.
Twenty-eight-year-old Karabo “Bally” Leburu is a very regular man, according to his looks, but once I was done talking to him I realised there was very little that was regular about the man.
Yes he has a lot in common with a lot of us in the sense that he lived and went to school in Gaborone and, during his formative years like most of us, had the big dream of being a doctor.
“As a young boy I admired doctors and wanted to be one but that was really about as far as I took it because I was too busy being lyrical to make the grades,” he says.
And then out of his love for playing around with words to express his reality came the birth of the Heaven Sent Record Label, a music producer and a rapper-lyricist.
“It took me ten years to get here and I must say every moment has presented itself as a lesson to learn,” he said wide eyed and nodding his head with reminiscence.
Another “don’t judge a book by its cover” moment struck me when he declared the depth of his Christianity. Oh yes! He is indeed a born again hip hop star!
I listened to the music that this man made back in 2001 when he cut his first CD and the material that he produces today and saw an amazing transition.
Bally’s music has become very profound. He writes from a place in him that bares depth, reason and meaning. When I listened to his productions I felt a lot of poetry, one that is meant to touch souls and shed light. He does not quote biblical verses but his words do carry the same weight.
After ten years of being in the industry, he feels it is time for him to go behind the scenes as producer and give upcoming artists a chance to grow under his guidance, hence the record label Heaven Sent Productions. Through this label Bally says he gives local aspiring hip hop stars equal opportunity to step up to the microphone in his studio and prove themselves.
“The road to success in hip hop has many twists and turns but I feel it is my duty to give back to my community. There’s only so much I can do in grooming aspiring artists and I take the one’s that display commitment to great heights,” he said with a lot of emotion.
I think the fact that Bally has never been to any kind of music school and yet has mastered it so much is inspiration on its own. I know from observation that music production requires a certain level of expertise, especially the amount of engineering that goes on in studious. How uplifting is it to know that just out of sheer love for what we do and belief in ourselves we can become sound engineers and much more without necessarily having been to school for it? In effect when Bally sits in his studio and makes his music he displays the brilliance that comes as a result of perseverance.
One of the biggest challenges that he highlighted as being a threat to their growth as a record label was inadequate publicity. He strongly believes there is a lot of room for improvement regarding the relationship between local artists and local media. He also acknowledged that marketing to them is always an expensive exercise and that the media would play an important role in giving them the platform to make themselves known.
He is ever so grateful to radio stations like Yarona FM and RB2 for playing a lot of local music and says it would be ideal if they could get as much recognition from BTV because television always seems to reach a wider audience.
Local hip hop is fun, hopeful, trendy and very clean. The kind that the likes of Bally produce is one that I am not embarrassed to listen to when those younger or older than me are around. I can not really tell the difference between the lyrics he puts together and good old fashioned poetry.
I think it is good that it seems to be moving in that positive direction. People like Bally have really cleaned it up and made it about celebrating our culture and rising above the challenges that we encounter as people.
In Botswana, our hip hop artists are far from promoting gun violence, profanity and lack of ambition. It is very heart warming to see young men like Karabo pour their hearts into such a beautiful quest. In my opinion he is creating a legacy, a troop that will hopefully help brand Botswana. They are surely turning our music scene into a lifestyle and a business worth exploring.