Once upon a time the cabaret scene was an older musicians’ preserve. Lately though, youthful artists are beginning to penetrate that market in a big way. Take a Sunday evening at Pure Drop bar, Phase Four in Gaborone.
A young man with braided hair slips behind a piano at a makeshift band stand and goes about the ritual of preparing himself for the next set. He perches atop a bar stool, wets his throat with some liquid in a green bottle and surveys the patronage before setting the bottle back down. He then attacks the piano with gusto and as he scrunches up his face, he begins to croon a mellow yesteryear western hit tune into the microphone. A young woman (either innocently seated or lying in wait) at a table not far from where he is lets out a scream and claps wildly.
After years with The Clement Jackson Crew, Alex “Lexus” Pelotshweu decided to spread his wings and fly away from the musical nest that nurtured him. That was no bad idea at all.
“Both musically and financially, I’m doing quite well. If you are serious in this business you can make more than P3500 a week,” Alex says contentedly.
But making so much ‘cheese’ also takes a lot of hard work. In Alex’s case, it means doing evening gigs from Wednesday to Sunday: Tavern Pub at Middle Star Mall on Wednesday, Planet Sports Bar at the African Mall from Thursday to Saturday and Pure Drop Bar on Sunday.
There is something particularly interesting about the latter gig. Countrywide, there is this new tradition that the music played at non-juke-box, adult-patronised bars has to be jazz. However, when Alex tickles the ivories at Pure Drop, he plays rhythm and blues and other laid-back music.
“There is a misconception among Batswana that jazz is Sunday music. Any music that is laid-back is appropriate for a Sunday; that is why I play genres like soul and R&B. If you like other types of laid-back music other than jazz, where are you supposed to go on a Sunday afternoon? I’m trying to dispel this misconception that jazz is the only music appropriate for a Sunday,” he says.
Given his musical roots, there is another more authentically Sunday music that Alex could be playing. As a young boy growing up in Selebi Phikwe and sporting a less dramatic hair-do, Alex played gospel in church. Having come of age, seen more of the world and its variety of hair styles, he has come to the conclusion that “gospel is not my line of music”. That notwithstanding, he plans to do one or two gospel tracks when he cuts his first album in order to “thank God for the talent he has given me”.
It would be the second time that Alex puts his voice on wax. The first time was when he was still with The Clement Jackson Crew. Although he has parted ways with the band, Alex says that he maintains good relations with the other two members ÔÇô Clement and Eugene Jackson.
All too often when musical groups break up it would be because relations have soured but Alex says that was not the case with them.
“Eugene will probably write a song or two for my album and Clement will play guitar. I consider Clement my musical dad because he taught me everything I know,” he says.
Beyond the current gigs and the planned album, Alex is also looking to enter the more lucrative hotel market, which up until now has been dominated by expatriates. That there are more foreigners than locals playing at hotels has always rankled with the latter group but the situation is beginning to change. The Botswana Musicians Union ÔÇô ‘BOMU’ as it is more commonly known ÔÇô took up this matter with hotels and their intervention seems to have worked. Alex hopes to get a spot at a Gaborone hotel that has undertaken to rotate local cabaret acts.
“There is no reason why we should not play at hotels because we have grown musically and have also become more businesswise,” he says.
It would appear that one aspect of “businesswise” is how you look. For years now, Alex has been braiding his hair and his explanation for that is that it is all part of the package.
“In music image sells. Women buy music more than men and it is important that your image helps attract women. If they like your image, they are more likely to like and buy you music. Other than that, we as musicians like to look different from everybody else. That is why we do body piercing and tattoos more than any other group of people.”
However, as Alex well knows, infatuation induced with the aid of braided hair, mutilated body organs and tattoos can be very risky. He claims though that he knows how to “handle” attention that tends to go overboard.
“I am satisfied with what I have,” he says, elaborating that point with the broad smile of a young musician who is really satisfied with what he has.
On the whole, Alex notes that it is extremely difficult to get cabaret spots because there are too many of many competing for far too few venues.
However, that market is growing because small-scale liquor traders are beginning to appreciate the benefits of live music. Not only does such music prolong buying patrons’ stay in bars, it also produces even more beautiful music – the melodic, non-stop ching of over-flowing cash registers.