Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Botswana Craft- More than just the music

Perhaps following an observation of poor customer turnout during the day, fast food restaurant, Bimbos, had to come up with a creative way to remind the night crawlers that the food still tastes great during the day. “E monate le motshegare (also delicious in the afternoon)” read their gigantic billboard.

The same advertising gimmick may be just what the doctor ordered for Botswana Craft who, it seems, have become more popular for their music concerts than their core business of dealing in handicrafts.

“We make 80 percent of our turnover from selling handmade crafts,” says the Managing Director, Oliver Groth. The company was established in 1970 by the Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) to develop the rural based handicraft industry in the country.

Groth took over the management of the company in 1992 and ushered in a period of dynamic marketing and innovation that has since seen the company enjoying over two decades of success.
He initially joined the company after being engaged by the BDC to coordinate its privatisation that led to Allen and Tommy Egner being the first private owners.

He would stay with Botswana Craft until he eventually bought it from the Egners a decade later in 2002. Its mission changed under his management to include other forms of art like music.

“There used to be a fireplace over there where the likes of Louis Mlhanga once played, “Groth says, pointing to what has now turned into the dance floor for their regular concerts.
Mhlanga is a South African based Zimbabwean award winning guitarist and producer.

It was only after 1999 that Botswana Craft started hosting regular music shows which at the time only featured local artists. The all-girl band Brown Sugar, were the first act to grace the Botswana Craft stage and since then the company has never looked back.

Known to be one of the most vibrant places in Botswana, Botswana Craft has mastered the art of entertainment.

Any talk of ‘what’s happening on Friday night?’ is most invariably replied with this incredible place.

Groth says although they had initially decided to host locals only, they were eventually compelled to include international and regional acts due to poor attendance.
“It seems Batswana were more interested in paying to see foreign artists than locals so we resolved to have locals artists share the stage with their foreign counterparts to create a balance,” he says.

Initially, Groth says, they hosted the concerts without any major sponsors until Mascom came on board in 2011 with the Mascom Live Sessions concept.

“Other corporate sponsors eventually followed suit and it has been one magnificent concert after. Botswana Craft has hosted the best of local and regional artists since then. The list includes South Arica’s Ringo Madlingosi, Freshly Ground, Mi Casa, Bongo Maffin, Hugh Masekela, and Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi. The place is popular for their sell out concerts but Groth is quick to point out the perception is inaccurate.

“We do not always sell out,” he says. “It has only been on a handful of concerts where we had sold out tickets.” And he says on those few occasions it was as a result of limiting number of tickets to avoid congestion. “We are not just after profits. We are not about selling as many tickets as possible with complete disregard for space,” Groth says. He describes the local music industry as a challenge primarily “because the private sector is not willing to invest in local talent.” Known especially for their jazz concerts, Botswana Craft has proven a great way to stay in touch with local and regional artists. It also provides an excellent opportunity to forge new relationships with not just the business people but also the cosmopolitan clientele that frequent the place. The open space area that hosts the concerts is ideal for the summer and ensures you are not always squeezed and gasping for breath.

But Botswana Craft is not just about the music. In fact, music is just a small and occasional fragment of what Botswana Craft has to offer.

Groth says music contributes just a smaller percentage of their total revenue. “Homemade Handicrafts remain our major source of revenue.” Groth says Botswana Craft are the biggest consumers of crafts in the country. The company has grown to be Botswana’s largest retailer and exporter of handicrafts. The MD says they now directly employ over forty citizens and indirectly create work for numerous rural craft producers throughout the country.

“We try to create a market for anything that is home made. Although we have ventured into other things the company was established specifically to provide assistance and market for hand craft producers,” Groth says.

He says there are artists who have been supplying the company for forty years. He says they import as much craft work as they export as a way to enhance and promote cultural exchange. “We believe in sharing culture. We are also dedicated towards improving the quality of life for rural Batswana and the management and utilisation of our natural resources.”

Stepping into their reception/retail shop is like entering a sanctuary of artefacts. Rapturous sculptures, paintings, accessories, pottery, woven baskets, tapestry and any piece of artistic brilliance one can think of. Through the reception area into the open space at the back are a set of chairs and tables under a pergola where meals from the restaurant are served.

Yes, they also serve food. “We serve traditional food and a delicious selection from the more conventional menu.” Dinner is organized for those who make prior arrangements and the restaurant can also be used for special occasions.

The restaurant is ideal for business breakfast or lunch. It also provides a temporary escape from all the noise and hullabaloo of the city. They also offer conference facilities with a conference room that sits more than 100 people. Various press briefs and interviews have been held there in the past. American jazz Legend, Earl Klugh held his press conference at the venue prior to his performance at the GICC earlier this year. Oliver Groth tells Lifestyle that their staff is what makes Botswana Craft the place it is today: “From the man who washes the cars outside, to the waitresses, and the cleaners. They’re the ones that make this place what it is. They’re the ones who run it,”Groth says. There is really more to the place than the music.

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