Sunday, July 3, 2022

Botswana’s overseas cultural model fading

At a time that Botswana has become a cultural client-state of the United States, how worried should we be about Lil Poopy and Kwayzar, America’s youngest and oldest rapper respectively, coming in the game? Consider first, the case of the former who, at the tender age of nine, literally has his hands full with a social commodity that he is still a lil too young to even know exists. Of the faddish and facile elements of rap videography is the exasperating self-referential showmanship of its artists. Thus in his videos, Lil Poopy is adorned with all the cool tools of the trade to create a not-altogether false impression that he is living high off the hog. In one video, a summery afternoon romp sees him lying bundled in the passenger seat of a gleaming top-of-the-line Ferrari, all blinged up, as he is chauffeured through the hood. A few shots later he has disembarked, an avalanche of non-nursery rhymes are tumbling out of his baby mouth and amidst a circus atmosphere as the video ends, he smacks the pillowy derriere of a video vixen old enough to be his father’s second ex-wife.

In another video, he gets into a swimming pool with two vixens. He puts a hosepipe with a stream of water gushing out of its mouth between his thighs to imitate the act of a raised one-eyed trouser snake spitting its venom. Although he has yet to come into full bloom as an entertainer, Lil Poopy is already keeping up a frenetic performance schedule around the US, netting the equivalent of P60 000 a gig and has also been able to enlarge his digital footprint, notching up close to a million views on YouTube. A name like that was always going to inspire pun-filled lavatorial jokes which is why The Guardian in the United Kingdom could caption a picture of the young on-duty rapper with “Lil Poopy in full flow.” Obviously there can be no innocent explanation for Lil Poopy’s packaging. This early in his nascent rap career, he has been subjected to very public media x-rays and naturally there has been a swirl of controversy over his act.

Some people feel that this music is not mentally healthful even to the child himself while others have deplored the father’s absence of moral sense for essentially pimping out a nine-year old to an industry with bonafide Sodom-and-Gomorrah credentials. For some reason, Lil Poopy’s story does not mention his mother and at one point the father was arrested for child abuse. In pushing back, however, the family lawyer offered the silky defence that the young rapper (who is otherwise a straight A’s student) was merely engaging in a constitution-protected activity. In itself the argument is legally valid but there was a lot more at stake than premature exercise of constitutional freedom by someone who probably doesn’t even know what “constitution” means.

As an art form, rap has been able to transmigrate through the generations, which brings us to an octogenarian rapper known mononymously as Kwayzar. The fact that he is 84 years old is cold comfort because he displays a marked disinclination to steer clear of grandparental guidance in his music. Kwayzar seems a lot less interested in imparting pearls of wisdom and much more invested in marketing his libido, mentioning in one verse that hearty helpings of kale keep him healthy and active. If the fates had been kinder, Kwayzar, who has appeared in several movies, would be a Hollywood star but in their meanness they drove him to rap in old age. In his own YouTube video, this World War Two veteran accesses the dark recesses of his mind and claims (wink-wink and without providing video evidence) that “I can still do it.” He urgently works to push that message by frolicking with two much younger vixens clad in abbreviated clothing. Through it all, he somehow manages to evade more than 10 excitement-induced heart attacks.

Unlike Lil Poopy, Kwayzar has not been as commercially successful and so far has only ever managed to score sedate nickel-and-dime gigs. If it is permissible to honestly assess the artistry of a child and great-grandfather using non-benign language, both do a fairly middle-of-the-road job as MCs because their rap doesn’t snap: the rhyme flow is weak, the vocal technique needs a lot work and the songs suffer from a surplus of words. Back to the question. A sizeable chunk of our cultural fare (from language to speech mannerisms to art to child-rearing practices) is imported from the US. At this point, nothing suggests that anything will alter the fundamental trajectory of this relationship. The next question is: how long would it be before Botswana has its own Lil Poopy and Kwayzar? Memory suggests it won’t be very long. When dirty dancing took hold in the US, it was not long before it was being replicated in Botswana often, as in the case of Kotaeshele in Molepolole, with tragi-comic results.

A veteran street performer, Kotaeshele bar/shebeen-crawls through Molepolole, literally singing for his supper and sometime in the late 1990s, dirty-dancing was introduced to the snooker-and-jukebox neighbourhood bars in which he plies his trade. He figured that he would develop and incorporate into his act, a dirty-dance routine and perform it with his inamorata. The plan worked well commercially until he took his act near the main kgotla in the village where he was found out, summoned and promptly punished. If that was at all meant to discourage dirty-dancing, it failed spectacularly. Dirty dancing aside, our indigenous languages are not lacking for colour but rarely do those who volunteer to perform public swearing stitch together a string of profanities in Setswana.

The bigger question though is whether we should, at this point, still be obsessed with things American because even in the US itself, consensus has congealed around the idea that the empire is in decline. To situate this reasoning within a larger historical context, no empire has ever lasted forever and native to this sort of enterprise is the proclivity among new empires to disregard crucial lessons of what the expansionism of geopolitical entities that came before them led to. Like the Roman, Mongol and British empires before it, the US government was not designed to rule a large empire with an archipelago of client-states ranged around the globe. Thus it overstretched itself, is now bent out of shape and has begun to lose strength. It is also consistently true that moral degeneracy portends demise of empire and, as is plain to see, the cultural condition of the US is far from healthy. To borrow somebody else’s turn of phrase, in its present condition, American culture has put the “fun” in “dysfunctional.” In the final days of the Roman Empire, moral decay permeated literature, amusements, and the public lifestyles of the citizenry. Likewise, Lil Poopy and Kwayzar constitute eloquent evidence of a counter-trend away from good taste and moral rectitude.

Ultimately, the eventual doom and despair of the US will dispel the fascination that (especially young) people around the world have for its culture but it is unlikely there will be any respite for Botswana. With the nation still struggling to solidify its cultural identity in a globalised world, chances are that its young will turn east and consume more than the Asian-script tattoos from the cultural menu of the new Chinese empire.

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