Years before Ntsholeng Citie Seetso could weave melodies around any groove known to man, he knew just what to do with a set of marimbas. The then Gaborone Senior Secondary School student could ably drum out all the standard Chimurenga that was the staple of every marimba outfit of the time. It was then, while at the wooden instrument at one of the annual music camps, that he met South African ace pianist Andile Yenana and Steve Dyer of Mahube fame.
“Andile advised me to go study music,” he remembers. And fast forward to the present, the young man, now with a jazz performance degree from the University of Natal, is arguably the foremost exponent of what an educated musician could do in a fast growing industry that is largely self-taught. With a critically acclaimed debut recording, a continental distribution deal with South Africa’s African Perspectives and international jazz stardom just a few world-renowned concerts away, the tenor-leading contrabassist is not just a Botswana artist. He is a gift to the world. The list of dates he is billed to play is enough for even seasoned jazzers to kill for- The Arts Alive, The Cape Town International Jazz Festival, Standard Bank Joy of Jazz and Kippies International Jazz Festival to name just a few.
Radio from Cape to Abidjan has put Initiation (his ten song debut) on rotation thanks to African Perspectives, which does not only distribute the product but markets and promotes it as well. The deal also yielded star-studded gigs in Victoria Falls over the past Christmas holidays, Mafikeng and Soweto. He has already graced the pages of some of South Africa’s leading tabloids such as Sowetan and Sunday World.
“It has given me time to focus solely on music making,” he says of the deal.
But taking on the world outside home has it’s own fair share of challenges. First it is a cue for him to up his game, and fortunately he is tuned to the fact and he is working at it. He is, however, confident that he is equal to whatever the competition may throw at him.
“Wherever I perform people love my stuff. I have shared the stage with international stars and I believe that even though I need to work at my act I am just about there,” he says.
He has already begun work on his sophomore effort, which will differ from the debut in that he would bring other composers/writers aboard.
“I want to work with different people. I don’t want to compose any songs in this album. I also have to bring someone along to produce it. I will at least co-write with others. I did everything in the last album and I think that’s why people thought that the album was too deep for mass consumption. I wouldn’t want to be associated with being deep because I am just a fun loving guy. I don’t even get booked as I think should be the case considering that the album has been out for quite sometime now,” he says.
How did he end up with a bass by his lap? Quite a transition for a young man who had tasted a soloist’s kick belting out the percussive melodies in the marimba band, one may think. But Seetso just wanted to be in a band. And the band was King Beat and Zoom Sisters, an outfit he grew side by side with in dusty Maruapula. As a bassist he also, interestingly, played Rhumba with Biza Mupulu, Professor Charlie and Mexzico.
“We played Zebras nightclub in Mogoditshane. The band already had other instrumentalists so I had to fill the vacant bassist slot. I just wanted to play music.
If I had access to any musical instrument I would have played it,” he says.
Seetso is, however, not your ordinary run of the mill muso. Picture a musician. You probably come up with a nocturnal animal -working by night and sleeping by day, a gypsy with no permanent physical address (a rolling stone that calls home wherever he lays his head, to borrow from a soul classic) with flings that last as long as the last inspired solo. “Some freedom!” Seetso explains the tired yet so far from obsolete stereotype, almost contemptuously. A proudly married family man with a bouncy little son, Seetso cuts a lone figure in an industry that seems to take no wed souls.
“Maybe they are unlucky not to have people who can give them freedom to do what they want. Why should you run from someone you love unless the person doesn’t love you back?” he says.
But then music has always been his way of life. It’s the only work he has ever known. He must have learnt to balance his creative urges with the dictates of society’s expectations. Since the GSSS days strumming on Tracy Chapman’s “Talking about the Revolution” and taking the enthusiasm to the marimba band, the young man has always been a cut above the rest. The now defunct Mambo Arts Commune recruited him into its marimba production and teaching ranks. Here he was thrust into a position of responsibility before he could even know his Cambridge results. Today he is a music instructor with the Botswana Defence Force, another call to responsibility.
He is, however, excited that with the introduction of a ministry to police the development of the arts in the country, many such stereotypes would be dispelled, that is if it handles it’s mandate well.
“What the music industry here wants has just happened; a ministry. This will ensure that government pumps money into the arts as it does with other areas of need. I now have a three-day gig in a few weeks time at Kippies (Johannesburg) but I don’t know how I am going to be able to pay a cast of ten. If BEDIA or such a ministry could put in money, it could interest outsiders in the country that is Botswana. It is important that we do it properly so that people don’t see me wanting because I come from Botswana. Kippies is an international jazz spot that big business people frequent,” he says.
He opines that society should take a proactive approach to dealing with the arts in development.
“Society could make contributions and buy musical instruments to place them in councils and community places where members of society can access them as not everyone can afford them. That would take young people off the streets,” he argues.
Talking of such need for community initiative, what could be the contribution of musicians such as him
that have the technical facility to growing our fledgling music industry?
“Recording an album is really something big that I have already done. It is not only about profit from an accountant’s point of view. It contributes to society in that people get to learn from your work while they also enjoy it. Part of what we record is a part of our culture such as the language we use. We sing about things we hear and see while growing up.
We are in a way giving back to society,” he explains. He further offers that more is coming. A few albums later he would love to write a bass book and put it to DVD to teach the world his approach to the instrument.
“Bass is now a modern instrument. You can use it to express whatever you want. If you want it to sing like the human voice as BB King does, it can do just that.
If you want to go for a lyrical approach or go tapping all the way, you just have to call on the bass,’ he describes his instrument.
With the six string bass Seetso has gotten away with what a population fed on vocal numbers will fall short of calling murder. His axe has communicated a lot that he could not put into words. There isn’t a single song that he sings a single word in Initiation.
A man ready to embrace new avenues and challenges, Seetso has also jumped into a world trend in musical circles- that of setting up home studios. He is, however, not so much into running the facility as a commercial entity but a place to workshop and incubate those spontaneous artistic visitations that may come creeping at unlikely times and places.
“I seem to love the studio. Any musician needs a place to record his own musical ideas. I want to take the idea as far as I can. Maybe sometimes I would bring young musicians to come and record. I am planning on extending the studio so that I can even record a full-length album at home. Every other artist has a home studio today, Steve Dyer, Oliver Mutukudzi, Louis Mhlanga all do,” he says.