it was, yet again, another tale of good strides that could have easily been great ones if the passion of the artist for the craft was reciprocated by good corporate and government support.
Corporate and government investment in the sector continued to trickle in small measured doses, and this was reflected in the quality and quantity of artistic output across all the arts in the country.
If there is one memorable event of the year that presented the arts lover with an experience to relish for years to come, it must be the 40th independence celebrations. The month long carnival presented the best of our folk singers, poets, indigenous foods, dancers, as well as visual artists. For the arts sector, the country’s 40th anniversary was a time for reflection on the strides that the sector has made.
Notable around this time of national celebration was the launch of former president Sir Ketumile Masire’s 333-page book entitled, Very Brave or Very Foolish? Memoirs of an African Democrat, published by Macmillan Publishing Company. The book, which is highly in demand, covers a variety of topics ranging from politics and economics to his personal life. Apart from Masire’s memoirs, the country’s publishing industry still continues to be about educational publications.
One significant work of fiction that continues to sell Batswana’s often romanticized old way of living and bringing a few tourists here is arguably Alexander McCall Smith’s The Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. Locals still complain of a small reading market and a publishing industry that is not committed to growing the sector.
However, on the positive, many got into self-publishing to get a piece of the lucrative educational publishing. The sector also saw a few workshops to develop the inexperienced local writer and publisher.
The year would also go down in history as one in which a senior cabinet minister and professor, Sheila Tlou, made headlines for acting in two classic comic operas produced by the Gaborone Music Society. The health minister starred in the Pirates of the Penzance and The Mikado, which premiered at Maitisong as Mma Precious Ramotswe, a character made world famous by Smith.
Her involvement in theatre was notable because it helped change the negative stereotype that theatre is just mere playacting and clowning around. Her contribution confirmed to many that the sector means serious business, and has a lot of economic potential.
More and more Broadway musicals and classic operas were produced in this year. Following on the success of Andrew Llyod Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Coat, came Annie.
Interestingly, the two productions starred high profile casts including the likes of Debswana manager, Joe Matome, and medical doctor Dr. Kopano Mpuan. While these productions grabbed the headlines, community theatre took a serious knock. Artistic director of Tlhwaa Tsebe Theatre Investments, Edward Moroka, describes 2006 as a tough year for the few theatre workers in the country.
“Support was non-existent. Although a few got a few jobs, most of us had our proposals turned down. We performed to empty halls. We dismally failed to market ourselves as theatre practitioners in this country. Theatre is still something that does not have a big local following. We should, however, not give up but keep at it,” he said.
Sedibeng Choral Society also pulled off a first when they performed a complete classical work at Maitisong known as Gloria by Antonio Vivaldi. It acquitted itself all too well for a relatively new and inexperienced choir.
Also interesting and noteworthy must be Maitisong theatre founding director David Slater’s resignation at the Maruapula theatre that has come to be known across the Southern African region for the self-titled annual week long arts festival. He would, however, not be lost to the arts, as he would be running his own company, David Slater Music.
The year folded with the inaugural Botswana Musicians Union’s music awards that seek to reward achievers in this fast growing industry. Culture Spears became the star of the night winning the artist of the year and song of the year awards for the anthem Kulenyane.
A short while before the awards, local Hip Hop musician, Mpho Mmono, popularly known as Mista Doe, scooped the Best Southern African Award for his video, Hot To Death, at the Channel O Spirit of Africa Music Awards. Well known jazz promoter and jock, Street Horn Jazz’s Soares Katumbela also made history courtesy of a jazz compilation featuring South African and Botswana jazz artists.
The visual arts also saw growth in the number and quality of exhibitions that also unveiled new artists and new mediums such as bronze and glass sculpture. One such exhibition was the Reginald Bakwena-curated New Version, which starred Batswana students studying in Pretoria, South Africa. This exhibition was also a peep into the shape of the competition to come for the largely self-taught professional artist population.
Also noteworthy is Thapong Visual Art Centre’s Artist of the Year Award, which was won by Otsetswe Bogosibokae. This is also the year that government decided and announced that it will start funding Thapong staff ‘s salaries come the next financial year. Bakwena, however, posits that artists still need to work on experimenting to move from the stagnant and the uninspiring.
“We need to work hard on the quality of our works. We also need to be more professional and work on the way we deal with customers. We should develop a strong relationship with the community,” he said.
Botswana television (Btv)’s commissioned dramas Thokolosi and Re Bina Mmogo entertained many and confirmed the country’s abundant acting talent. But the dramas, especially Thokolosi, were not without off-screen steamy plots.
Hardly a month on air, Thokolosi hogged the limelight for the wrong reasons. Although the drama may have increased its ratings, it, at worst, threatened to discontinue it. Aggrieved Bobonong residents threatened to force Btv to take the series off air because it portrays the Babirwa tribe in a bad light.
Area Member of Parliament, Shaw Kgathi, also took the issue up with Communications, Science and Technology minister, Pelonomi Venson, for what he termed as propaganda of myths and stereotypes that belittle Babirwa. The Babirwa also threatened legal action against the national broadcaster if the horror serial is not scrapped off air.
The issue was, however, laid to rest when the serial adopted a disclaimer about the whole drama being just fiction and not related to any real events, people or places.
Locals also continued to shine in the international entertainment scene with Tebby Gasennelwe scooping the Mnet Survivor Africa grand prize of US$ 100 000, outwitting a dozen other contestants from the African continent.
The winning streak was continued to the end of the year by Mpho Kuaho, who won the continental fashion show piece, Redd’s Fashion Awards worth a cash price of US$ 5 000.
The year also saw an increase in arts training workshops for artists and other workers of the sector such as promoters.
Contact between local artists and the international community also improved, the highlight of which was the signing of the Botswana/Cuba cultural agreement in May. Cuban dancers, painters and musicians visited and performed in the country.
Mogwana traditional dance troupe and Maxy performed during the Botswana Week in Japan while Kudzani-Tjilenje and traditional dance and song groups did the Africa Day commemoration in Zambia and Namibia respectively, to name but a few.