Sunday, September 27, 2020

Hellen Dikobe: the woman behind the music

Standing in the backyard of a home she shares with her boyfriend, Mac, in Phakalane, Hellen playfully hunches her back, and sticks her tongue out. Repeatedly she moans, ?I don?t like being photographed.?

With music from her debut album Black Woman wafting from her living room, her poses for The Sunday Standard?s photographer, however, suggest otherwise.

A village Hellen Dikobe hails from, in Kgatleng District, has lent her the name for her debut Afro-Pop single, Mabalane, which is steadily gaining local radio airplay.

?Mabalane (the song) is a tribute,? she declares, as we sit in her living room, after the impromptu photo shoot. ?People in Botswana have a tendency of associating good Batswana artists with South Africa.

?I don?t mean to blow my own horn but I am a good singer,? Hellen says contradictorily demure, as she sits curled on her sofa.

?I can sing,? she chimes, ?and I want them to know I am from right here in Botswana. When you listen to this album, don?t be mistaken.?

?I actually first performed the Mabalane and my other songs in a pre-launch show in Mabalane,? she smiled.

Kgankgathi is another track that pays homage to Botswana, the singer explained; ?Kgankgati in Sekgatla culture is when two or more people grind grain kernels whilst singing, and in another Setswana cultural group, it?s a dance where a male dances around his female counterpart.?

A Broadhurst-based production team of two, named Clockworx, exclusively produced Black Woman. Clockworx?s Arthur January and Colin Fransch nearly always started the process of creating a new song with a bass-line, which Hellen swears is most fascinating when writing a new song.? The production of Black Woman started in February, and after eight months, a refreshed version of afro-pop was typified in seven tracks and an additional remix that she plans to launch in early April.

?The whole album has Afro-pop-house feel to it,? Hellen says, characteristically launching into reshuffling popular music labels as debuting musicians tend to.

?It?s popish with an Afro influence that I like to call Afro-soul,? she banters, ?It is fast but also relaxing?
Says the 26-year-old singer; ?I have always admired a person who comes out with their own style, because, there is a lot of traditional music groups, a lot of jazz artists, then there?s Vee and his kwasa-kwaito. As an introduction to Botswana?s music scene I wanted to bring a new sound to the Botswana scene and see if it is well received.
Hellen, who is managed by Zenzele Hirschfield, also counts her boyfriend Mac as her other manager, whom, she says, advises her on issues such things as wardrobe and presenting herself.

?He has been there for me, and encouraged me from the beginning.? So much that she says she wrote the first track on the album, titled Happiness for him. ?The words in the song say it all,? she gushes.

She hopes to shoot her first video soon after the album launch. ?The problem is money, you spend a lot of money on things such as posters, which you need to advertise performances,? Hellen said, adding that she has heard people singing her songs. ?People will hear your music on the radio and never know you. My management team and I are working on making Hellen known.?

?Music is my livelihood. Don?t burn my album. If Batswana support us musicians, we will in turn, keep them entertained,? she said as we concluded the interview.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.