Friday, July 10, 2020

Nothing Will Ever Kill The Radio Star!

Connoisseurs  of sound now  live in  a  time   of  online  streamed  content  where one can obtain their music fix  from a variety of service platforms. The latest  fans actually  never get to  touch  and feel  the  record they are buying. Before    streaming   there   was an  invention called   the compact  disc player.  Fragile and    expensive  looking,   when it  hit   first  hit   our  shores,  we could only  marvel at it.  To  own a  cd  player  was the  trendiest  thing ever. I remember the    first     guy in our residence  block  at  varsity.  Always  reserved   and  unassuming   he  got  on  with   everyone   else, never  forgetting  he   was  there  for education   and  not the  extra  curricular activities  some of us reveled  in.  If  he  was  not  at  lectures   he  was in the  library. When his room   door  was   slightly ajar  he   would   be  sitting  at  the study desk,  swotting up   like   a  model child   who   received  serious sermon when he left  home  about the purpose   of  education. 

Rumour  had  it his cousin was  studying   in the United States. From his   baggy,  rap style   clothing  there must  have  been  merit  to   the claim. Those   clothes  were not  common   place   in   this  neck of the  woods and  could    only  have only been imported  or  handed  down   by someone  who  could get  more.  Then one day  whispers went around that   he   had  acquired   a compact disc player. It  must  have come from the cousin in America. His   door started  opening  wider  for  curious  passers  by  to steal  furtive looks. His  music  grew  louder with a different  quality  and  the  girls  who  visited  got prettier. Students  we   never thought knew  him  became regulars  in the room.   The once regular guy  was  now  a big shot. That  is  how I  remember the  first  cd   player   I ever saw,   and the  way  it set someone on the pathway  to social mobility. In the evolution of  music  players, before the cd player   was the   portable cassette   player which  then birthed the walkman worn with headphones  by trendsetters of the day.  But they were preceded by   among others, the radiogram  and the stereo. That  is  how we  used to consume our music.   Or it was the   radio station.  Since  human kind  discovered that  making  certain   noises  gives  pleasure  to   the  ear,  no appliance has  come  bigger than  the radio. With  the radio set  came  the  announcer   to make  commentary  and  when   recorded  music   became available,  to announce  the   songs.  The world  over,  the    first    super stars before  movies and television  were   the  voices on  radio.    

An object of mystique,  I  am  not  the  only   one in my    adolescence who  was  fascinated  by  the voice  coming  from that small box,  wondering  just   how  that  person  got in   there.  Our moods could  be  modulated by   the voice on the radio. It was over the airwaves that my memorable  songs arrived.  Then  there were  those  moments    in the evenings when adults   became  sombre and told us to shush  when   the  death  notices   came  on and as  children  we tried to  make sense  of the  phenomenon called   death.   Irrespective of the   type  of  household    one was  raised in, the radio or the wireless  as it was called, was an item of high esteem. It was probably as much treasured as the  crockery tea set stored in the cupboard   waiting  for special  visitors that   never   arrived.  Not that  visitors  didn’t  come by, in fact they  came around often. But none ever seemed   to make  the  grade to    be served  tea,  poured    from a  porcelain pot, into a  matching cup held daintily  between thumb  and little finger. And  in the etiquette of the  queen of England,  they would then take measured sips from the saucer. In my years of childhood, prolific tea drinkers  roamed every  village  and  made it a point  to  visit  as many homesteads as possible. At their sighting, the  teenage girls   whose  role it was to  prepare tea  would  scamper  for  cover. It remains  true  that  to date, villagers  still copy  the mannerism of sipping Five Roses or Joko tea from the saucer  in regal style of the  queen. They are never allowed  to use  the  visitors tea set though.  As  they savoured   their   tea,  Radio Botswana would  be  switched on for the   news.   And it  was not  every   urchin delegated the honour of twiddling  the dial for  the clearest signal.  That was the   job of a  child deemed responsible  but also  trusted   to  rat on   mischief makers  who  in the  absence of adults  had  moved the dial to some  foreign station  blasting out music.  The unlucky ones paid for  their  idiocy  when they were unable to return the dial exactly to Radio Botswana  where  our grannies  expected it to stay put. 

With no one ever  having seen  a television set, the radio was the only medium bringing  important   announcements    from the  government.  When the  founding president  passed it was the radio that informed us early morning.  Growing up  where  the liberation  war for Zimbabwe  was raging not too far away  and our childhoods were spooked by radio dispatches  of a one eyed man called Ian Smith who was refusing black people to  rule themselves. It was Radio  Botswana that broke  the news  that Rhodesian soldiers  had  killed fifteen of our  soldiers at Lesoma. So anguished was  local  guitarist  Dikgang Malete that he came out  with a new composition  which playedon national radio, exhorting  able  bodied  men to  join the army  to fight Smith.  Backed only by his guitar, and  all the way from Lerala village  he also railed at unnamed countries  jealous of Botswana  because it had  its own currency  of dipula le dithebe. Sunday  mornings were also devoted to religious  programming. As the only  broadcaster  in the nation, we got every bit of information from Radio Botswana transmitting via  short wave   from  Gaborone. The  voices  from the city  spoke to us from basic transistor sets bearing brand  names like Tempest, Blaupunkt, Sony and Omega.  The family  that   owned   the radio  set   ruled the roost.   They were treated  with  deference   and  whoever  came to listen  had to  be  on their  best  behavior  and   not  talk  over  the radio.  When the radio  spoke,  all were rapt  and attention  bound because the  word  from the   radio was  king.  Hence   the  first  idols  for many  of  us    growing up in a certain milieu   were   radio  announcers. 

They were  so adored   I used  to  wonder  just  how  they looked like  in ordinary life.   I think my  first   star  announcer, like for  many of  my peers  was  Philip Moshotle,  known  to all   as Mokgankgara.  The  man  was a larger  than life  figure, a giant  as  far as we  imagined. No one  could  churn out    hit after hit  from all over the sub region   and  not   carry   the physical stature  to   match.   When Mokgankgara  was on radio   the   whole  nation  was infected  with good feelings  and it  was the    dream   of   many   of  us,  young and  old alike   just  to catch a  glimpse of him.  Unfortunately my primary  school   didn’t go on   trips  to  Gaborone for  which the highlight  was  the live greetings  programme.  We   would  listen   with   envy  come   Saturdays  when   some    kids  from the   boondocks   claimed their   15   seconds  of fame  to convey  greetings to  an assortment   of relatives and teachers.  Kids  who    at home referred to  their  parents   as  bo-mme le  bo-tate   would  in the studio change tack  by calling them mama and  papa. And    mama  and papa  would  be sitting in the village proud   to   hear   the name and  voice of their  little one   but   not  exactly  sure who the kid  meant   by  mama and papa.   That   was   the radio   of our  times.   For  me the avid listener the  female   announcers    had  velvety   voices  when they   made the daily   spot announcements.

Some of my  favourites   after  Mokgankgara  included Monica  Mogotsi and Nkope Matlou.   Just from their   voices I  surmised  they   were  smash hits.  There   was a   man in Phikwe   I  overheard  claiming  to    have seen  Monica in person. His colleagues  swarmed around, eager to know  if   she was  as  pretty  as  she sounded on radio.  I doubt he was telling the truth and  just wanted to play  big  because he  had gone on a rare  work trip to Gaborone. The  mysteries   of radio and its personalities    were ruined for us    when   in some public relations  gimmick the   broadcasting department   started   issuing posters   of all the radio announcers.  They hung in offices  and  some  homes.  To my  dismay   I realized   most  of the   golden  voices  belonged to ordinary looking people, even Mokgankgara himself.  It was so unfair. I felt  cheated.  People  on radio  were not  supposed   to look like  your  average uncle  or   aunt.   Though  they  still sounded   good  they  didn’t  look  as   glamorous   like  the  time  when they  only existed  in  our imagination.  But Radio Botswana  still remained a   place  where  we  could escape  our  mundane  world.  As  some of  us  grew   more  refined  and  thought   the stuff played by   Mokgankgara   was  too grassroots, we   defected  to   the  rock and  roll    presented by  Oshinka Tsiang   with   an accent  suitable for  the genre.  Those   with  a liking  for  news and current affairs   became  aficionados  of    Round Table show      presented in dulcet   tones  by Andrew Sesinyi,  speaking big  English   and  laughing languidly   just   like   an Englishman. I  could visualize him  holding  his cup and  saucer, sipping tea just  like the consort  of  the queen of England.  But radio  also  caused me    some heartbreak.

I    thought I  knew   quite   a bit  of  general knowledge   because  I   loved  reading any stuff  I came across as long as it wasn’t maths.  A popular   youth  show  was   Debswana   Knockout  Quiz    on which Jerry Masete and Esther Kanaimba  alternated. For boarding students it was  mandatory  listening. Then one day   it came  to our   school. My moment  had finally  to dazzle the  entire  nation  with     my   grey  matter. Alas, the   selectors  chose   a different set  of   contestants.  Memories   of radio   come  flooding   back in  times  of  loss of  when  voices  that have  become part of our lives  decide to check out.  I still  remember  the  number of  cars   that  made the journey as mourners  made their way  to Matsiloje to  bury Mokgankgara.  The only   interaction those   mourners had  with   him were through radio and through it  the uplifting effect   he had on their daily lives. I attended  the    funeral of  Brooks Monnaanoka  in Mahalapye  a few  years   back  because    him and I were  fairly acquainted  and   on  some occasions  would  discuss rock  music over a drink.  I could also call in   for a particular track on his show.  The sense of  loss   of  an icon  is  more heartfelt  if   you  saw  the  individual   developing  from a  novice into a seasoned broadcaster.  Since his   days  at   university   we knew  Tuzoski   as the    slightly   rotund  but   jolly   guy   who  would  dance  a  storm and make a grab for the mic  to join the band at Cosey’s  joint  across   campus.   Even back then he loved fun and music. His first and only  employment  gig  was at   the national radio station. There, he  became   versatile  taking turns  between   reading news  in  two  languages  to    being a  joy   to listen  to   as a  general   announcer and music spinner of note.  Sometime in  my political  career  I  hit on the idea    of attracting   bigger  crowds  to  rallies   by putting on  live   bands.  Most  popular of  the groups  for my  target   voters was the   Dan Tshanda   owned Splash  stable  comprising disco  acts  like   Dalom Kids, Matshikos and   Patricia Majalisa.   They were also  a  favourite  of Tuzoski  and  when   they     had  one of their   national  tours,  you could  tell   from   the  songs on  rotation   that   fun days  were  beckoning. 

If  Mokgankgara  turned  Johnny  Mokhali  into  a local idol,   the same can  be said    for Tuzoski with regard to Splash. The character   he was,  modest  in tastes,   always  walking or  using public transport  and   drinking  at   run of the  mill  establishments, I doubted  he would   have  been the type  to take  payola. Otherwise his would  have  been the lifestyle of an  extravagant  bon vivant. The  man   just  loved  his job   and felt  artistes   must  be  given their  due in terms of exposure. In doing so  his  listeners  would be left all the  happier.  Anyone  who  shared good times with Tuzoski  was considered  a friend  because  to him camaraderie  came naturally.  A  night owl and lover of life,  such  was  his  sense of  conviviality   and  humility that  to him I  was  simply Bra Bots. In June 2019 when I went along  with  Odirile Motlhale to  check on him at Princess Marina  he was   surprisingly  upbeat, casually explaining his illness  in detail that left us shooketh.  With Tuzoski  there were no airs and graces  of the  kind  we see exhibited  by   some third rate  chancers already  claiming stardom. But besides our  regular  communion at Splash   shows,  we  also had  lively   nights  at   the  extinct and much lamented  Satchmos  nightclub in G- West. It was the   time of the proposed  alcohol  levy  which i   stopped  dead in its tracks  much to the delight  of   liquor traders and imbibers alike.  My hour of glory it was   and every  place I  patronized would  lay  drinks  on the house. At Satchmos  copious amounts of firewater were had  with  Tuzoski and  one of his bosom buddies, that   fine  dancer and  dandy dresser   Kesaobaka Keoreng  who must  surely be  distraught at his loss.   Sometimes when the calabash overflowed with fun  Tuzoski would  step  up  the mike  for a karaoke session  while  carousing partner KK  would take to the dance floor,   contorting  his  body in places  we didn’t know  places existed.

In  death  Tuzoski reminds  us about   the    hallowed legacy of Radio Botswana in our  popular culture. His  passing  and that  of others before him  must  not allow  silly fads  to derail   the  station from its  loyal audience  which replicates  itself  with  each  passing generation. I am yet to understand  how   entertainers of today  can be described as musicians  when  practically none of them can show passable proficiency  on a single  instrument. Unless of course  a laptop computer qualifies  as a music instrument.  To everyone,  for  whom Radio Botswana  was the  station that provided  the soundtracks  to  their rite of passage and more, the  institution   long assumed protected heritage status.  I  follow  online stations from all  over the world. However, Saturdays  starting 6pm is  my date with Lilian Dithupe on  Letlhoa warming  up Pako  Teita,  replacement   for the legendary  Mogatusi Kwape   to fire up the night with sounds from Gallo and Mavuthela.  Many  a   midweek  night I have placed a call  to Mike Kaote  requesting a sizzling Congolese  ever green track.  For my   long drives on the A1,  Goitseone Moathodi  remains   an  ever dependable navigator. I still miss Smallboy Mothibi  opening his  morning shift  with  that amazing track by Izintombi Zomoya.

The Sunday morning show Dipina le Maboko  is overdue for a nationwide tour to  record those folk guitarists and poets  that  chronicle our daily condition.  So eclectic   and diverse   is Radio Botswana’s sounds  that it  unquestionably  lives up to its  tagline  of  the station at the heart of the  nation. Many  words     have  been said  and written in tribute  to  Tuzoski  and his craft.  That the radiogram, the cassette  tape player, walkman, the video, television and the  cd have  all failed  to consign   it to the   history books  proves that  nothing  will   ever    beat  radio. Radio represents our  lived daily  experiences and memories.   Therefore reports   by  The Buggles  in their 1979  hit single, Video  Killed   the Radio  Star  have   proven  premature  and  much exaggerated.  Nothing will  ever kill the radio star. To his fans  and fellow socialites Tuzoski  lives!

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Sunday Standard July 5 – 11

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of July 5 - 11, 2020.