All is well that ends well. That seems to be the message from the Re Batswana Music Ensemble following the uncertainties surrounding their European tour. Speaking to Lifestyle upon their return, the Ensemble’s Producer Soares Katumbela was quick to absolve the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) and by extension, the Ministry of Youth Sport and Culture (MYSC), of any blame regarding the group’s financial struggles.
“You cannot accuse somebody of not funding your project when there was no initial agreement to that effect,” Katumbela says. Despite having approached DAC and Bots50 (both under MYSC) as far back as February, 2015 the Ensemble never got a formal response. It would later emerge Bots50 had their hands full with what would turn out to be the controversial awarding of a multimillion Pula independence music festival contract to a South African company. The envisaged sponsorship the Ensemble had sought from government was in the form of transport, accommodation and per diem for the duration of the two week tour.
But how did Katumbela manage to send an 18 member group without sponsorship? “My previous dealings with government departments have taught me to always have a back-up plan lest the funding, if any, come later than required.” The ‘back up’ plan involved each member buying their own flight tickets. But some of the artists initially scheduled to make the trip including Socca Moruakgomo and Berry Heart could not make it due to financial constraints. Katumbela shares the sentiments made by other music promoters recently about the ‘inadequate’ support of performing arts by the government. “Local promoters and artists do not get the support they deserve from government,” he says. “Street Horn (his company) has delivered incredible events for corporate companies and has been well appreciated …it is surprising that anyone would still doubt our ability to host a festival,” Katumbela says, in reference to the awarding of the Botswana Electronic Music Festival (BEMF) contract to SA company.
On a more positive note Katumbela says besides financial hiccups, their tour of Europe went well. “It has changed the members’ perception about the industry and their role as well as responsibilities as artists.” He dismissed reports that the group were stranded and needed funds from back home. Katumbela said, “Being stranded implies we didn’t have the means to travel back home but that was not the case,” adding, “We only struggled with money for meals and other necessities and as such we had to use our own performance fees to get through.” The group performed in Stockholm (Sweden) on September 30 as part of Botswana’s 49th Independence Celebrations hosted by Botswana Ambassador to Sweden, Lameck Nthekela. “He (Nthekela) has always supported local music,” says Katumbela. They also performed in Geneva (Switzerland) at the invitation of the Botswana ambassador there on October 7. The Ensemble performed at other events in Sweden and Germany as well as recording a song together which is to be released before the end of the year.
Katumbela says they expect to release a DVD documenting the tour. Some of the artists that took part in the tour included: Ndingo Johwa, Samantha Mogwe, Banjo Mosele, Nnunu Ramogotsi, Sakkie Nonong (base guitarist), Andrew Kola (choreographer),Lekofi Sejeso, and Lister Boleseng. Re Batswana Music Ensemble is a showcase of Traditional, Folk, Afro Jazz and Contemporary Music of Botswana. The Ensemble’s showcase consists of a repertoire of original compositions by the Musicians and carefully selected songs of cultural and historic significance to enlighten audiences about Botswana and some of its cultural practices.
The group comprises some of Botswana’s finest and most celebrated musicians. The conceptualisation of these tours began in 2011 when the producer, Katumbela, recognised the need and value in promoting Botswana beyond borders using local musicians as a measure to share the country’s culture to audiences in different parts of the world. Katumbela initially started with just Shanti Lo when they were invited to play at the Stockholm Pride Festival Sweden. John Selwane joined them a year later and Nnunu in 2013. The Afro Jazz trio of Nnunu, Shanti Lo, and Kearoma Rantao toured together in 2014 sponsored by the Department of Arts and Culture. “After that i thought having more musicians on the tour would have a bigger impact in selling our music and culture in Europe,” Katumbela tells Lifetsyle. “That was when I approached other artists and sold them the idea of forming the Ensemble.”