Thursday, March 23, 2023

Ratsie Setlhako spirit lives on!

Thirty-seven years after the fateful car accident that ended the life of the legendary folk musician Ratsie Setlhako, he continues to live through his music. Though his date of birth remains a mystery, the late Setlhako is said to have met his maker on May 20th 1976 soon after he was invited to perform at Botswana’s tenth independence celebration in the presence of political icons Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia.

Notorious for his meticulous poetry and his musical technique, this prodigy had a lot to offer. Despite his lack of western education, Ratsie was able to make his way through the transition of Botswana from being a protectorate to being the independent country it is today.

Through the help of The Botswana Museum Sunday Standard, Botswana Development Cooperation and other stake holders Batswana were enabled to enjoy the intricacies of the days of the life of Ratsie Setlhako. A documentary of his woes, troubles and triumphs was turned into a visual documentary with inserts from people he dwelled upon during his life as the visionary artist.

Visionary not in the telepathic sense but rather in the lyrical expertise he presented to his audience from the time Botswana was still a protectorate until the transitional era when she attained independence.

In a song with extreme political connotations prior to independence it was very clear that he was pro Khama administration because his lyrics included the words, “Goromente gaba kake ba mmona le bogosi gab a kake ba bo bona kaba bo ka bonwa ke Morena Khama,” which literally translate to his school of thought that no one deserved leadership of The Late Sir Seretse Khama.

This assertion may stem from the fact that, from a tender age, Ratsie was recruited as a herd boy by Khama III in Nata, a village very far from where he originated, Phothophotho (now Palapye), which was where he acquired his skill with the various indigenous music instruments being sagaba, sebinjolo and the segankanane which comprised of a tree branch, a piece of wood, a five litre tin and horse tail fur. Once in a while, to enhance the melody, Ratsie would take into consideration the use of Borokhu, gum from the Mokomoto tree.

Also surrounding the controversy was the number of children Ratsie had. According to the documentary, he had three off spring with an anonymous partner and named them: Gaokopane, Semarama and Tshotlego.

Of the three, Tshotlego was the last to be seen in 1958 and the elder daughters are said to be late. Ratsie was clearly a family man since from Nata he brought his children home to be raised by his mother until an unspecified age when their biological mother took them to their maternal homestead. A niece of his, Oboetse Mmutle Lenyeletse, is quoted in the documentary that she travelled a lot with him and that whenever she was homesick he would soothe her by singing to her.

Ratsie is said to have later found another partner who was visually impaired, named Garelekane Morakane, who was with him until the day he passed on in May 1976. Three years after his passing, Ratsie was given a Presidential Honour, which was received on his behalf by Garelekane.

Like many musical prodigies, Ratsie Seylhako’s music continues to make the airwaves since former Radio Botswana presenter Dr Batho Molema managed to record his songs before he passed away and the song ‘A re chencheng’ is still being used in the popular music RB1 Music show ‘Dipina le Maboko ‘
Born in the late 1890s to the Mosokola regiment (Mophato) during a time when the locust (Tsie) was rife, hence his name Ratsie, he was the 3rd of six siblings born to Setlhako and Kedikanetswe of Mokgware Village. He lived a humble life and through music promoters and radio presenters his music was enjoyed and appreciated by many and the legacy will live on through the monument established in his honour, a portrait and school which goes with the tag line ‘A re chencheng’ one of his popular songs.


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