Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The music that’s killing Basarwa culture

One of the things that Kuela Kiema sheds tears for in his book is that, once the mainstay of the Basarwa culture, the trance dance has been replaced by kwasakwasa in New Xade. The latter is something of a Basarwa capital.

“Nightlife primarily occurs in the bottle store/bar in the centre of the village, which attracts people from all walks of life. Teachers, nurses, secondary school students, dropouts, adults, thieves, chiefs, tertiary and university students all flock here. Beer and Chibuku (traditional brew) drinking, pool games and kwasakwasa music top the activities at this socially important place,” Kiema says in Tears For My Land.

In the writer’s culture, music is a communal activity as there are no spectators at any one performance. Everybody is either a dancer and/or a singer. Kiema’s Dcuikhoe people have a wide-ranging repertoire of polyrhythmic music and dance as well as many musical instruments and sound-producing objects that are used at a range of different social functions.

Kiema’s book says that the music includes lullabies, entertainment and spiritual music and dance.
“Some religious songs and dances entail the women sitting around the fire in the centre of the village clapping hands as the men (and other women) dance in a circle, healing the sick and exorcising evil spirits…. Music for entertainment allows dancers to portray the behaviour of different animals and re-enact how they are hunted. Music would also be made from folktales. There were songs for love, songs for gathering, for rain, drought and stars and other things.”

That was before the Basarwa were relocated to New Xade where with “so much modern music provided free of charge at the bar, the youth do not join the elders at the trance dance arena.” The loud kwasakwasa from the bar also drowns out the voices of elders trying to sing trance songs. In response to this, Kiema says that some people have abandoned their landboard-allocated residential plots and moved a few kilometres out of the village to seek safer spaces where they can do the trance dance undisturbed by kwasakwasa.

Like both his parents, Kiema is himself an accomplished musician, and has represented Botswana at international festivals. His first major international gig was in November 1997 when he represented Botswana at the “Out of Africa” music festival in Munich, Germany. He plays four musical instruments: segaba (one-stringed African violin), four-stringed guitar, mouth bow and setinkane ÔÇô thumb piano.

The Dcuikhoe clap hands only when singing and that made for an embarrassing faux pas at last year’s World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) which was commemorated in Kaudwane. That is a settlement that was established 12 years ago by a Basarwa community who were controversially removed from the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve by the government.

Now and again the youthful WTSID emcee would implore the predominantly Basarwa audience to clap hands with continual exhortations of “legofi! legofi!” Without such prompting, the audience seemed less willing to do so.

There is very good reason why the clapping did not come as spontaneously as the emcee would have wanted because the Dcui don’t clap hands to show appreciation. Instead, they verbalise show of appreciation with expressions such as “mm”, “ehee!”, “aiyoo!” and “iya-iya!” which may be accompanied by head-nodding.

The word “legofi” (clapping of hands) does not even exist in the Dcui, Tshila and Dxana dialects of the Kua people in Kaudwane. The word’s equivalent in Dcui, “x’am”, cannot be used to issue a direct command in the manner that “legofi!” (call for applause) functionally operates in Setswana. Not that the Basarwa do not ever clap hands. They do, but only when singing or playing the foil to dancers.

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The Telegraph September 30

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 30, 2020.