Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Whatever happened to popular election song?

There would have been a reason for the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to commission Joe Morris to compose a song for the 2004 general election but this being Botswana, the masterful production that enthralled the nation for two years has long stopped playing. Ditlhopho Di Tsile was so popular that in a rumoured stop-question-search-and-make-suspects-sing-the-national-anthem police operation in Tlokweng, a Zimbabwean man accorded it the most sacred status. The story with regard to the latter is that the man, who spoke fluent Setswana, had claimed to be a citizen and passed a progressively difficult body-parts identification test with flying colours.

In this test, he had to touch certain body parts called out to him in Setswana by the police officers who had stopped him: “tshwara ditsebe”, “tshwara phata”, “tshwara mohubu”, “tshwara sekgono”, “tshwara lengami”, “tshwara marinini” etc. Still suspicious that the suspect was not being honest, the officers asked him to sing the national anthem. Standing to attention, the man placed his right hand over his heart a la Barack Obama, cleared his throat, inhaled deeply, opened his mouth and with a glint in his eyes, launched into the first bar of the song in a high-pitched if unable voice: Ditlhopho di tsile/di tsile/di tsile.

The story could be false but what is important is what it underscores: the song’s hold on public imagination was so tenacious that foreigners would have led to think that it was indeed a national anthem. Even big business was piggybacking on the song’s popularity. Applying an election-choice parallel, an Orange Botswana billboard in Gaborone enticed consumers to buy “new trendy phone packs” with a picture of such merchandise captioned with: “Ditlhopho di tsile!!! tlhopha ya gago ya nnete.” (It’s election time. Make your true choice.) The billboard also appeared on the video of the song that became a Btv staple. The video, which has election motifs, is interspersed with shots of a studio session that features Morris and his back-up singers – Nnunu Ramogotsi, Punah Gabasiane and Nono Siele.

The election message aside, the video showcased random shots like those of wildlife, cattle, a gem diamond, a row of gleaming offices, a Botswana Meat Commission slaughterhouse, the about-to-be-replaced University of Botswana logo, children playing a game of pick-up football on a dusty neighbourhood pitch, mid-afternoon city traffic travelling at stately speed, the Gaborone bus station and a train of mixed-gender line dancers. Measured against the present, the not-completely d├®mod├®dance styles seem to be an indictment on the creativity of today’s reveller youth. Popular though this song was, it has somehow disappeared from Btv, radio as well as the vehicle-mounted loudspeaker system used for public announcements by both the IEC and political parties in the last and this general election. Fortunately though, Ditlhopho Di Tsile has received an encore on social media. A Motswana netizen posted a video of the song on YouTube, connecting with Maya, an Israeli student in Jerusalem. For her class project, the latter posted the following request on December 19 last year: “Hi for a class at university i need this song translated, can someone help?” The song essentially rhapsodises about the joy, freedom, love and unity in Botswana and urges people to exercise their right by registering to vote for their future.

A November 27, 2003 story in the Botswana Daily News said that “Some people say when they heard the song they felt compelled to go and register [to vote] because the song makes the listener look to the future with hope.” The IEC itself was as impressed because in its 2004 elections report, it said the following: “The IEC produced an election song “Ditlhopho di tsile” which has proved very popular with both the young and old. The song helped in advertising the elections.” An electronics engineer who was working for the Botswana Technology Centre at the time that he recorded the song, Morris started playing drums at the age of eight, guitar at 12 and at 14, took up keyboards and piano – or so the Wikipedia profile of this Palapye native says. Tragi-comically, a “Botswana, Africa” page on another website that profiles “famous people” identifies a bearded white man holding an electric guitar as Morris.


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