Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Whither the party choir?

Until the folk song group Machesa came along, “Tinto” was just another non-suggestive sobriquet for a B-side football player in really remote areas. That is all in the past. The song by that title has become a big hit and so you can imagine the roar that went up at the recent launch of a Botswana Democratic Party candidate, Botsalo Ntuane, when Machesa broke into a full-throated rendition of Tinto. Among those attending this launch was President Festus Mogae as well as other senior national and party leaders.

At some time in the past, the person who composed Tinto confused art with vulgarity and wrote in a bad word for a male sex organ. In company that includes a head of state and in a society where vulgarity in public speaking/singing is taboo, few expected the lead singer to actually utter that bad word but that is exactly what he did. The singer rolled out the “r” of the word for so long as to not only leave any doubt in the listener’s mind about what he was referring to but to also conjure up this image of an angrily turgid and pre-medievally long member. A section of the crowd, thrilled with this part of the song, applauded wildly and tore into rapturous cheer.
In as far as botho goes, Tinto is clearly not Vision 2016-compliant but don’t expect Machesa to suddenly run out of political candidature launch gigs. With the electoral season having kicked in, this group will play gig after gig after gig.

It is not just Machesa that is cashing in. An hour earlier, a dreadlock-haired kwaito artist ÔÇô one of Botswana’s flavours of the month ÔÇô had been running around the stage earning his keep with a curious combination of pidgin Setswana and some Zulu.

More than any other political party, it is the BDP that employs this sort of artistic labour. The Secretary General of the Botswana Congress Party, Taolo Lucas, says that while his party may also want to have a commercial artist wow crowds at its political rallies, it cannot afford the rather steep prices that come with such entertainment. The price can be anything from P1500 to P5000 and often it is the constituency that foots the bill. Recent history shows that while it may have a myriad of problems with factionalism, the BDP certainly does not have any money problems.

However, entertainment at political meetings that features commercial artists also comes at the expense of what may be degenerating into a relic of the past ÔÇô the party choir. If anybody ever joined the party choir because it gave them an opportunity to be seen and heard, such opportunity seems to be fast slipping away and such people would be better off dancing or doing background vocals for commercial artists.

At some point during Ntuane’s rally, the party choir shuffled onto the stage to do a set but it was all too clear that many in the crowd preferred to hear Machesa spout vulgarities and perform acrobatic dance steps than listen to the choir (literally) sing praises of party leaders. This seems to be evidence that the popularity of the party choir has ridden off into the sunset.

On the other hand, Gomolemo Motswaledi says that use of commercial artists in no way represents the dearth of the party choir. Motswaledi says that in a situation where there is “greater fluidity” in terms of entertainment choice, the party cannot depend on party membership only to mobilise support. He adds that the interests of people who turn up at political meetings go way beyond the political sloganeering couched in choral songs. He suggests that the party choir has not been completely obliterated from the stage as it gets plentiful opportunity to entertain at various other party meetings.

Motswaledi is relevant to this story for two reasons: he is the BDP’s candidate for Gaborone Central constituency and is also an artist with a presidential award under his Brooks Brothers belt. In addition to conducting KTM Choir, Motswaledi has also worked with various commercial artists from different genres. When he officially launches his bid for parliament early next year, Motswaledi hopes to feature a party choir as well as other artists (some commercial) from outside party structures.

That would definitely bring people out but Lucas’ experience is that featuring commercial artists ÔÇô especially big names – at rallies can have a boomerang effect.

“When Vee is in town, you would have lots of young people between the ages of say, seven and 14 years, thronging the freedom square to watch him perform,” he says.

When that happens, Lucas adds, there is the danger that the target audience ÔÇô adults who are the ones who vote in elections and have neither patience for kwaito nor its stars ÔÇô can get bored and just as easily decide to get up and leave the rally.

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