Just as with many African cities, the current popular soundtrack to life on the streets of Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, is amapiano. You can hear the thumping sound of the South African groove playing in the city’s hotels and restaurants, shops, private cars and public transport. Beneath the surface though, there is a diverse scene of live music.
“Gabz is a much slower city musically,” says Eddie Mihigo, a podcaster and music event host based in Botswana, whom we met during last month’s Kusi Ideas Festival organised by the Nation Media Group.
“But we have a network of very good artists playing at regular events in the city,” says Mihigo, who is originally from the DRC and has previously lived in Kenya, Namibia, and Zambia.
He invited us to check out Music and Coffee with Garth Rose, a monthly showcase of live music, spoken word and fashion at a venue in Gaborone’s Main Mall.
“Young artists are establishing their own platforms to market themselves because the music business in Botswana is still struggling,” says singer Boitumelo Moselekatsi who uses the stage name Black Charm. “What can you do with a population of just 2.5 million people and with everyone in their own small corner?” She poses.
Singer-songwriter and guitarist Ama5sing Voxx (pronounced Amazing Vocals) is at the vanguard of young artists building networks across the creative community in Gaborone. “Apart from all the amapiano you hear everywhere, we also have pop-up events like this one,” she says. “We have a strong scene of independent artists, skilled spoken word performers, musicians, singer-songwriters and producers.”
She left Botswana in 2013 at the age of 19 to attend the California College of Music, in Pasadena, Los Angeles, where she majored in vocal performance and minored in guitar, drums and percussion performance.
“When I came back five years later, I was shocked to discover the underground scene of artistes,” says the 30-year-old. “I started networking and attending various shows. I met stunning saxophone, bass players, big band players, and guitarists.”
“We are trying to build a community where we can not only value each other as artists, but we can teach others to value us. We can collaborate in a way that we are not competing with each other but we can create value and determine our worth and then we can say to someone that wants to hire us ‘this is my rate and you are not going to find any lower than this at my skill level’.”
Singer, guitarist, fashion designer Moletedi O Ntsene (his name translates from Tswana as ‘he who waits for God’), won a scholarship to study his Masters in Arts Management, Marketing and Communication at Florida State University from 2018 to 2021. “The arts scene here is still in its infancy, so we have to build the scene and that is why I came back,” says Moletedi.
Mo, as he is popularly known, was on stage strumming his guitar to a bluesy number called Death Row. “From the moment I first picked up the guitar all I could play were the classic songs that I had heard from my mum’s collection,” explains the 30-year-old.
He also introduced Move On which has an old school R&B romantic edge, one of three songs on his new EP released in September 2023. “The song came about after a two-hour conversation with my producer, he made a beat in 5 minutes and I recorded the song straight away,” he explains.
The event was also an opportunity to showcase Mo’s clothing designs consisting of “comfortable and breathable” pants inspired by the Japanese kimono robes.
After his return from the US, he set up a marketing company primarily to equip artists in Botswana with knowledge on administration practices such as reading and understanding contracts.
Mo hosts his own event in Gaborone known as Mo Jazz Live every Wednesday featuring acoustic instrumentalists and jazz ensembles.
“As an artiste in Botswana, you have to focus on self-discipline,” says Ama5sing Voxx whose 2022 single Misty is available across streaming platforms. “I don’t know if it is the heat, or the small population but this place just moves a lot slower than everywhere else and it feels like it takes so much more energy to get anything done. It is easy to feel forlorn, to feel tired and give up.”
Artistes in Botswana are part of a global economy, she says, and must connect with creative communities in other parts of the world.
“A producer from Uganda reached out to me via TikTok and we can now begin talking about collaboration” she says. “Making assumptions that as a Motswana I am not as skilled as a South African, and I will not be valued as much, or paid as much, is wrong.”