Every year, enthusiastic and zealous lovers of Traditional Song and dance in the annual President’s Day Celebrations dedicate a whole day to witness their favourite groups performing live on stage. Out of all the categories in the competition, this is the one category that commands a strong following. You need to have been one of the hundreds of the enthusiastic fans to truly understand what the fuss is all about.
Forty-four groups were participating in eleven categories that included Tsutsube, Diware, Seperu (chobe), and Seperu (North West), Hosana, Sebirwa, Polka, Namastap, Setapa, Phathisi, as well as Dikhwaere. Over the past years, the SSKB Auditorium has been the preferred venue for this category. For good reason of course, looking back at some of the categories such as Phathisi, Setapa, and Tsutsube, they would easily dismantle a weak stage. When a dancer from one of these categories takes to the stage, one almost feels sorry for the poor stage as it endures the constant banging from the dancers. As is customary in the competition, each year, groups bring their all to the stage.
Under the Tsutsube category, two arch rivals were facing each other. The two are Nxanxase who were the defending champions, and the Kareng based Tshetlha ya Dikgwa, formerly led by Segametsi Moxoo and previously won the competition three times, and went as far as London to showcase their craft. Nxanxase from New Xanagas led by Rebecca Hendricks were confident minutes before they took to the stage. During a chat with Hendricks prior to their performance, she was cool and collected, and told this reporter that the return of one of the groups that previously defeated them meant nothing.
“We are ready. We are just here to polish off our performance,” she said as she took a painkiller for a troubling headache. In fact, two or three of her female dancers, were also taking painkillers. Opening up the stage in the Tsutsube category was Mogoditshane based group, Sesigo, followed by Matsubatsube from Letlhakane. Rebecca’s group were third to take to the stage, and the last one was Tshetlha ya dikgwa.
What makes Tsutsube magical is that everything is precise and coordinated. Something worth noting is that everything in Tsutsube has to be done choreographically from the clapping of hands to how the men move their feet as they dance. Everything has its purpose in Tsutsube and the least that any group can do is insult the originators of this dance by adding their own modern versions. This is something that some groups have a habit of doing, and have previously been cautioned by the judges. The clapping has to produce a sound similar to a plank. The feet of the male dancers, has to stay glued to the floor, and the only sound that should be heard is their rattles while their female counterparts can raise their feet. As for the song, one needs to distinctively hear that this is a Tsutsube song without any unnecessary modification.
Taking to the stage, Nxanxase were in their element. The crown belonged to them from the onset. With lead dancers such as Tebogo Botlhole nicknamed V8, and Hendricks, the crowd was granted of a spectacular performance. And they delivered all the way. Each time that Botlhole took to the stage for a few minutes, the crowd went wild. The same effect was experienced when the group leader, Hendricks made a few appearances towards the end of the magical performance. It was just fascinating to watch her transform and bring a new kind of vibe to the stage. Last year, Hendricks had left the stage transfixed and in a different type of world. Trying to talk to her immediately after the performance, it took her a few minutes to gather herself and return to planet earth. It is this passion and dedication that saw them retaining their number one spot. Tshetlha ya dikgwa, Matsubatsube and Sesigo came second, third and fourth respectively.
Returning to the stage this year after an absence last year was none other than Dipela tsa ga kobokwe in the Phathisi category. Other groups that were participating in the category included Kala tsa kgale, Bajakhudu and Meribo Creations. This is one group that gave many groups sleepless nights over the years. And those who were missing them at the competition last year were enthusiastic and hopeful that the group would fight tooth and nail, and reclaim their top spot. Mind you this is a group that previously hugged the top spot for six long years. But their great return was not great after all.
From the minute that they took to the stage, it was evident to those who have followed the performance of the group for years that there was something amiss. The energy, coordinated formation were missing. In the previous years, when Dipela took to the stage, you could feel the energy in the room changing, and one would sit rooted to their spot. But this was a far-fetched dream from all of those years. Even with the fans screaming, and celebrating at the end of their performance, it was evident to the naked eye that the group has lost its magic.
The Phikwe based Kala tsa kgale retained the top spot, winning this category for the second time in a row. The Molepolole former national champions came second, followed by Meribo Creations and Bajakhudu.
Other reigning champions include Mwathiyacthicho (Diware), and Chankonchanko (Seperu-Chobe). Other winners for the night included Tiwazani (Seperu- North West), Tjelenge Tjengwao (Hosana), Tsa mmala cultural group (Sebirwa), Remmogo (Polka), Isiqwaqwa (setapa) and Lesedi Choir (Dikhwaere).
Traditional song and dance lovers thronged SSKB Auditorium to once again witness first hand the crème de la crème of Botswana’s performing arts. They had come to see their favourite groups competing in the traditional song and dance category.
This is the only one, out of all the categories in the annual President’s Day Celebrations competition spectacular that takes well over ten hours from start to finish, and the only one that attracts multitudes. Even though the organisers recently introduced an entry fee, this has done very little to deter multitudes from attending the event. Every year the auditorium is packed to the rafters, and it’s not difficult to see why. Everyone wants to come and show passion for their favourite groups.
Backstage it is a completely different story.
The holding room always sees dozens of props that come in different shapes and sizes and makes. One can almost wonder how many trucks are used to ferry all these props. The tension can be cut with a knife. None of the groups comes here prepared to play anyone’s second best. And the emotions on their faces tell the tale that the journey to the finals is not an easy one.
Forty groups from ten categories namely Diware, Seperu (Chobe and North West), Setapa, Phathisi, Dikhwaere, Sebirwa, Tsutsube, Hosana and Polka were ready for battle. Rivals came prepared to finally prove themselves. The reigning champs also had something to prove. Eyes on them, groups such as Dipela tsa ga Kobokwe from the Phathisi category knew that their rivals such as Kala tsa Kgale from Selibe Phikwe had a bone to chew with them.
And that they would not hand over the crown to them lying down on the ground. The Molepolole group that was bestowed with the Meritorious Service Award in 2014 has been retaining the crown from as far as one can remember, and some people were certain that 2016 might be the year when they kiss the crown goodbye. As scintillating as most of the performances were, the day belonged to the Seperu groups. Since the introduction of Seperu in the competition, this category has been gaining momentum every year.
Today, when the groups are on stage, the audience is hyped up and they appreciate the dance.
A new development saw the category being divided into two this year, namely Seperu (Chobe) and North West. Groups that participate in the Seperu from the Chobe area are mostly adults, and the dance is celebratory. The women wear an attire that is made up of a number of skirts that they tilt in the air, displaying different colours underneath them like they were peacocks. The performance is punctuated by a sound that depicts the noise made by doves/maphoi.
For the North West however, the groups are mostly made up of the youth and it revolves around rituals. Wearing traditional reeds, that they shake into the ground, the four groups in this category namely Shiqhakao and Tiwazani both from (Gumare) and Diyathoteng and Mavuashire (both from Ikoga) were a marvel to watch. At one point it appeared as if some of the dancers would break their knees, judging by the way they were masterfully moving them. Shiqhakao were crowned the winners under the North West category, and Itenge from Mabele won the Chobe category. Meanwhile, something that the groups need to take note of, as raised by the judges in their remarks, is that they need to be original and creative.
A disturbing factor this year is how groups are now losing their identity, with most groups copying each other’s signature moves. The judges have also cautioned groups to ensure that they bring props that are relevant to their performance as well as to refrain from over-borrowing other groups’steps and styles. An example being the Seperu category where groups from the Chobe and North West were borrowing the sound of the drums from another region. “In the Diware category, it showcases a healing dance, and they need to be very cautious that they showcase that,” noted the judges in their remarks.
They also pointed out that dances like Setapa is a happy dance, hence the dancers should take note of the rhythm and be gentle on the ground. The rest of the winners are Mushamba wa kare (Diware), Khuduthamaga Cultural Troupe (Setapa), Dipela tsa ga Kobokwe (Phathisi), Lesedi (Dikhwaere), Retlaare ke dipitse (Sebirwa), Gata la tau (Tsutsube), Tjilenje the Ngwao (Hosana), Kalahari Dancers Polka group (Polka).