beMOBILE National Choir festival unites society in song

Ernest Moloi
Thursday, 19 November 2015
beMOBILE National Choir festival unites society in song

The maxim ‘Patience is a virtue,’ aptly describes the Botswana Choral Music Association (BOCMA) in its journey from humble beginnings in 2009 to the formidable force it has become.

“We started without members. We went for three years with only four members,” Treasurer-General and also Office Administrator Oarabile Bafithile breaks into animated conversation during a recent meeting at the association’s offices in Gaborone’s Extension 2. These founding members were Camel Choir of Tshabong; Serowe Symphony; Maun Choral Choir and Tsetsebjwe Choral Choir.

Membership is open to choirs, ensembles, sextet, double quartets, trios, duets and soloists. “When we started membership was restricted to community choirs but we eventually relaxed and extended it to tertiary schools, corporate sector and churches,” says Bafitlhile, who had the unenviable task in the early years to convince unwilling choirs to join the association.

Despite its noble objectives and desire to foster cooperation amongst choral music groups in the country and getting them to speak with one voice on common challenges – Bafitlhile says it’s been a mean feat to eventually register the 31 choirs the association currently boasts. “It was a hard fought battle,” he says. 

Perhaps the four trailblazers – incidentally all coming from outside Gaborone – played a central role in the psychological persuasion, that compelled others, and most notably, the Gaborone-based groups to join. It may also have been owing to the responsibility deposed with the association from 2010 to 2013 by the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture (MYSC) – to administer the President’s Day Choral Music competitions.

Bafitlhile, a member of BOCMA’s executive that comprises, Leremela Bogosing (President); Sponele Sibisibi (Vice President); Molathegi Phirinyane (Secretary General); Joel Motlhabane (Vice Secretary General) and Julia Bothasitse (Public Relations Officer) convinced that challenges sponsorship challenges notwithstanding, the association is on the right track. “Yes, we are struggling to find sponsors to conduct some of our training workshops, but this is the exception rather than the norm,” says Bafitlhile. Funds permitting, the association will provide voice training for its members; train conductors not only on the art of conducting but also reading and understanding music.

“We also intend to train adjudicators, to ensure that we have a pool of these professionals for our choir festivals, as well as train composers and choirs on singing and voice training,” he says. BOCMA started running its own choir festival in 2013 with only three choirs in Section C or Development. These were Serowe UCCSA Church Choir; Palapye Revelation Church Choir and Bosele Choristers from Sojwe. Section B or Standard also had three choirs - Moeding Alumni Artists; Bakwena Music Paragons and Camel Choir from Tshabong. Section A or Large had only two choirs – Gaborone Youth Singers and Serowe Symphony.

The inaugural festival was wholly sponsored by the Department of Arts and Culture under MYSC.Bafitlhile explains that choir categorisation (Section C, B and A) is based on number of members and is confident that the regional executives of their 15 regions in the country will ensure that choirs self-regulate on this aspect.

In the year 2014 the annual choral music festival sponsors were joined by beMOBILE, UNIGEM (Botlhe Medical Aid) and MYSC (Gaborone District). Some of the notable achievements in that year, Bafitlhile says, were that participation grew. Section C registered 13 choirs; Section B had seven choirs and Section A had six choirs. Ironically, in the same year (2014) BOCMA had only six members! It means that the majority of the choirs that participated were not members of the association, hence the concerted membership drive that ensued thereafter.

With the help of hindsight, Bafitlhile can afford to wax confidence, even as he prepares for tomorrow’s beMOBILE Choral Music festival. “This year alone we managed to register 23 choirs and we are grateful for the grant from the ministry (MYSC) through which we got this office,” he says. Among its achievements, BOCMA took five choirs – Gaborone Youth Singers; Maikano Serenaders; Gaborone Philharmonic Voices; Andante Chorus and BTU Choristers- to the Old Mutual National Choir competition (North West Region) in Klerksdorp, South Africa, in August 23 this year.

Interestingly, Bafithlile says there were only two choirs from South Africa in the Standard Section in that competition. “That is why we are agitating to become a region independent of North West to also compete in the Old Mutual festival,” he says.Tickets for tomorrow’s show that begins at 0900 hrs in the morning until evening at Boipuso Hall in Gaborone sell for P100 per person. Radio Botswana is likely to broadcast the festival live while the crew of the local choral show “Melodi ya Dinnoto” that airs on Btv every Sunday at 13000hrs will also be there to cover the event.

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