Botswana roots for autonomy in Old Mutual choir festival

Ernest Moloi
Thursday, 26 November 2015
Botswana roots for autonomy in Old Mutual choir festival

It was a music-filled day on Saturday when 35 choirs from across the country converged at Boipuso Hall for the beMOBILE choral festival. The choirs were poised and regal in their radiant apparels. From the Development, to Standard and Large sections, they came prepared. Yet for many choirs, the results were a sobering awakening to the harsh realities of competition.

Although the programme directors- David Segatlhe and Onthatile Saboi - may have been flattering in some of their observations - the verdict on which choir was the best in each of the section categories, rested with the panel of 11 adjudicators drawn from South Africa and at home.

Competition was stiff and the choirs were ready. “This was the first choral music competition I have ever attended in Botswana,” admitted Boyce Prichard from South Africa about the quality of this year’s festival. He has trained many a church choir in Botswana.
The festival had all the ingredients of a feisty show. Even the programme director managed to provoke angst in the audience during the Section A performances when he compared the musical capabilities of KTM’s Luka Disho to ‘God’ and his protégé, Mike Modise to ‘Jesus.’

This forced the audience to burst into a spontaneous song (Dipoo di kopane) that impliedly extolled the virtues of the incoming choir, Gaborone Youth Singers conducted by Tshepiso Marumo.
It was little wonder then when eventually Gaborone Youth Singers ascended the podium twice for the grandest trophy and prize money in this section for both the Western piece (Praise Ye the Lord composed by Letsholo Bongalo) and African piece (Bagaka ba rona composed by James Nkganetsang).

Though the approbation was glaringly evident in the audience, a few muted murmurs of displeasure could be discerned. Said one, “If it were by me, I would have given Maikano Serenaders first prize for the Western piece, GYS second and KTM third. And as for the African piece I would have given GYS first prize followed by KTM and then Maikano Serenaders.”

Well, if wishes were horses, most definitely, beggars would ride. But in such competitions, according to an insider, adjudicators rely on a strict scorecard that emphasises among other factors, pitch accuracy; rhythm (which determines the mood of the song, whether heavy, solemn or cheerful can be picked from the full notes, half notes and quarter notes); phrasing and diction (do the words come out clear and audibly); interpretation of the song as well as tonal accuracy. Another insider picked the cue from the adjudicators’ findings that most choirs failed to realise that singing sits on vowels and not consonants, which are clear lines that define the basis of music.

“In music very loud must be just that, it requires a full sound that blends and balances all the four parts – soprano, alto, tenor and bass,” said the insider, noting most choirs failed this standard.
Results notwithstanding, Botswana choral music has grown tremendously, as observed by president of Botswana Choral Music Association Bushy Leremela Bogosing in his vote of thanks and reiterated by guest speaker, Kgopotso Ramoroka, the deputy permanent secretary at Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture and affirmed by spokesperson of the adjudicators, Sfiso Tshezi.

In fact, the festival was deliberately designed as a campaign tool for Botswana to be admitted as an independent region from the North West Province into the annual Old Mutual choir festival that is held in South Africa. The invited guests included a delegation from the Old Mutual national choir festival, among them, Thabane Khanyile (Chairperson of Management Committee); Shirley Montsho (General Manager, Marketing); Gerald Bembe (Project Director) and Advocate Kgosi Monaisa (Legal Secretariat).

Bogosing, who incidentally, is not only BOCMA president, but is also a composer, whose song, “Ya rona 73” was prescribed in the Section C category alongside Phillemon Mataela’s ‘Upon this Rock,’ immediately set the ball rolling when he remarked; “It is our wish to be a Region in Old Mutual. We hope that our guests from South Africa will help us realise this dream, so that we can organise the Old Mutual national choir festival here in Botswana.”

The request did not fall on deaf ears, as the adjudicator’s representative, Sfiso Tshezi, who also conducts in the Old Mutual festival, assured BOCMA and Batswana choral music lovers in general that, “Old Mutual is aware that you deserve a region.” He was part of the adjudication panel in last year’s beMOBILE national choir festival and said he was surprised at the “immense growth” he has seen this year in terms of musicianship both in choirs and conductors.

But while he applauded the uplifting female voices that “took us to another level,” he wished the same could be said for males. Equally, he faulted conductors for lagging behind in many aspects such as queue management, timing and lack of collaboration at entry. But in spite of these weaknesses, Tshezi was confident that the world must get ready for Botswana choral music in five years’ time.

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