Jonathan Butler serenades at GIMC jazz show

Keletso Thobega - BG Correspondent
Friday, 02 September 2016
Jonathan Butler serenades at GIMC jazz show

The annual Gaborone International Music and Culture Week (GIMC) kicked off with a bang on Saturday evening at the Stanbic Bank Molapo Piazza with a jazz concert headlined by Jazz maestro, Jonathan Butler.

The award-winning musician, who has worked with the likes of Kirk Whalum, Dave Koz and Rub Turner, left the audience begging for more after displaying his sheer talent and artistry. The MC for the night was Gabs FM presenter Shima Monageng who did a sterling job. First to warm the stage for Butler were 11 of the 27 members of the Re Batswana Ensemble, who put on an electric performance that had revellers eating out of the palm of their hand. The band is set to tour Sweden, China and Germany from mid-September to October as part of the Botswana independence celebrations.

On the keyboard was Lekofi Sejeso who lent his wondrous vocals to several songs. Sejeso is in a league of his own and remains one of Botswana’s living music legends. Saxophonist and vocalist Lister Boleseng, who recently released his latest album, Moratiso, crooned crowd favourites. Banjo Mosele was in his usual hyper element and he made the crowd stand, gyrate and jive, when he belted his popular jam Ntsa e jele ntsanyana. By then the tempo and party mood turned a notch up. Nnunu was the next to perform, clad in a gold shimmery gown. She gave the audience their money’s worth and when she belted out her latest hit song Lerole la Tsie, the crowd cheered wildly and there was no doubt that the songstress is a rare and special talent.

Talk about saving the best for last… The big man himself, the Satjilombe, Ndingo Johwa, was the last to perform. As he dished some of his popular songs, he strummed the guitar, crooned and danced, sometimes even hopping and jumping feverishly much to the audience’ delight. The band’s back-up singer, Chedza, a young lady with unmatched confidence and energy, amused revellers with her unique dance moves. The ensemble stepped off to rousing applause to make way for Sereetsi and the Natives. When the band front man, Tomeletso Sereetsi took to the stage he shouted, “I am Sereetsi and you are the natives!” to rousing applause. Considering that he had just arrived from Mafikeng as part of his South Africa tour, it was impressive that he could manage to keep up strong momentum on stage. He strummed his guitar with evident passion and sang as if his life depended on it.

The audience sang along to his catchy folk hits like Nchadinyana and Robete. Although his music has a divertimento feel, the accompanying social commentary is cheeky, intriguing and relevant. After a short break, the man of the night, Jonathan Butler took to the stage. It is often said that dynamites come in small packages, and that rings true for the diminutive figure that casually walked onto the stage with a happy wave. Dressed in a red check shirt, jeans and sneakers, the 55-year-old silver haired man made his grand entry with little pomp and fanfare but as soon as he strummed his guitar, it was clear that this was not going to be an ordinary performance.

The audience was left in a trance but when he opened his mouth to sing, I literally felt goose bumps because goodness, the man can sing! He crooned away wistfully in a voice that would make an ogre sob and convert gentiles. The Capetonian brought out the African in him with his facial contortions and deep cries that riveted across the Piazza. He went melodramatic, inspiring, nostalgic and romantic all in one performance. It was such an amazing musical experience that almost everyone stood rooted to one place, eyes glued to the stage.

When he harmoniously belted out the old school tune, Take Care of Me, he brought great nostalgia. Almost 30 years later, the song still has panache, which proves that the man’s music transcends time. Butler then took the worship route with high-powered praise music infused with contemporary jazz. He encouraged those going through a tough time to weather the storm. When he speaks about the power of God, Butler knows what he is talking about because his ‘from struggle to glory’ story is well documented.
Born and raised in Athlone in Cape Town, South Africa, Butler grew up poor and sometimes had to scavenge for food. When he was about eight years old, he would go out onto the streets and sing the Tom Ford song, My Delilah. Unbeknownst to him at the time, he was a gifted singer who would one day become an acclaimed musician. He took his singing seriously when he noticed that people gave him money to see him sing. When fame and fortune knocked on his door, he was dragged into the seedy world of drugs and alcohol but an encounter with a fan that inspired him to find Jesus helped him turn over a new leaf.

Since then he incorporates the message of Jesus’ power into his music. We are glad he did not succumb to the perils of the dark world for who would serenade us with such amazing music? Butler has powerful stage presence and a rare ability to engage the audience. His band was just as wonderful but the drummer; a young man called Morne, spotting a hip side-part cut endeared himself to the audience.

The cherry on top was when he called Sereetsi to the stage for a duet. The two broke out in hauntingly beautiful melodies that could gnaw at one’s soul. They then did a rendition of Miriam Makeba’s Pata Pata. If that was an impromptu act then the pair is unarguably gifted because only a rehearsal would bring out such serenading vocal complements. The two men hugged and waved to the audience, who were teetering on the edge of exhilaration. In life there are certain experiences that are best left to simmer in the mind and that was one of those. Add to that the beautiful people and fashion and you had a wonderful night. What a way to say good-bye to winter and usher in summer, in Style!

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