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A United Kingdom: A Critical Review

Keith Phetlhe ©

In today’s article, I focus on another film, A United Kingdom released in 2016 and maximising profits of about $13.8 million. Precisely, I want to contribute my viewpoints about this film especially in terms of how it is one fitting example of how filmmakers in the Western countries have depicted Botswana through film.

A United Kingdom is an adaptation of Michael Dutfield’s novel A Marriage of Inconvenience. It is based on a true historical account about Botswana’s first president and King of the Bangwato people, Seretse Khama, and his British wife, Ruth who comes from a working class family. Categorically, it is a documentary film written by an award winning British screenwriter Guy Hibbert, and directed by a noted British actress and director Amma Asante. This film cast David Oyelowo who plays Seretse Khama, and Rosamund Pike who plays Ruth Khama.

It is fitting to praise the film especially when it attempts to expose the atrocities of the British colonization in Botswana by advancing a narrative of how leaders such as Seretse showed resistance and contempt towards British imperialism in Serowe, Botswana at the time. However, this film still presents some serious problems if analyzed properly presenting inaccurate historical development and in the manner in which it pays attention to the narrative of colonialism.

Against this brief background, my aim is to problematize the film on the basis of the following: its lack of relevance to Botswana in representing the historical legacy of the country’s nation building amidst the reality of colonialism. Further, in the way it intentionally contorts and interprets cultural values of Batswana, it lacks sensitivity and attention to time Further, it reiterates a decontextualized account of how the Bangwato speak Setswana. In the film, the protagonist struggles to pronounce the word Kgotla the way Seretse as a royal would have pronounced it.

As one author from Botswana, Legodile Seganabeng put it, “I must however commend Vusi Kunene (Tshekedi Khama) and Terry Pheto (Naledi Khama) for pulling quite a stunning performance. I think they tried to save the film. I noticed that both Vusi and Terry pronounced the word Kgota quite properly, without the ‘l’, just as the Bangwato do. But our lead star who played Seretse kept on saying Kgotla and I highly doubt Seretse spoke that way.” This is interesting, I think, and my question lies on what could be the justification of the deliberate linguistic or dialectical appropriation on the speech of the protagonist.

The film does not use Setswana quite fairly and adequately nor have an option for the use of Setswana subtitles. Furthermore, A United Kingdom lacks cultural sensitivity to Botswana situation and experience in at least the following three ways: the film assumes any black male can assume the position of the protagonist as this is seen through the character of David Oyelowo. The film reiterates the inaccurate history that Botswana was not colonized but “protected” by the British.

The work that has been written by local historians from Botswana such as a Prof. Mgadla of the History department at the University of Botswana can be used to critique this historical misconception that is implicit in the film. Another incident I found unsettling derives a shot that depicts a young girl handing a letter to the commissioner in the Kgotla when the Bangwato were demanding to see their Kgosi. Given the time frame of the film (in the 40s), it would have been unlikely that children would be allowed to be present in that setting where elders discuss weighty societal issues. On the contrary, there is no such an occurrence in a British parliament and this accounts to the inconsistencies of representation.  

Could there be any reason other that the fact that the film although set in Botswana is clearly not necessarily designed to be consumed by the people of Botswana? This can explained by the fact that while there are many people from Botswana who could have easily played Seretse’s role better than David Oyelowo, those many unemployed youths who had turned up to audition as background actors, the film production team had already established their set and the desired market and ignored these masses. In other words, the historical set and narrative or story about Botswana is provided freely yet it makes a lot of money elsewhere in the western countries with absolutely no questions asked.

There is still a lot of policy work that must be done by Ministry of Arts and Culture in Botswana, specifically aimed at negotiating, monitoring and, determining the terms and conditions of film production companies with transparency. This is the only sure way of avoiding the continuation of global exploitation- if we ask the right questions and utilize our local expert opinion in Botswana; our culture which can be tangible and intangible, is equally subject to global exploitation- just like land, diamonds and other natural resources that have been getting stolen since colonialism.

Clearly, through this film, the important story about historic Botswana is presented in a decontextualized fashion for the consumption of its targeted western liberal audience and sales. In the process Botswana does not gain anything economically significant but a ‘stereotypical’ image across the western liberal audience who can only feel sorry but cannot do much to change or challenge the situation.

Given that we are now in the 21st century, there is an unparalleled need for us as a nation to make an earnest effort to present our images and refuse to be represented in a way that makes us passive consumers of the arts. This is important for Botswana and the rest of the African continent.

KEITH PHETLHE pursues a Ph.D in Comparative African Literature with a minor in Film Studies from Ohio University, College of Fine Arts. He does research on Postcolonial Theory, Translation, African Languages & Literatures Language Education and Film. kp406314@ohio.edu

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WeekendLife

The art of mastering instrumentals

12th April 2021
Kagiso "Fella" Kenosi

You will know a tree by its fruits, the same way you will know a music producer by their works.

Top music producers in the country have set themselves apart through the quality music they produce and reap the results of international recognition from as far as the United States of America.

These producers are behind every star performer, listening and analyzing each and every note. When artists perform a vocal swell, rising to an octave that sounds like it’s going to shatter voice box, it’s easy to forget that someone was on the other side of the glass asking questions like, “Can you hit that note every night, or will it hurt too badly? Maybe we should lower the octave to save your voice?”

Producers make hundreds of decisions in each song, not to mention the push and pull relationships they have with talented performers.These relationships can make or break careers. Some of your favorite bands and artists wouldn’t be so memorable without a great producer helping to guide their distinct voices.

Kagiso Kenosi, or better known as Fella in the entertainment industry, is only 31-years old but he has already left his imprint in the music industry. The young chap, originally from Palapye, is not in the industry to add numbers, but to do his magic working behind the scenes producing hit song after hit song.

When most producers went to school to produce the hits that we hear today, Fella’s foundation and passion for producing came from being active in church.

“I grew up in a catholic orientated family where music is the essence of our religion. The love for music in its entirety emerged from enjoying singing at church and blossomed over the years as I grew up, being exposed to the internet and software’s such as fruity loops.”

Fella says he then learnt how to make beats and proceeded with vocal processing so besides the love for music, he had an amazing group of people who helped him reach his life dream; being the best in music production. The sky was the limit for Fella.

Unfortunately for so many music producers locally, this kind of hustle is basically about being famous. Some of them bite off more than they can chew just for a quick buck that doesn’t even go a long away for them. At the end of it all, these fly by night prima-donnas end up cutting corners and producing subpar records which eventually leads to a premature death for their careers.

Fella’s advice is that fellow colleagues should be patient and continue learning the craft, even if it means taking online tutorials. “Even though I’m still learning too, for I believe music is a fast infinite universe where no one can never say they know it all, I think believing in what one does, the level of creativity and being able to stand alone can do magic.

We living in an era where people go through a lot, so it is imperative for a music producer to be able to relate to those kind of situations. This takes only the right instrumentals, which will compliment emotions of an artist.”

The most asked question outside the music industry is; who chooses the instruments for a song, is it the artist or the producer? Fella gave his take;

“I make instrumentals and keep them until an artist comes to work on a song. That’s when I advise on whether I think the concept they chose goes hand in hand with the instrumentals. We will then look for a more appropriate song.

In some cases, artists can come and we record vocals without an instrumental and then get to make a beat on top of the recorded vocal which in that case guides me to make a relevant instrumental,” he said in an exclusive interview with WeekendLife on Wednesday.

Digging more into finding the difference between a producer and an engineer, Fella clarified that there is not much difference. There is actually a thin line between the two even though an engineer does more than a producer when dishing out a song.

“We use the word production to credit people who only make beats. Engineers are people who record vocals, clean them, do the mixing and master the song preparing the record for radio. I must say an engineer, does the critical components of a song.”

As young as he is, Fella has been through thick and thin with young artists. It has been a roller-coaster of emotions, because, frankly some of these fledging artists are way too complicated to work with. Fella admits that he too has flaws but c’est la vie, you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs.

“It’s always a blessing and quite exciting because these different people of different energies and mind-sets and creativity will humble you. It’s a chastening experience and also accords me with experience to manoeuvre and adjust to people with different characters.

So truly, it has helped me grow as a person, and a producer.”

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WeekendLife

BOMU spruce up dirty laundry

30th March 2021
BOMU awards

Botswana Musicians Union (BOMU) is known for its bad reputation that has been getting worse over the years. There has been a lot of chinwag, squabbles and the organization literally lost touch. It has gotten so bad that stakeholders pulled out, and members were left with no choice but to face the music alone.

Just when you’d think the waters are calm, the new Executive Committee awarded a fledgling company, Total Music Group, to handle the 2021 music awards. This move was seen as a biased decision that got BOMU members bent out of shape.

However, BOMU Secretary General, Rasina Rasina told Weekendlife that the Executive Committee that it has many irons in the fire. He indeed admitted without reluctance that, BOMU has been clouded by hubbub.

“We pledged when the new administration took over that it would begin with cleaning our own house. We have built structures as we had promised and we are glad that they are fully functional. One of those is the disciplinary committee.”

“BOMU has for a long time appeared to be lacking discipline and proper laid down procedures. This has led to the organization losing out big in its endeavour to serve its members and the entire music fraternity. The National Executive Committee, chapter committees and sub-committees have committed to ensuring that non proper governance and accountability shall take centre stage and this is all that is happening,” Rasina told Weekendlife on Tuesday.

Rebuilding and rebranding a disintegrated intuition such as BOMU is not just a walk in the park, it needs concerted efforts and team work to actually reach that goal. A stitch in time saves nine, but as for BOMU, the entire union failed to address its dares a long time ago, but the union says everything is on track in recuperating public trust and fixing the mess created then.

BOMU Research and Policy Committee is hard finalizing a new code of conduct which will contribute significantly to how members and leadership conduct themselves and relate with each other for the furtherance of BOMU’s mandate, Weekendlife has been reliably informed.

“We are doing everything according to our constitution, logic and reason. We advise our members that they should point out where the constitution has been breached and that they are at liberty to follow due process and report any misconduct to the disciplinary committee,” said Rasina.

This is following the suspension of some executive committee members and BOMU subscribed members for questioning the integrity in awarding the music awards tender. Some members, told Weekendlife that they will seek legal advice on the matter.

“We do have members who have already appeared before the disciplinary committee on various charges and decisions are yet to be taken. We also have members who are yet to appear before the committee for various complaints levelled against them. Current suspensions are related to various complaints and offences.”

With regard to appointing Total Music Group, BOMU National Executive Committee says it used Article 9.3.19 of its constitution. The article says; “The National Executive Committee of BOMU shall have the authority to enter into legally binding contracts on behalf of the Union.’’

Rasina says the leadership needed a company to manage, host and sell the BOMU awards for five years consecutively so as to attain stability and refurbish the brand image of both the music awards and the organization. “Without any money at our disposal, we debated on the best model and agreed that we should engage a company that also has the capacity to mobilize resources. We used our discretion and decided on a direct appointment model which is perfectly legal and constitutional.”

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WeekendLife

SENEO PERRY: Beauty with a purpose

24th March 2021
Seneo Perry

To a stranger, Seneo Perry would describe herself as a young darling zealous about wildlife conservation, international travel and tourism enthusiast.

She is also a staunch believer in empowering young children through educational programs that could expose them to live improved livelihoods.

Perry is a former beauty queen (Miss Earth Botswana 2020). For her, a beauty queen should get down and put in some work, get dirt and make an impact. Of course a picture paints a thousand words, and judging from her successful projects, she lives the talk.

During her reign, Perry adopted the SOS Children’s Village. This is a home for 92 orphaned and less privileged children. She introduced few projects to aid the running of the children village, at the same time sourcing sponsors. She named one of her projects ‘Restoring the Prime Colors of the Earth.’

Restoring The Prime Colors of the Earth was founded on the basis of teaching children about the importance of conservation and environmental protection through tree planting and vegetable gardens.

The project, she told Weekendlife this week, gained local and international recognition, particularly from tourism magazines.

COVID-19 came over and messed up her strategies for the year. Perry however did not cry over spilt milk instead she was smart enough to divert into other streams of raising funds to execute her obligations.

Perry did not put all of her eggs in one basket by doing something that could make her get infected, but rather sold t-shirts that would double as a promotion strategy dubbed #PeopleWildlifeEnvironment. To this date, she raised over P7000.

“I love being out in the wild and promoting sustainable tourism. I would then pick the best 10 children that worked very hard at the project I have with them and introduce them to the wild with the money I raised,” she said in an exclusive interview.

“The idea is to stick to making the trip for the children educational especially on the aspect of conservation because realistically speaking tourism is the backbone of conservation.

I want them to have first-hand experience with the African elephant and visit the Elephant Havens Wildlife Foundation in Maun. Unfortunately due to floods in Moremi Game Reserve, the plan of a game drive has been aborted.”

Initially, Perry says she wanted the children to have been those from the SOS Children’s Village. She had to put them on ice due to insufficient funds to transport them to Maun. This however did not dishearten Perry, instead she located Bana Ba Letsatsi (in Maun) to embark on this journey.

She told Weekendlife that the trip will be undertaken today (Saturday 20th March 2021).“Tourism has always been the backbone of conservation and it needs to be protected. Therefore, it is imperative to introduce children to wild spaces so they get to appreciate the ecosystem in the wild.

These young children will be leaders and decision makers in the near future. Decisions made will either cause a catastrophe to the wild or help it recover to a point wherein both humans and animals co-exist.

Seneo Perry is an environmentalist equipped with a Bachelor’s Degree in Entrepreneurial Business Leadership from Sheffield Hallam University and Miss Earth Botswana 2019 finalist. She was crowned Queen in 2020.

She is also a member of Kalahari Conservation Society, a conservation society which is instrumental in environmental initiatives and activities that concern the environment.

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