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Uncle John Selolwane: A self-made legend

Without doubt Uncle John Selolwane needs no introduction in the music circles, he is among the pioneers who crafted the local music industry – his emphasis on Jazz.

He knows America more than the Americans; he performed at the Grammy Awards alongside Stevie Wonder in 1988, he co-authored Sarafina Film with Bra Hugh Masekela; he has performed for some of Africa’s respected Statesmen in Jomo Kenyatta, Haile Selassie, Kenneth Kaunda, and Julius Nyerere among others. He also performed at the official opening of the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea that came to be known as Games of the XXIV Olympiad, WeekendLife Editor DAVE BAAITSE unlocks part of this history, the life of a living superman and self made musician.


Having lost his son almost a month back, Uncle John is still a grieving man; but despite the circumstances he welcomes us at his Broadhurst Home in the Capital Gaborone with a smile, as old as he is now he is capable of bending one’s ear with history and he is up to date with current affairs. An unfortunate incident in which he mysteriously lost his son indisputably broke his heart, age aside; he looked a bit pale compared to the last time I saw him perform at Botswana Craft.

 

He constantly lights his cigarettes in what appeared like a stress relief strategy but his narration of events from growing up staying with his parents in the then Rhodesia currently Zimbabwe to becoming a hero he is, was well articulated and put in a more logical manner to the extent that he still recalls the dates of events as far back as 1950.


Uncle John Selolwane is the son of the late Blackie Selolwane, a former sportsman who played for the Bechuanaland II where he even broke his leg, that’s probably where the renowned Zebras skipper Diphetogo ‘Dipsy’ Selolwane got his mojo. Blackie was also a recording artist in the early 1950’s playing a saxophone and by extent a politician who kept close ties with the likes of the late Mpho Motsamai and KT Motsete.


A visually impaired Uncle John as he prefers to be called strums his most favourite Yamaha guitar in a very low key, one could tell from his facial expression the intimacy he has with this guitar. It was at this particular juncture that his sweetheart served us some breakfast and Uncle John was deep in thought. Strumming it for the second time much lower this time, Uncle John recalls the events of 1957 as a young man of eight years when he was visiting Rodeport Eye Hospital in South Africa, this is where he learnt his first instrument being the Pennywhistle and met veteran Johannes "Spokes" Mashiyane who is regarded as one of the greatest pennywhistle artists who graced the South African kwela music scene from the 1950s to the 1970s.


During this time he was living with his grandparents in South Rhodesia where he did his studies. At the age of ten he started playing the guitar and was regarded as the youngest guitarist player at Bulawayo. “My first guitar that I personally owned, I made it at a carpentry shop at a cultural centre in MacDonald between 1961 and 1962. It used to be displayed there after they turned the place into a museum. It was just a simple Jazz acoustic guitar,” he recalls.


According to Uncle John Selolwane, he then met up with a recording artist, Naison Seckiey from northern Harare and joined African Jazz Giants. This was at a more critical time when the Rhodesia and Nyasaland Federation broke, he was then engaged by Kenneth Kaunda by virtue of being his friend and having lived under one roof for some time. He joined TP OK Jazz band under the direction of François Luambo Luanzo Makiadi, a major figure in twentieth century Congolese music, and African music in general. He is widely referred to as Franco Luambo or, simply, Franco De Mi Amor. They frequently played at Valley Hotel in the Township of Bulawayo, situated in Mzilikazi. 


In the year 1963, he was tasked together with the band to play at political campaigns and meetings. As he recalls from the back of his strumming melodies, they performed from Livingstone to Nyasaland. In between playing at the campaigns, they enjoyed playing at different night clubs across the continent.


His eye sight deteriorated and he had to leave school in Bulawayo, he then focused on music as a profession. “You know Dave with music you don’t have to see, you have to feel. It is not the eyes that you need much”, he said. He bought his first guitar, a German made Hofner Electric guitar. One of his guitars was stolen in a break in after a car accident and it was a Kay, made in England.


He currently has in his collection about nine top class guitars at his home in Broadhurst including amongst other brands the Ebeneezer guitars and The Fender Mustang among other brands. He also owns special made Sadowsky Guitars Limited, an American high-end guitar, manufacturer in Long Island City, New York. He also owns a D'addario and a Yamaha which he used to endorse. He also has a saxophone which he can play pretty well among his instruments.


He played an instrumental part when the True Tones band was formed around 1970. They managed to break the ice performing in white dominated five star hotels but he recalls they used the back door. This is where Uncle John Selolwane met renowned names in the music circles such as Petula Clark, an English singer, actress and composer whose career has spanned seven decades. He also met Joane Palomo, a classical singer and performed together.


In 1981 he joined the group African Jazz where he played Bunny Machabane, Khipi Mooketsi, Danny Mpale, The late Thandi Klassen, Busi Mhlongo, Ausi Maggie Thipe, Ben Masinga and Gil Mathews who is now based in Sweden.  Uncle John Selolwane will be turning 72 years this year and he confessed that he has no solo project under his belt. But despite the age, this is something that he is looking forward to working on. This is the man who produced Mama Africa, the late Miriam Makeba.

 

Selolwane with Bra Hugh Masekela wrote the Film Sarafina. “I made Masekela what he is when he came to Africa, he couldn’t go to South Africa but I was”, he said. He also played with Soul Brothers, Sipho Gumede and Buddy Gay from Chicago.  He recalls that his role models were the Dambe Brothers; these are the guys that made him. He started with their school choir and grew close with Amos Dambe who became the first Motswana Ambassador to United States. He says when he finally came to Botswana he found artists like Bra Zakes Ngwaze and formed the group Golden Rhythm Crooners with people like Champion Banda and Dorothy Masuka. 


Uncle John Selolwane has travelled the world but deep down he is a very disappointed man. He feels the same industry that he crafted has rejected him; they have failed to honour and recognise him. He is currently battling with his sight and rarely does public performances. With his achievements to date Uncle John Selolwane deserves a Naledi Ya Sechaba award. “Thanks to my wife, I don’t know where I will be right now”, he closed with a heart breaking statement before he offered us a cup of coffee and sandwiches.

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WeekendLife

A Star is rising

29th June 2021
Star Phalane

Having made his debut appearance in a singing competition, My Star, from 2010 till 2015, Star Phalane has been constantly and effortlessly reaching for the stars.

Who can forget Star’s dance moves and stage presence? Without faltering, he was one of the few contestants one can’t remember to forget, even to this date.

He stood out in his own right, but even with that being the case, he was shamefully kicked out of the Top 10 of the singing contest. He never clinched the grand prize, but that wasn’t much of a big deal because, failure can be a blessing in disguise if more effort is put to it and you have the right mind set.

It is fortunate that the young lad is tenacious and is alive to the fact that every cloud has a silver lining, had it not been for this, we’d not be here celebrating his fighting spirit.

Star has, against all the odds stacked up against him, managed to get his act together and focused his eyes on the ball. Now a jack of all trades, Star has bragging rights to being fashion designer, entrepreneur, MC, choreographer and a singer. He is a force to reckon with, and his works speaks to the versatile creative he is. He doesn’t bite off more than he can actually chew nevertheless.

In an exclusive interview with Weekendlife this week, Star revealed that he is a self-taught fashion designer even though there is a small crop of well-established designers he learns few flairs and elegances from. This form of learning doesn’t cost an arm and a leg unlike enrolling for fashion and design course, we’re not against the lads choice of learning, cause we believe education is not only found in a classroom set up.

“Most fashion designers studied design at school and it is only a small portion including myself that are self-taught. I believe it goes back to individual talents that people are born with. It was upon me to develop and bank on this talent. I leave room for learning from others though, it works in my favour.”

Star’s designs had many prominent public figures salivating and day dreaming about wearing one of his creations. The likes of Annah Mokgethi; Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs, socialites such as Vincent Matthys as well as rapper; Baxon, have all line up around the corner to be seen in Star’s creations.

With all the success the young talent has and all the famous and high ranking people after his talent, Star is humble and down to earth. It is probably for this reason that the universe is giving back to the lad tenfold especially after being knocked down so many times in the past. Star doesn’t look down on others nor does that mean he thinks any less of him and the God given talents he has.

“I don’t think my designs are different. I am the one who’s different in a special way and obviously that doesn’t mean I’m better than any other fashion designer. I can also let the cat out of the bag on how to produce better designs. One ought to network and be consistent on their work. This means being able to survive against all odds, it’s a pandemic year and designers should be able to tell a story through their designs,” Star said.

It is not so common in Botswana to find male fashion designs. Stereotypes labelled fashion designing to be female’s hobby if not business. But there are ways to express authenticity and what life has to offer. It can be on paper (sketch), on clothes (designing) or on record (melodic). Star is amongst few male designers resolute to stamp out these pigeon-holes.

Above and beyond fashion designing, Star is also a singer and choreographer. He is not as right as rain, but he definitely leaves a mark once on stage. His incredible moves can be traced back to Mophato Dance Theatre. This dance assemble is the country’s first Afro-fusion and Contemporary dance company, that has been selling Botswana through dance.

The group has performed in New York, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Ivory Coast, Canada and Japan. Currently a lead dancer and singer with the group, Star is also the company’s costume designer.

“I started off as a professional Latin dancer and a street dancer. Eventually, I was employed by Mophato and subsequently became a member. That was a dream come true. So with time I starred as a lead singer in most of the musical plays the group participated in. It was magical and really motivated me to see a dance group appreciating my skills. I explored my creativity and loving each and every bits.”

Like riding a bicycle, Star never forgot how to sing. Just recently, he was announced as a finalist on the revamped My African Dream singing competition. He told Weekendlife that it wasn’t really smooth sailing as he was against the best talents, but having weathered the storms, the competition was a learning experience. Star is currently working on an Extended Play (EP).
We look forward to the rising star in Star.

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WeekendLife

Real You Network creates an inclusive environment for LGBTI+ persons

3rd June 2021
Real You Network creates an inclusive environment for LGBTI+ persons

The month of June marks a time of celebration and reflection for the LGBTQ+ community and allies. LGBTQ+ is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning. These terms are used to describe a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

This year, LGBTQ+ allies and corporate companies joined in the celebration and developed new initiatives to support the vulnerable group. On the 1st of June 2021, Botswana’s diamond mining company, Diamond Trading Company Botswana (DTCB), launched a new project dubbed the Real You Network.

This is a platform that creates a safe, inclusive, supportive and welcoming workplace for LGBTQ+ employees to allow them to bring their whole selves to work every day and work to their full potential.

The company stresses and prides its self in coming up with projects that make it the best place for people to thrive in their truest selves, something that is in their inclusion and diversity calendar.

When speaking during the virtual launch of Real You Network, DTCB Senior Human Resources Manager, Stella Moetse said “we will reach success when the talent that we have here in the glass house represents all the different people we have in our society, especially the minorities; and these are people living with disabilities, the LGBTQ+ and not only having them, but in positions of influence and decision making. This will be the true measure of inclusion.”

In September 2017, De beers announced a three-year partnership with United Nations Women; an arm of the United Nations dedicated to Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women and Girls.

As part of this partnership, the group committed to taking a holistic and long term approach to promoting gender equality within the business and communities. DTCB says, the commitment in its group has gone beyond gender to create an inclusive workplace for all.

“Because of this commitment to promote and support an inclusive workplace, DTCB which is part of the De Beers group resolved to be inclusive in its approach. As a result, we have elevated inclusion and diversity to Board level reporting. We promote awareness through training our employees on identified inclusion and diversity topics such as anti-bullying and harassment, unconscious bias and inclusive hiring.”

Moetse applauded and appreciated the role that advocacy groups for LGBTQ+ play in pursuit of their rights in society, indicating that it is not an easy task for them to given societal orientations. “It is commendable however, how they are constantly challenging us to break down any preconceptions, removing structural and societal barriers and biases.”

Technical Services Senior Manager, Prudence Mabua, shared the same sentiments, saying that LGBTQ+ persons face obstacles when it comes to accessing many of their rights, including their right to social protection.

The Real You Network, will allow for an environment of openness and promote a culture of a fully inclusive network open to all colleagues regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, she said.

“Through events such as this one, our vision is to continue creating platforms that allow for employees and individuals to share lived experiences as this is key in increasing understanding, tolerance and acceptance,” Mabua highlighted.

“There is significant ignorance and resistance to the reality of the existence of LGBTQ+ community in Botswana. While people may not have the intention to be homophobic, the language they use is often offensive. This increases the fear of coming out as people are scared of being subjected to judgement and discrimination.”

Uncovering the main objectives of the Real You Network, Mabua stressed that the platform will enable DTCB to be visible in its consciousness of LGBTQ+ matters and allegiance of the community, hold conversations to sensitize its workforce on LGBTQ+ inclusion and challenge policies and procedures as well as attracting and retaining qualified people of the LGBTQ+ community.

Further, the Network will focus on sustainability and accountability, by achieving continuity by treating inclusion and diversity as a culture not events. It will also focus on acceptance of diversity and ensuring zero discrimination culture within the organization.

Meanwhile, a study conducted in 2020 by Asher and Lyric indicates that most African countries still criminalize and stigmatize LGBTQ+ practices. These countries are anti-homosexuality and protection of LGBTQ+ person’s rights is minimal.

Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Maldives, Uganda, Iran, West Bank and Gaza, Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia, Yemen, UAE, Qatar, Jamaica, Oman, Malawi, Malaysia as well as Saudi Arabia and Nigeria are some of the countries of the world which criminalizes homosexuality. Nigeria is the only country in the world with cruel treatment of LGBTQ+ persons.

In Nigeria, homosexuality receives up to 14 years in prison, and at most times the death penalty. In some of these countries, discussions of LGBTQ+ rights and gender expression are criminalized, flogging can occur for cross dressing, and homosexual intercourse receives 6 months to 3 years in prison.

Pro-LGBTQ+ organizations are sometimes barred, imitating the opposite sex can result in prison time and buggery receives up to 10 years in prison and hard labour.

Nonetheless, there are other countries (mostly from the West) which promote and protect the LGBTQ+ community. These countries legalized same-sex marriages, protect the community against discrimination, criminalizes LGBTQ+ violence, implement transgender legal identity laws and are safe places for LGBTQ+ persons to live in.

These are: Canada, Netherlands, Sweden, Malta, Portugal, Belgium, United Kingdom, Spain, Uruguay, Norway, France, Iceland, Denmark, Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Austria, Finland, Ireland and the United States.

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WeekendLife

Botswana fades away from Miss Universe pageant

17th May 2021
MISS-UNIVERSE-2013-Tirelo

Botswana once had a story love affair with the world’s biggest premium beauty pageant, Miss Universe. This was in 1999 when Botswana’s first representative at Miss Universe, Mpule Kwelagobe, effortlessly snatched the title.

It was every contestant’s beautiful dream to wear the crown, but winning at first entry was implausible if not magical. Kwelagobe made the country contented, and history was made. Taking a closure significant look at her performance at the Miss Universe held at the Chaguaramas Convention Centre in Chaguaramas, Trinidad and Tobago, Kwelagobe battled it out on and off stage with 84 contestants and showed them dust. She was in the Top 5 spot with South Africa, Venezuela, Philippines and Spain. There are countries which snatch the Miss Universe title every year.

Miss Universe 2019 was a South Africa, Zozibini Tunzi. Mpule Kwelagobe scorecard looked pretty remarkable. She scored 9.05 out of 10 on her interviews, 9.18 swimsuit, 9.36 evening gown, semi-final average 9.19 and 9.48 on the Top 5 question. These results were good enough to earn her the crown.

However, over the years (since the crowning of Mpule Kwelagobe), Botswana has been fading away from participating at the Miss Universe. Between 2002 and 2003, the country did not participate in Miss Universe but in 2004, the country sent a winning title of Miss Universe Botswana to Ecuador, Miss Universe 2004.

In 2010, Mos Syde Worldwide Entertainment Group: an international entertainment and fashion company domiciled in Botswana took over the Miss Universe Botswana pageant after a six-year absence. Tirelo Ramasedi was crowned Miss Universe Botswana 2010, and represented the country in Las Vegas on August 23. As it is right now, Ramasedi is the only former Miss Universe queen still keen in having her name shine out there: she works closely on projects aimed at empowering women and young girls.

Sadly so, 2013 was the last time Botswana participated in Miss Universe. After five years of not participating at Miss Universe pageant, the first Miss Universe Botswana Mpule Kwelagobe took over the franchise. The winner selection of Miss Universe Botswana 2019 was to remark Botswana to Miss Universe 2019, however, was cancelled.

2019 marked another possible six years since Botswana lacked participation in Miss Universe. This drastic zero participation in this premium beauty competition paved way for our neighbours South Africa to sail smoothly at the competition. Zozibini Tunzi became an instant global queen and everyone’s favourite after displaying intelligence, poise and taking up space to be crowned Miss Universe 2019.

The pageant was not held in 2020 due to COVID-19. This will be the third time in the history of the competition in which the event will be held after the calendar year has ended: this previously occurred during Miss Universe 2014 and Miss Universe 2016 (in which Botswana was not participating).

Miss Universe Organization announced early this year that the competition would be held on May 16 2021, at Seminole Hard rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida, United States. Zozibini Tunzi will crown her successor at this competition.

Botswana, will not be participating at the Miss Universe 2020, again. The weakening Miss Universe Botswana has been attributed to by internal fights within the organization. But why participate at Miss Universe?

The Miss Universe Organization is a global, inclusive organization that celebrates women of all cultures and backgrounds and empowers them to realize their goals through experiences that build self-confidence and create opportunities for success.

Women participate annually to affect positive change personally, professionally and philanthropically as inspirational leaders and role models. The delegates and titleholders that have participated in the MUO system are able to cultivate their personal, professional and philanthropic goals. These women are forward thinking and motivated not just talk about change, but to initiate it.

Prominent beauty pageants analyst in Botswana Morekolodi Smith took Weekendlife in an exclusive interview that it has been so many years of absence from participating at Miss Universe, and this shows that Botswana lacks consistency and commitment.

“The franchise holders fail to host a national pageant. I think they should hand over the license to Miss Botswana Organization because it hosts the pageant annually. Then the winner gets to participate in both Miss World and Miss Universe. They can maybe crown two representatives. Botswana has faded away from Miss Universe platform and fans have forgotten about it,” he said in an interview on Thursday.

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