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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

The King’s journal 

23rd November 2021
Kgafela Kgafela II

This book is a true-life story of an African King based in South Africa. The Last Frontier is a resistance stand by Bakgatla Ba Kgafela tribe and its line of Kings from 1885 against a dark force called ‘western democracy’ that is insidiously destroying lives, peoples, nations and threatens to wipe away whole civilizations in Africa.

The story flows through four important episodes of history, beginning in about 1885 when Bechuanaland Protectorate was formed. This section briefly reveals interactions between Kgosi Linchwe 1 and the British Colonial Government, leading to the establishment of Bakgatla Reserve by Proclamations of 1899 – 1904.

The second episode deals with Kgosi Molefi’s interaction with the British Colonial Government in the period of 1929-36. The third episode records Kgosi Linchwe II’s interactions with the British Colonial Government and black elites of Bechuanaland. It covers the period of 1964-66, leading to Botswana’s independence. Kgosi Linchwe ii resisted the unlawful expropriation of his country (Bakgatla Reserve) by Sir Seretse Kgama’s government of 1966 to no avail. He wrote letters of objection (December 1965) to Her Majesty the Queen of England, which are reproduced in this book.

The fourth episode covers the period between Kgafela Kgafela II’s crowning as King of Bakgatla in 2008 to 2021. It is a drama of the author’s resistance to the present-day Botswana Government, a continuation of Bakgatla Kings’ objection against losing Bakgatla country to the Kgama dynasty assisted by the British Government since 1885. The story is told with reference to authentic letters, documents, and Court records generated during the period of 1885-2019. There is plenty of education in history, law, and politics contained in The Last Frontier for everyone to learn something and enjoy.   

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WeekendLife

Gospel concerts make a comeback

16th November 2021
Bishop Benjamin Dube

Hailed for being the prime gospel concert after the Covid-19 pandemic had put events to a halt, Golden Relic, in conjunction with Sweet Brands, recently unveiled the Arise and Worship Concert, Botswana. The show marks the return of worshippers and fans to enjoy music and worship together after what seemed like “cooler box” events were taking over the entertainment scene. 

The concert to be held on December 11th 2021, at the Molapo Showcase, has a packed lineup with the Headlining acts being Bishop Benjamin Dube, Lebo Sekgobela from South Africa and Botswana’s very own Obakeng Sengwaketse. More international acts from Nigeria and Ghana are also expected to grace the event. The show organizers have invested an effort in diversifying the lineup with live performances. 

The promoter of the Arise and Worship Concert, David “DVD” Abram revealed in an overview of the event that; “We have lost a lot of loved ones this year, and when that happens, one’s spirit goes down, and we need a light to ground us once more, to heal our souls. Therefore, the two main purposes of this event are to do the work of God and, secondly, to make sure that we nurture and develop talent in Botswana. With challenges that come up with events of such magnitude, the team and I have been committed to seeking guidance from God through having night prayers.” 

Abram added that as promoters, they usually have a bias towards already established artists, thus neglecting the upcoming ones and wanting to change that. “We approached the Melody Gospel TV Show since we aim at nurturing new talent and agreed on having one of the winners as a headliner for the event to allow them to share the stage with gospel giants so that they are exposed to the industry. This resulted in securing the Second Winner of the Melody Gospel TV show; Thabiso Mafoko as a local headlining act.”

The concert also aims at celebrating a Motswana. Multi-Award Winner; with the most recent title; BOMU Best Traditional Gospel under his belt, also best known for his soulful voice and heartfelt lyrics, Obakeng Sengwaketse enthusiastically said, “I want to thank the organizers of the Arise and Worship concert, it means a lot to me after recently winning two awards that are currently the highlight of my career.

I regard this as a great revival because the Covid-19 pandemic has muffled events such as this. I am looking forward to sharing the stage with the great Bishop Benjamin Dube, Lebo Sekgobela and more artists from Nigeria and Ghana. Sengwaketsi urged Batswana to come and witness the greatness of the Lord as their lives will never be the same.”

Tickets are selling like fat cakes with VVIP tickets having only five tickets remaining; the VVIP tickets include rounder access backstage to all the performing artists. The event will also comprise a seated Gold Circle Ticket, which accounts for 50% of revellers to allow for easier enforcement of COVID-19 protocols and avoid a potential stampede.

In a bid to entice merrymakers to buy tickets, the promoters have come up with a layby strategy and buying tickets on an instalment basis for the attendees to be able to buy their tickets since the COVID-19 Pandemic has left many Batswana in financial ruin but having the interest to attend the event.

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WeekendLife

Fame vs Mental health

9th November 2021
Lizibo

One can only imagine what is like being in the public eye. It is not a walk in the park; and not as easy as people might think it is because of the pressure from the public. Celebrities or influencers are perceived to be perfect, perfect bodies, perfect families, perfect parents, financially stable, healthy, and always smiling and patient with everyone – Is this for real?

However, when people’s expectations of celebrities are not met, the same celebrities are often victimized, body shamed, or blamed, fairly or unfairly. As a result of them not having a personal life, they are often scrutinized in all aspects of their lives; their lives are aired for the public to see and judge. Celebrities are often extra careful about everything that they do, they have to go an extra mile as compared to how ordinary people live their lives.

To understanding this experiences by public figures, this reporter made a case study of Mr Lizibo Gran Mabutho, the firstborn in his family with only one sibling, his younger brother. Lizibo describes himself as a simple Kalanga guy who was chosen by music and did not choose music.

He said being raised by his mother and grandmother, he grew up surrounded by music from birth. Lizibo said his grandmother was a religious person who held church services at their house in Zwenshambe, “for me singing was from Monday to Sunday. I was not like any ordinary child who only sang at church on Sundays or sometimes in school assembly, for me it was a daily thing. My mother was also a talented dancer in our village that is what I mean when I say I did not choose music, but music chose me.”

Lizibo said though he grew up surrounded by music, it was hard for his parents to accept the path he has chosen to be a musician. Lizibo said he had to prove to his parents that music was his passion and that it could pay the bills like any other profession. He said eventually they saw his passion for music and supported him.

Lizibo said being exposed to music from a tender age made him venture into the music career from a tender age. He said he was part of the Kgalemang Tumediso Motsete (KTM) choir, Lizibo said being in the public eye for the longest time has taught him that he is living for the people and that he does not have a life. He said the very society that is watching him has so much expectation for him and that means he has to conduct himself in a good manner because people are looking up to him.

Lizibo said he understands the saying that great power comes with great responsibility, “when people see me, they see a role model. I realize and understand that people are and have been modelling me even when I was not aware of it, I know of six mothers who have named their sons after me because they felt that I inspire them somehow.”

He said he has accepted his fate that he will never have a normal life because people are looking unto him. He said he is grateful to be in the public on a positive note by bringing hope to the people because he has always wanted to be part of people’s solutions and not their problems.

He said, “people should understand that our careers are our calling. One needs to be spiritually connected to their calling as an artist. The most rewarding part about being in the public for me is not about payment but about being the solution to someone’s problem.”

Lizibo said the greatest challenge that he has ever faced about being in the public eye has been the issue of trust, not able to know which friends are genuine and which ones are not. He said as a way of avoiding fake friends he has always kept his four close friends who have been there for him through thick and thin. Lizibo said being close to his family has also helped him as they have been his strength when things were not going well for him, “most of the time people say we change when we taste fame. That is not necessarily true because people are the ones who changed when we became famous. People always want something from us, nothing is ever genuine with people and that is why I chose to keep my circle very small.”

Lizibo said as much as he travels a lot because of the nature of his work because it is naturally demanding, he said he always ensures that he creates time for his family. He said that at home he is Lizibo who is sent to do errands, he is Lizibo the son, not a celebrity.

He said there is a lot of pressure that comes with being in the spotlight, “the public puts so much pressure on us mostly about the material lifestyle they portray us to have. We are often compared with South African celebrities, but people fail to understand that we are two different countries. Most people fell into the trap and are living above their means resulting in them living in debt. I often tell youngsters not to fall into that trap of being tempted to live life above their means.”

The advice Lizibo gave to upcoming celebrities was that they should know that being in the public is not about them, but it is about the people. He said, “one of my mentors once asked me if I make music about myself or the people. He said I need to make music for the people because it is my responsibility to feed them with what they need, he said they might not even be able to know that they have a need but that I need to identify that need and meet it. Our responsibility is to serve people what they need, our music is to feed people’s hunger. My music is about love, I feed people love.”

Lizibo said it is important for celebrities to seek counselling and take care of their mental health, he said he has been investing in his mental health for years because he understands the importance of mental health especially when one is in the public.

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