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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

Feminism and Nudity still at odds

19th April 2021
Feminism and Nudity

This past week seemed like a time travel back to the early 1970’s where women were judged and stoned for what they wear, what they should wear, and whose attention their dress code will grab.

Every Tom, Dick and Harry gave their two cents on the matter, unnecessarily so. Its disheartening that in 2021 a woman is dictated to about what she should wear.

The genesis of the whole saga was because of a certified life coach and personal trainer, Agang Atlholang, derided as an example of an anti-feminist.

Atlholang updated a controversial post on her Facebook page where she seemingly attacked and dragged some women for wearing appealing clothes that leave little to the imagination.

The personal coach further went on to highlight that she could be fully clothed and be able to attract and steal some of these women’s lovers. Audacious of her to assume but more disheartening that her wardrobe is subliminally dictated by men.

It should be noted that this wasn’t her first controversial post where she has threatened or promised to take other women’s men, it may not be her last either but this post however did get on a lot of women’s last nerve.

“A woman’s sexuality is so much more than her thighs, (beep) and breasts. It’s your aura, confidence, seduction and the way you carry yourself, watching everything rock and roll in silence. I know who I am, I am a boss lady. I can still get your man without showing skin,” said Atlholang.

It is hard to place the fitness coach, is she pro-feminism or anti-feminism? Because one minute she would say something that makes sense and that almost everyone can relate to and other times she barks threats like a toothless bulldog.

She was not wrong to publicly and indirectly affirm that she doesn’t wear revealing outfits, but for her to be coming at those who do so was entirely out of line. How a woman presents herself to the world has a very little to do with a man’s preference.

Any personal liberation of what one chooses to clothe their own body is clouded by the misogynistic backdrop of the world we live in. In all cases, a woman’s body is assumed to be someone else’s before is it her own.

If she takes off her clothes, it is seen to be a sign of her insecurity and need for validation, rather than feeling comfortable with herself. Once she’s stripped, that’s all she is. This is the insidious pressures of misogyny that we all have a duty to attack and put in the past where it belongs.

WeekendLife reached out to Atlholang but her phone went unanswered. She did not respond to a questionnaire sent to her on Wednesday.
Celebrated feminist Resego Kgosidintsi says there should be no expectations on what a woman does with her body. Some women are thick and curvy, while some are slim and petite, all body types are beautiful.

Kgosidintsi uploaded two pictures on her Facebook page in which she compared herself. In one picture she was only in a bikini on the beach whereas in the other picture she was wearing formal attire. She went on to say;

“I am the woman in both pictures, my worth did not decrease on picture 2 because I revealed almost all of my skin and neither is my worth on a 100 on picture 1 because my skirt is below the knee.

I have about 7 tattoos on my entire body and that still does not make me less of a woman. I drink and smoke cigarettes too and that doesn’t mean the woman in church who doesn’t smoke or drink more woman than me. Can we respect people’s choices, can we respect women.”
Feminist, media personality and socialite, Oratile Kefitlhile shares the same sentiments as Kgosidintsi.

‘‘Feminism is subject, if I feel as a woman that when I’m fully dressed I’m celebrating my femininity, so be it. If another woman feels they are embracing their femininity more with their thighs out, that’s perfectly fine still. Let them be.

We have been preaching this revolution for a very long time of women being allowed to wear what they want, and being allowed to embrace their womanhood in the way that speaks to them, so I feel at this point we should not be having these debates,” Kefitlhile told WeekendLife on Tuesday.

Controversial poet, artist and businesswoman, Berry Heart is of the belief that women are envious towards each other. She argues that celebrating femininity has no boundaries subsequently making no one woman superior.

Quizzed on what makes women fight over small issues such as what they wear, she says “Batswana women are broken so much that we don’t want to see another woman succeeding on anything. We desire to make them dejected.”

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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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