“Rumba music is far from being outdated”- Franco Lesokwane
The performances of Franco Lesokwane and Alfredo Mos at the Tlatsa Lebala show recently held at the National Stadium in Gaborone will be memorable for how they caused a frenzy of spontaneous excitement among revelers who went wild, enjoying Kwasa-Kwasa, a genre previously thought to be waning or dead in Botswana.
Kwasa-Kwasa is Botswana’s interpretation of popular Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) high energy music called Rhumba which is often sang in the Lingala language, with a suggestive rhythmic dance and is a staple of Kinshasa, the country’s capital and arts hub. Following the popularity of such DRC artists as Pepe Kalle, Franco Luambo Luanzo Makiadi (the original “Franco”), Kanda Bongoman, Papa Wemba, Les Wanyika, Madilu System, Sam Mangwana and others in the 80s and 90s, the genre spread throughout Southern Africa, including to Botswana where it came to be known as “a favorite among soldiers” and in the Mogoditshane township where the Botswana Defense Force (BDF) Sir Seretse Khama barracks is located.
Nata Capricorn, Franco and Alfredo Mos & Africa Sounds are some of its well-known ambassadors in the country, having spawned between them such hits as Maya, Lerato Wa Nyalwa, Ke Lela Le Lona, Issa and Ipabalelo Tseleng among others which were the standard bearers for the genre at its height in the late 90s and early to mid-2000s. The genre however waned with the emergence of private radio stations in Botswana which unlike the conservative and salt of the earth Radio Botswana (RB1) preferred urban music, especially house music, hip hop and Motswako. Kwasa-Kwasa was also eclipsed by the resurgence of traditional music which saw the rise of Kgobola, Shirley, Mokorwana and later Culture Spears, Matsieng and others.
“I often hear people dismissing Kwasa-Kwasa music, labelling it as a thing of the past. The crowd’s reaction at Tlatsa Lebala proved otherwise. Our music is here to stay,” Gabane native, Franco Lesokwane told Time Out, explaining that his performance at Tlatsa Labala was intended to prove that the genre is far from being outdated.
In fact, to prove his point, Franco performed songs from his new album, E Ya Le Nna Babilona, especially the title track by the same name which proved to be a crowd favorite. Franco finished his set by turning back the hands of time, performing Madume and Maya among others from previous albums – intoxicating revelers with nostalgia.
“Back then there were a few music genres and as the years went by more genres were introduced and people were spoilt for choice. But if you listen to these new genres you can still find rumba beats in them,” said Franco explaining why the genre waned over the years. He also explained that most Rumba artists invested in new ventures and this saw local groups breaking up.
Franco also says it is costly to assemble live bands and this is another fact which contributed to the demise of Rumba as promoters prefer to book genres that are low maintenance. “It is for this reason that I have decided to have a Rumba festival where I will invite other bands sometime this year. We have a huge following and we also share our audience with other genres,” he said.
The artist also explained that his new six-track album was doing well despite rife piracy. “But my bestselling album is my 2001 release, Ke Lela Le Lona and the sophomore album, Ba Ntatola really pushed sale. Its a pity I don’t have the solid figures,” he added.