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Botswana, along with the rest of the world mourned the death last week of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. She died peacefully with family and friends by her side at the age of 75 years.
Tributes to Aretha have poured in from around the world, but in particular in the United States where she was described as not only the Queen of Soul, but as a “musician’s musician”, writing many of her own songs and accompanying her incredibly deep and powerful voice on the piano. He versatility knew no bounds – she sang gospel solo at the age of 14 in her father’s church, and for six decades performed with rock bands, church choirs, swing dance bands, and even full scale philharmonic orchestras.
Aretha sang at the funeral of Martin Luther King – using her iconic song Respect; and then forty years later at the inauguration of the United States’ first black President, Barak Obama when she sang the emotion filled anthem of the civil rights movement, Let Freedom Ring.
And it is President Obama’s tribute to Aretha Franklin which summaries her greatness and why she is held in such reverence in the United States, and indeed around the World.
“Through her compositions and unmatched musicianship, Aretha helped define the American experience,” he said. “In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade – our power and our pain, our darkness and our light …. She helped us feel connected to each other, more hopeful, more human.”
It was not only the words which joined the past, the present and hopes for the future. The very essence of songs like Respect, Natural Woman, Chain of Fools, and a Rose is Still a Rose transcend musical genres, and through her music she is truly the link across generations. Through the immense range of her catalogue, Aretha provided the transition from gospel, to soul, and from soul to rock and roll, and became the nexus which gave rise to Disco, Pop, and through to today’s Hip Hop and House music. Underlying all these genres are the rhythms and beats that Aretha made so famous, and her words of joy, of sadness, or despair and hope which mirrored America’s society are echoed in the music of today’s Rappers and Hip Hop artists.
Which brings us to Botswana. Where is our Soul? We do have a rich musical tradition which crosses genres, and generations; and identities. We have strength in choral and secular choir music, and traditional music from different parts of the country; there is a growing body of published work by talented Batswana singers who are bringing new meanings to Kwaito, Pantsola and other township rhythms. We have a small, but dedicated band of rhythm and blues singers, and Africa is beginning to look towards Botswana music for cutting edge Hip Hop and House beats among others.
But where is the soul? Is there a trend in our music – or indeed in the rhythm of society itself – which represents the Soul of Botswana? Can we find our soul at weddings, or funerals, or in bars and clubs?
Aretha sang throughout our years of Independence but she does not represent our soul; her music does not reflect our history, our past present and hope for the future.
Who knows where our Soul rests. But if we do not find it………