Beneath The Toxic Tlatsa Lebala Affair


Local Kwasa-Kwasa giant, Franco is trending on social media ahead of his much-anticipated “Soul Fill Up” event, thanks to appearing to imitate Kast, the musician who is the brains behind the popular “Tlatsa Lebala” campaign and who now seems to have rubbed many the wrong way by allegedly declaring that the “Ke Lela le Lona” hit-maker is nowhere near outdoing him.
Batswana have responded positively to the ‘beef,’ with many fueling it by vowing to prove Kast wrong. This has prompted the quizzical notion that the local music scene has been missing the ‘beef culture.’ Ask many hip hop fanatics, and they will tell you that the American scene is thriving because of what is known as ‘beef’ ‘in the music industry. ‘Beef’ is slang for conflicts or deep hatred for someone or thing and is more typical in everyday life when competitors develop friction among themselves. Although originally inspired by hip hop, the style has penetrated other genres and artists nowadays can be heard addressing socio-political issues and musical opponents to settle scores.

It was for these reasons that some giants like the late Oliver Mtukuzi were at some point banned from his native Zimbabwe. Some analysts ascribed “Tuku’s” popularity to his style and the beefs he held with popular figures and political elites. The same goes for Solly Moholo of South Africa who never shies away from expressing his views of any matter or man.

However, times have changed, and the rappers are becoming more sensitive to factors like alternative lifestyle choices and being politically correct. Many have now signed deals with multi-million dollar brands who demand clean representation. Sadly for beef, it is a dying culture. Eminem’s diss track “Scratch” and diss album titled “Kamikaze” were an open confrontation targeted at everybody, from retired rapper turned rap-purist Joe Budden to America’s 45th president, Donald Trump.

Not in Botswana. Despite having good writers, not much energy has been focused on provocation and radicalism even though Batswana cherish the same stuff. At some point, the divorce between Kabelo of Culture Spears and Charmagal turned into a beef as the two artists could be heard engaging in exchanges through music, much to the amusement of their followers. They later reunited, leaving their fans somewhat disappointed. Most memorable beefs have been between hip hop giants Scar and Zeus in the 2000s, the most exciting being the The Real Magosi trio and Ramco Loco stable that was specifically targeted at Scar, Magosi and Kast before they turned dysfunctional. Some of the latest beef tracks involved rappers Ozi F Teddy and the musical genius ATI.

Over the past few weeks, social media has been begging and fuelling a beef between Franco and Kast. It was not the first time for Franco, another fashionable one having occurred a while ago between the rumba king and Vee that assumed aspects similar to the divisive subject of Messi and Ronaldo.

The inextinguishable beef between Kast and Franco seems to have caught such fire that only time will slow its momentum, thanks to the many fans and sympathizers of Franco who have vowed to prove Kast wrong by filling up the stadium. The enthusiastic followers have taken over the beef, with many firing salvos at Kast who has turned controversial and very assertive in recent years. The prime target is Kast the person rather than the turn-up at the National Stadium for Franco because many vow to buy tickets and not attend. The exchanges have ignited debate on social media, putting Kast under immense pressure.

Kast’s camp, however, seems to be of the view that “Tlatsa Lebala” is Kast’s brainchild and thus the Sjabana hit song maker clearly commands authority on the concept of filling up stadia with enthusiastic fans that saw him raking in millions in the inaugural show in 2017 after a rather tedious nationwide appeal. As the social media tussle continues, one cannot help but wonder whether the ‘beef culture’ could be shaping Botswana’s music industry and whether the music industry could be missing out on a ‘beef’ opportunity as a pull-factor to boost the measly earnings of musos.

Franco has got the message and there is no turning back. His event is slated for April 2020 and indications are pointing to a fill-up, if Batswana do not pull a heart-wrenching ‘UDC’ on him. To the disappointment of many, the ZCC Mokhukhu rumba artist has not delved much into what his media team calls “petty talk”.

But beefs define the American music, most of it imaginary in order to boost sales by composing songs and making public remarks dissing one another. Who can forget the legendary Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G’s beef. The duo became rivals after Tupac suspected B.I.G of having had a hand in his (Tupac’s) first legal trouble. The two would often attack one another’s personal lives with embarrassing revelations and threats, in the end causing a division between two coasts, the East and the West. Their deaths have been linked to their beef and to-date remain unresolved.

African-American RnB goddess Beyonce once provoked Janet Jackson into a celebrity ‘Cold War,’ at some point stating that the Jacksons had a terrible background. To-date, each American artist has invested in a bitter but profitable relationship with another.

Local house kwasa artist, Vee, says beefs have always existed in Botswana music industry but says they are bad for music and are not sustainable. “They can work sometimes, as seen in Franco’s case,” says Vee. “But they can also damage artists. There is still tension between me and Franco over who is a bigger brand and it was a debate fuelled on social media that spiralled out of control.”

The tension seems to be far from over between the two giants and Vee says he “will not attend the event if Franco does not invite Kast because ‘Tlatsa Lebala’ is where it is today because of Kast’s selfless efforts”.

Entertainment journalist Sharon Mathala says a beef is a general music infection. “A beef can be divisive in a positive way and can be negative to the industry,” she says. “The West are of the view that an industry devoid of beef is less competitive and is boring. However, while we admit that the West are leaders in many industries, the truth is that Botswana is not America,”

Mathala, however, observes that our music industry is infested with much hatred and jealousy for one another. “Egos are in constant overdrive,” she adds. It is not only in Botswana. Nigerian music stars, Wizkid and Davido, beefed and threw shades all over Twitter and Snapchat in 2017, leaving Africa’s most populous country divided. Ghana’s long-running feud continues between Shatta Wale, Stonebwoy, Samini and Sarkodie. In South Africa, it is normally AKA vs Cassper Nyovest. Asked on Pulse Nigeria TV what started the Cassper and AKA rapper beef, AKA blamed it all on ego.

Generally a conservative society and a country where rap music has not been openly welcome, Botswana seems to be moving at a snail’s pace to embrace some of these developments and observers suggest that “this could be the result of a small society we happen to be”. Most artists who spoke to this publication admitted that controversy sells but said the Botswana music industry needed more united than divided artists.