And then there was Mmino wa Setswana
Machesa Traditional Group signed to Eric Ramco Records on July 10th 2001. The original members were: Batsile Lesetedi from Sesung in the Kweneng district, Lebitso Galemmone from Tswapong, Ditlhako Lesetedi from Sesung and Samuel “All Kasi” Jack, also from Sesung. But before these four landed at Eric Ramco, Segomotso Chester Nkgomo had inked his record deal at the same label on the 22nd of December 1998. He would later be popularly known as Kgobola. Not long after that Duncan Mmolotsi Senyatso would find himself walking the corridors of Ramco Records at Sable House in Gaborone West Industrial: He put pen to paper on 12 July 1999.
These are the protagonists in what later became “Moselele”, the first Mmino wa Setswana album which came out in July of 2001. They are the reason that record saw the light of day in that year and not a day later. Moselele would go on to garner two nominations at the 2002 Kora All Africa Music Awards for “Best Arrangement” and “Best African Traditional Group”. We sat one evening at Gallagher Estates in Johannesburg and listened as names that were not ours were called out as eventual winners of both categories: We swore we would be back and we did come back in 2003.
It was Duncan Senyatso who helped realign my thinking to go back to what I had set out to do when I formed Eric Ramco Records in 1995, which was to create a platform for Botswana traditional music. That plan had been put on the back burner when 3rd Mind walked through my door in 1996.
Duncan was all about African music and all things African; Great African leaders, African scholars and thinkers and African medicine. He loved Botswana and her music. He told me one day: “You have to pursue that idea you have in mind. This Kwasa Kwasa thing will not last”. He was referring to what at the time was the hottest music in the country and he sensed that I was considering going that route. It hurt him deeply that the music of Ratsie Setlhako, Ndona Poifo, Lepodisi Sekoboane, Speech Madimabe and Kgwanyape Band was not accorded the same respect at home. I listened.
Segomotso Nkgomo, from Letlhakeng in Kweneng came to Ramco to record a disco album. He ended up releasing two. He had never intended to go under the name Kgobola. It was Johnny Kobedi in his usual naughty element, who happened to sit in a meeting with us one morning while we were discussing stage names, who laughingly asked him why he doesn’t go with ‘Kgobola’, and we had both burst out laughing, Johnny and I.
Segomotso was not amused at all and I was taken aback by his reaction. It turns out the nickname was given to him to mock his scalp, gore o kgoboga tlhogo. He hated it. Johnny Kobedi knew that nickname because they had crossed paths before. I felt it was a brilliant name and had to convince Segomotso to use it, but not before I promised him I would spin it to say it had more to do with his husky voice than his head. He agreed.
As I spent time with him, I got to learn that he had taken part in traditional music events in Letlhakeng. We would spend evenings in my office; him, my younger brother Tex and myself singing and dancing to the Phathisi classic ‘Mahala’ which I had fallen in love with from watching prisoners perform in the 1980s. I had found my man.
So I sell Kgobola this idea and ask him to put a traditional group together for me to audition . He takes a short cut and goes to Tsolamosese where he was staying and brings with him his home boys who had been rehearsing to be a gospel quartet, I think at the time inspired by the success of Bafana Phempheretlhe Pheto and Mmereki Marakakgoro. That gospel group became Machesa Traditional Group.
My good friend Robert Dargie provided recording facilities for that album: from programming, engineering and mastering. I remember Robert saying to me, “I don’t know what this is but it’s very nice” and he would just laugh. He is very quick on the laugh Robert and he would film the craziness on his home video camera; a very humble soul. Robert, where are those tapes?
However, that album would not have been what it is had it not been for the genius of my brother Thandukwazi “TJ” Dludla who I will talk about in detail one day. I called TJ in to listen, as I had done before with Kgobola’s “Mr Chinese” a year or so before and gave him free reign to do as he pleased. By the time he was done there was so much colour on that album that I could have sworn I saw a rainbow when he played it back for me. A music genius.
Moselele was released in July of 2001. It came out around the same time with Franco’s ‘Ke lela le lona’ for which Robert Dargie also provided recording services. If I recall properly, we even went to the same Mokaragana show on BTV with Lepako. Franco and Machesa were the freshest sounds on radio.
Unfortunately these were the only similarities between the two, because sales wise Franco would do a Usain Bolt on us and leave us huffing and puffing, and we never caught up. I remember meeting him at First National Bank in the Main Mall and asking him how the sales were and he shyly said “good”. Nothing specific, and then I ask him if he has gone over ten thousand units? He smiles and says “yes”. I looked in his eyes and I knew he was not lying.
Fifteen years later we wouldn’t mind a rematch.