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“Born under a bad sign”: The story of Ramco Records

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THROW BACK WITH Eric Ramco

In his interview with Rre Batho Molema in The Patriot On Sunday, writer Bashi Letsididi chronicles the man’s expedition with Radio Botswana to capture Botswana’s first traditional music recordings around 1967. It is a very interesting read. These recordings would later become a radio programme known as Dipina le Maboko on RB1: that was way before RB2.
I have read that article a countless times and nowhere does the name Eric Ramco appear. Yes, I was looking for it because I feel I should have had a mention in that interview. Then thinking that it could have been an error of omission, I looked for my legal name, Eric Seroke Ramogobya:   It was nowhere to be found.
It then began to dawn on me that as both men sat there, reminiscing about the late 1960s, opening the country’s traditional music vaults, they failed to look beyond those early years.  They neglected to mention that it was those same recordings that would spawn a record label 28 years later, and that is because both gentlemen were oblivious to this one true fact: that record label would be known as Eric Ramco Records, registered in1995 by one Eric Ramogobya and the first artist on the roster would be a four string guitarist from Molepolole by the name of Malefo Mokha, popularly known as Stampore: and he was discovered on Dipina le Maboko.
I never planned to become a music producer, I was going to be a lawyer: I believed I had the tongue for it. I thought that being a lawyer was more about tongue than Law. I am bringing this up because it will help you understand how Ramogobya became Ramco. That law firm I never got to own was going to be Ramogobya and Company. When the record label came I simply took the ‘Ram’ and the ‘Co’ for company and that was that.
Growing up at the Gaborone Prisons Camp in the 1980s my mother had a small wireless radio that would later graduate to a stereo from Ellerines. Through it, I would listen to Dipina le Maboko on Sunday morning  and fell in love with the music. It didn’t help that during weekends, as a form of recreation inmates would descend on the prison’s football pitch and dance to the same music, especially Phathisi. Nothing else. Maybe they were all from Kweneng, I had once heard one warden call them “ Magodu a dikgomo a Kgalagadi”.
But what bothered me was that this music was not readily available. You could never hear that music on any other day except on that show on Sunday: If you were in love with it you waited for Sunday. It was like being in a long distance relationship. I waited for someone to change that. No one did. So in 1995 I took it upon myself to do that.
However I still wasn’t a producer. I had fallen in love with George Swabi and Stampore. Stampore was closer, in Molepolole. He bought the dream and we would soon find ourselves in Mahikeng to record “Ke go Saenetse.”
I never forget that morning. It was very cold and cloudy. I had to drive from Gaborone to Molepolole at 5am to collect Stampore because he did not have accommodation in Gaborone, and he comes out wearing this huge thick coat, jase tota! That is how cold it was, but from what I remember it wasn’t exactly wintery.
Any way we end up in Mahikeng Radio Bop recording studios. I had never been in a recording studio before: the sound engineer for the day was the late Kentse Mphahlwa.  He gave us this look and I am sure to this day that in us, he saw a motley crew of some sort. First he asks what we are there to record and I tell him “Just guitar, Gape Rre yo o tla bo a opela”. Then he goes into the store room and comes out with a quarter inch master tape to record on and he begins to label it. He starts off by asking me the name of the artist. “Stampore,” I tell him.
Then Kentse leads me to the most embarrassing moment of my career. He fills in the part that says sound engineer which is obviously himself. Then he looks at me and asks “Producer?”. I look back at him and stammer “Producer????” and he says “Yes”, who is producing this artist? “ and I say to him, “I didn’t know I have to bring a producer with me”. He gives me that look again, smiles and says to me “You are with him. You are the producer now.” He wrote my name on the tape and just like that, a sound engineer christened me a music producer. That recording was done in less than two hours during which time Stampore would burp and cough in some songs, and both times Kentse would look at me as if to say something, I said nothing. Not that I hadn’t picked it up, I was just finding myself in the deep end and I was no Naomi Ruele.  On both occasions Kentse would stop the recording and laughingly say “O kgobotse rra. A re simolle gape” and slowly I began to learn the role of a producer.
Looking back on the journey I have travelled since that first recording, I realize that my existence can be summed up in lyrics of a 1967 song by blues guitarist Albert King entitled,  Born Under A Bad Sign. In that song he says “if it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all”. The year1967 is the same year Rre Molema embarked on a voyage to record Mmino wa Setswana and I believe I was born under a bad sign a year later on 3rd November of 1968.

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