Sightlines: Final Day in Hind Sight

Closing off the journey with ARTivist and writer, Katlego K Kol-Kes. Looking back at the 2015 Maitisong Festival presentations.

It’s the hindsight instalment of Sightlines [n. any of the lines of sight between the spectators and the stage.] and we wrap the festival reviews.

The days of Maitisong Festival have come and gone, and Gaborone is starting to feel the tender chill of what could be called autumn. With the exception of the billboards still sporting the festival advertisements – a Gaborone trend of posthumous event broadcasting – the festival has left the city.

After the festival ended, social media trends rapidly shifted and all the focus was on the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. What I’d like to look at in this final installment of Sightlines is what the festival has done for Gaborone and for the arts on a superficial level.

The week after the festival had drawn to a close, I was seen by a patron of the festival at a weekly social event – my very first time appearing there. We embraced and she said to me: “I’m surprised to see you outside of an artsy setting.” What this did for me was cause me to question whether my movements were restricted to certain cultural settings and if this, perhaps, was where the rest of Gaborone was hanging out while we chose to #elevate with #maiti15

Drawing from the experience of my Facebook friends in Gaborone becoming boxing aficionados over night, it was made markedly clear to me that Maitisong really should have invested more into their social media strategy. The international interest in the fight could be posited as the reason it went viral so easily, but this is also a lesson that Batswana are in fact on social media platforms and looking for some form of community and escapism while there.

The final event of the festival was an evening of jazz being headlined by Lesotho-born legend, Bhudaza. The billing for the event had Bhudaza, The Metrophones and CAFCA Jazz Big Band– a community project using music education for rehabilitation of youth. The expectation was that by hosting a jazz event on the nationally appointed day of jazz, Sunday, there would be a large crowd in attendance. This didn’t end up being the case.

The Molapo Piazza, which is notoriously marketed as a large capacity venue – boasting the ability to seat 1,400 and pack 4,000 people standing – barely had a tenth of its seating capacity occupied. Though I did come across some unfamiliar faces, a large number of the people in the audience were people I’d seen over the course of the festival. This showed that the festival had managed to retain quite a number of people but, sadly, didn’t succeed in drawing jazz lovers. This could be partially because people’s jazz budgets had been maxed out due to Hugh Masekela having performed two nights prior.

The evening got off to another slow start which, though I shouldn’t have been, surprised me. The audience had once again arrived in a timely manner and were then treated to the sight of the beautifully dressed ladies of the Metrophones standing on the stage, behind their microphones, but not singing. The ever patient audience sat in their seats waiting and watching. It was only after an hour long delay that One Rabantheng and Reginald Richardson made their appearance on stage to welcome everyone to the closing event and apologise for the delay.

The Metrophones performed and it was nice; not stellar, not phenomenal, not amazing, just nice. Perhaps the fault was that they selected songs which they have been performing for over a year now, or the lead singer didn’t seem to be under some vocal strain, but it felt rather familiar.

Following their notably short set, Moss Mogale Unit rocked the audience with some up-tempo instrumental jazz numbers. Of their set, many of them were composed but Moss Mogale himself – including a number dedicated to his mother, which was played by the band in which his brother plays. In truth to the adage, time seemed to whizz past as the band’s set went into the CAFCA Jazz Big Band’s set.

Over the course of the festival, CAFCA had run workshops with local young music scholars and the ensemble made for quite the sight on the broad Molapo Piazza stage. From violin trills to a hearty brass section, the young musos gave an enjoyable performance.

Bhudaza finally made his way onto the stage and the crowd began migrating to their feet and shimmying from side to side. The time had already crossed us over into Monday morning but the die-hard fans had stuck it out alongside the people who didn’t believe in letting hundreds of Pulas go to waste. His backing band and musicians were the familiar faces of the Metorophones making their second appearance.

It seemed they had been preserving themselves for the collaboration because not only were their dresses more vibrant – sporting a combination of chiffon and fiery African print – but their overall demeanor was much more jovial. From instrumental numbers to hits like Likhomo, and Tjontjobina, he carried the audience with him as the dance floor got a fair pounding. Dancers from Maitisong Festival shows made quite a spectacle as they gathered in a circle and let loose one last time.

Leaving the venue, I couldn’t help feel as though I was stepping back into a tunnel leading to regular Gaborone routine. In quite the poetic homage to the Maitisong Festival, I found myself going home in the wee hours of the morning, anxiously drifting between wanting the night to go on forever and desperately longing for the relaxing comfort of my bed. My mood, though there had been bumpy administrative patches along the way, had been elevated over five evenings of entertainment.

 

So, what has the festival done for Gaborone on a superficial level? I’d say, those of us who took time out to watch the shows and interact with other people of the city were awakened to the fact that we need to do more sharing with our friends, families and colleagues about such events. I found myself explaining what the festival was about to a combi driver one day as I made my way from Thapong to Maru-a-Pula, only to hear him, and other commuters, say Gaborone really is growing so big that you can miss something right in front of your eyes.

It made for good conversations with people who often think themselves too busy for the arts. It made some people realise that the community at large was currently outside of the festival’s reach. It brought the resident international citizens doses of home and faraway places. It allowed those who felt they’d been silenced to come out and speak their truths. It allowed itself one more chance to learn what the people want and need – especially on the digital media and communications fronts.

Surely, now that the festival has been cunningly scheduled to correlate with Harare International Festival of the Arts, the quality and standard of performances will be more calculatedly curated as time goes on; such that Gaborone becomes a preview base for many more international and national acts. Who knows what Mandla Mbothwe and Artscape may have in store following this expedition? I’ll certainly be looking out at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival this July to see which creations of irreplicable artistry can be noted for the next Maitisong Festival. I certainly had a memorable time with #maiti15.