An acoustic high with The Contrabanditz


Following the sadistically talented yet under-rated band in Botswana to this month’s JazzXchange in President Hotel Gaborone, Boitshepo Motsamai gives us her honest tale of their first live performance of this magnitude.

To be honest, this was one of the very few events this year I was planning on enjoying holistically without writing on my blog about it, thinking about work. Although I work as much as I play – I got the unique blessing to do both – all thanks to The Contrabinditz.

On one of my very special dates with my significant love, I journeyed into a night with The Contrabanditz performing at this month’s JazzXchange. Seeing its members, notably Debbie with a T, Mandisa, Aether, Tafnaz and Boski the percussionist I felt a slight candid burst of excitement to see every person I’ve seen perform as individuals possibly 5 years ago, be now formed as a soulful melting pot of combusting energies that perform their greatness in art.

The band went with an interesting concept for the set, to introduce themselves through remaking covers and throwing in their own original songs. Performing reinvented covers from artists such as Fat Freddy’s Drop, Jill Scott, Nina Simone and even RUN DMC , the band gave a modernized African twist to each of the ballads – but my favourite moments were their own songs.

Songs like “African” and “Africa rise” written by Tafnaz and Aether respectively, create an aura of unity and re-ignites the confidence that we once gave away in the name of oppression and now money. In Tafnaz’s lyrics, he states that the world wants to give him a bright future through stripping off his culture, turn him into something European and call him magnificent, but he already is magnificent, simply because his African. Africa Rise written by Aether highlights that we already have political freedom, but we oppress our own, our brothers and sisters economically because we have adapted to this new system of individualized wealth. Both songs convey a message that in order to move forward we must adapt to our cultures that initially instilled principles of unity, humanity and spirituality as the centre of our growth.

The women, Debbie with a T and Mandisa Mabuthoe (also known as Josiah King depending on how your feeling today) make the group a super power based on their similarities and differences. On first sight, you’d think that Debbie with a T’s extrovert of a personality almost outshines Mandisa, however as the night goes on both their personas radiate. Debbie with a T’s voice is powerful. Powerful, is an understatement -She has mastered, even at amateur level, the art in enriching her tone to sing strongly with conviction, and softly and innocently a few seconds later. Josiah King (yeah I’m feeling pretty good today) has range. Josiah sashays her word skills in poetry AND in her soprano, tenor, and alto vocals. Their song ‘losing myself’ was one of the audiences favourite – singing along with them as the song came to a close.

In closing, they played a song close to my heart. Initially, I heard it at over conversations and easy Sunday lunch at a friend’s, when Mandisa played it from her phone last year, citing it as ‘something we finally recorded’. It then became a MAMA nominated song, and has been playing in my head since, wishing for it to reach radio circulation. The song ‘covering ground’ featuring Selby Urban, The Contrbanditz’s manager didn’t only have me, but other members of the audience that probably experienced what I did in tears.

In retrospect, I don’t remember being in President Hotel, Gaborone Last night, I only remember feeling something soulful, jazz-like, rock hued and poetic and calling it The Contrabanditz.