This past Saturday the Molapo crossing piazza hosted the 13th annual Fete de la musique festival. Organised by Alliance Française, this mammoth event is now celebrated in over 700 cities in 120 countries and aims to promote both professional and amateur musicians and give attendees a night of dazzling and diverse performances. In Gaborone, particularly the Fete has seen a massive surge in popularity in the last two or three years and this year’s was the first Fete De La Musique to take place at Molapo Crossing, which came as a surprise to me since it had become synonymous with the old venue, the Botswana Craft, which seemed to suit it well.
Slated to begin at 3pm, I arrived 3 hours later to find a reasonable crowd gathered, although most of them seemed to be more comfortable sitting on the artificial lawn patches near the entrance of the venue or at the Flava restaurant than enjoying the performances nearer to the stage. On sight, it was clear that the event had been organised exceptionally well, as always. There was food available from Flava restaurant, the bar was well stocked and you didn’t have to wait too long to get a drink or to use the toilets which were well cleaned. The sound, lighting and security were good enough too, and I was confident that the night would be a stunning success. In retrospect, I realise I hadn’t quite thought about what exactly my metric for a successful night would be. Nightlife in Botswana is tightly regulated, and a good party is hard to come by. I started to wonder, as the night went on and the crowd swelled and filled the entire venue, whether this event, free on presentation of a flyer, and offering a behemoth of talented performers over 9 hours, was just an excuse for many attendees to be out on a Saturday night in a city that doesn’t have that much to offer in the first place.
When Zeus performed, for example, I noticed that the crowd was quite disengaged, choosing to socialise amongst themselves instead of enjoying the offering of, arguably, Botswana’s best rapper. Similarly, the MCs, who did a good job, could not get the crowd to respond satisfactorily, if at all. After doing my rounds to ask the crowd about this year’s Fete, and running into many friends, some who I hadn’t seen in eons, it became clear to me that most people weren’t interested in the performances at all. Anthony Staco and his ensemble, for example, are one of the world’s most interesting and acclaimed upcoming jazz quintet in the world. Straight from Detroit, the band has toured extensively, including in Botswana before (in 2013, and apparently were very well received). It seemed, however, that most people who attended the Fete weren’t aware of the privilege of seeing such an amazing band perform completely free of charge. Many couldn’t even name more than 2 of the night’s numerous performances, which made a lot of sense to me since a lot of the crowd were younger than I was used to, and more than likely more interested in a different “turn up” than this amazing concert. Most people didn’t even notice a five minute sound lapse during the show. When the fete ended, trying to get to your car was a bit of a nightmare. Molapo crossing was teeming with adolescents looking for a good time, assumedly at Dros, a club in the same building. Not really how you want to end your night.
Ultimately, I think this year’s Fete fared as well as every other has. There is no denying that Alliance Française and their sponsors do an amazing job in organising. I do think however that the venue played a big part in pulling a much more phlegmatic crowd than usual this year, and I’d love to see it return to The Botswana Craft. Though I think Fete De la Musique spoke on a much bigger issue when it comes to nightlife in Botswana this year, I will say however say that to me this year’s Fete felt like every other I’ve attended for the last four years: an immense privilege to see artists I adore and would have never seen otherwise. I think for that, Alliance must be applauded for doing work bigger than even our own agencies have managed.