For years, home made music was, in some way, far-off to the people of Botswana.
Randomly entering a pub or any neighbourhood, the most likely music one would find pumping was by a South African.
But that was until the success of award-winning traditional group Culture Spears and, obviously, the House-Kwasa duo of Vee (Odirile Sento) and Slizer (Naledi Kaisara) barely a decade ago.
Although a significant number of music lovers still prefer foreign tunes, House-Kwasa has gradually made its way into clubs, radio stations, television programmes and people’s headphones.
“Slizer and Vee have developed their own genre – House-Kwasa and won the hearts of most Batswana,” says Digga Kaelo, 26, of Gaborone.
The two – Vee and Slizer – have played a huge role in the House-Kwasa movement – with their artistic duet in 2009 having weaved its way into the hearts of many.
The two, both good dancers, picked the theme of passion in their maiden collaboration, released three years ago.
At the time, anyone who listened to the duet would have be forgiven for concluding that the two were lovebirds. In the title song Tsiki Tsiki, they proclaim undying love for each other.
And, naturally, they ‘owed’ the nation ‘details’ after the controversial album, but, no doubt, their ingenuity paid dividends.
“It’s creativity – we had to come up with something that would get people hooked onto our music,” the celebrated dance queen, Slizer, explains.
Ever since then, House-Kwasa has steadily grown more successful.
The music itself is strongly influenced by house music – a genre of electronic dance music that originated in the American city of Chicago, in Illinois in the early 1980s. It was initially popularised in mid-1980s discotheques catering to African-Americans and Latino Americans in Chicago circa 1984.
Since the early to mid-1990s, house music has been infused in mainstream pop and dance genre worldwide. In southern Africa, the genre has been promoted by South African artistes.
Interestingly, Botswana’s House has been deftly blended with Kwassa Kwassa, a dance rhythm from the Democratic Republic of Congo that started in the 1970s where the hips move back and forth, while the hands move to follow the hips.
Many will remember the likes of Pepe Kalle, credited for popularising the dance, while Kanda Bongo Man and Viva La Musica also did so throughout the continent with their popular videos.
And Slizer concedes her music would be half-complete without the dances.
“I’m a former dancer and I needed to do something that would allow me to shake something,” she says.
Her originality has earned her the title ‘Queen of House-Kwasa’ and amassed massive support in neighbouring countries, including Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa.
The pint-sized diva boasts of being the only Botswana musician to have performed at Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s birthday galas in the past two years.
The 28-year-old artiste is in the process of shooting a DVD for her latest album Diwewewe, which will cost her $13,720.
Her companion, Vee, has also been riding the crest of a wave, not only musically, but also as an astute businessman with his own mineral water and condoms called Ma-vee-ta (slang word for water) and La-Vee respectively.
The dreadlocked performer last year pocketed a cool $50,000 from the Brand Botswana nationwide tour. He was the only musician engaged by the Brand Botswana, an organisation mandated to package the country to the citizens, in their tour of over 100 villages and towns.
Daniel Chida of Maitengwe, a village in the northern part of Botswana, has watched the House-Kwasa movement boom. He credits the Vee for commercialising the genre.
“Vee has his own brand, which he came up with when the real Kwaito (of South Africa) was fading away,” says Chida, who, however, fancies traditional music.
Chida believes ethnic music also enjoys a lot of followership in the country. He himself is an ardent fan of Culture Spears.
Kaelo concurs with Chida and hails Culture Spears for exporting the ethnic music to the region.
“My thoughts are that Culture Spears have revived traditional music and taken it to Batswana and even South Africans with a modern flair,” he says.
A studious Zimbabwean promoter, Faith Silandulo, is convinced that the factors that determine the music genre are a bit diverse and mostly rooted on how the particular music resonates with a particular audience’s preference.
In most instances, he says, it is something to do with how the message is understood by the audience and if the musician is bringing something unique in both dance, vocal and instrumentation.
Slizer, who has since become the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority’s (ZTA) ambassador, attributes her popularity throughout the country, formerly known as Rhodesia, to strategic associations.
The dance queen has previously collaborated with Zimbabwe’s much loved Sungura king Alick Macheso.
But, overall, Silandulo also has a lot of respect for Culture Spears and Vee.
“I think currently the likes of Culture Spears might be leading the pack in Botswana and Slizer is also a great entertainer,” he says.
“She has broken some good ground in Zimbabwe,” adds Silandulo.
While young people follow the House-Kwasa, there is a substantial group that strictly listens to hip hop.
Big Brother Africa Amplified (BBAA) 2011 contestant, Zeus (Game Bantsi) is undoubtedly the leading light in the genre. He has a Best Hip-Hop Video award at the 2009 Channel O Awards to show for it. Zeus bested household names such as South Africa’s HHP and Pro Kid on his way to capping the historic moment.
Tshimologo Bonang considers the ex-BBAA Zeus as the country’s best wordsmith.
“I’d say most young people are into Hip hop and you can’t talk about Hip hop in this country without mentioning Zeus,” she says.
Over the years, the Botswana music industry has overly grown with several internationally acclaimed stars descending on its shores.
American gospel diva Juanita Bynum, female rapper, Eve, and continental powerhouses Mali’s Salif Keita and Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi all performed in the country last year.