Wednesday, February 22, 2012

happiness in a pocket

No blog today just 10 things that make me smile

1. Julia Roberts laugh
2. Eating sun ripened mangoes
3. Listening to Olebogeng Morebodi’s evening radio show
4. Watching the Dark Knight
5. The X Files and Lie To Me theme songs
6. Counting the number of times the men in Sons of Anarchy hug per episode, and thinking how much the OST makes it seem like a musical – most/all the song lyrics are scene-literal
7. The memory of Lebo Mashile, Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani on tour at 7am in the morning and by extension the words ‘monkey’ and ‘mint’ in the same sentence
8. The HBO woosh sound before a show starts
9. Wole Soyinka’s telephone conversation, Sylvia Plath’s the arrival of the bee box, Taufiq Rafat’s circumcision, Owen Sheers’ not yet my mother. good poetry.
10. A toss between Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling’s smiles, Jim Cavieziel’s eyes and writing down this list every couple of months

Make your own smile list and keep it on you, its happiness in a pocket.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

That was Langston Hughes. To answer that very question, well sort of, we spoke to Jane Swartland, Secretary of the Botswana Society of the Arts to find out what the BSA is all about and far along they are with their plans to build the Botswana National Arts Institute which is to have a purpose built theatre and eventually have departments including drama, dance, music, visual arts, media arts and event technology (sound lights etc) right here in Gaborone.

TJ: What challenges does the BSA have to contend with in its daily management of programmes

JS: Financial ones mainly, also human resources. No grant (was offered to the BSA) this year for running costs from Arts and Culture, and no support either from (The Botswana National Youth Council) BNYC, to which we are affiliated.

TJ: We are interested particularly in the Botswana National Arts Institute (BNAI)that you intend to build how far are you with that project

JS: First phase, performing arts, ready to build. In (National Development Plan 10) NDP10 but deferred because of budget constraints. Will go into NDP11 if funds available. Meanwhile we are working with international partners to get a training programme to start a national theatre company, which will eventually have its home at the Institute.

TJ: We know you received ten hectares of land near the Gaborone Dam from the government (on a lease), ten million pula towards design fees as well as tax concessions for any donations made towards the school of the arts, have you received any additional funding from elsewhere since?

JS: Only from the EU to pay for consultants to produce Strategy plan for the BNAI in 2009. Potential funders want government to contribute.

TJ: Is there any institution in Botswana currently offering full time courses in the visual and performing arts

JS: No. Oodi College will offer courses in applied arts and technology, which are related but not the same.

JS: We encourage anyone who feels strongly about the need for full-time training in the arts to a) say so loudly and repeatedly, via our FB page (link from website) or elsewhere; b) join the BSA and increase our national representation. The BSA exists solely to help artists and develop the arts.

TJ: According to the Strat Plan the BNAI is meant in principle to place Setswana culture at the ‘center rather than the periphery’ of the institute’s learning. This would go a long way towards shaping a strong cultural identity in the arts. Thus far, any graduates in the fields of the arts have had to study outside our borders and their influences and references are mainly if not exclusively international. I suppose one must exercise patience, art is hardly a national priority in Botswana and we must understand it will likely take time to recognize our own stories as worthy of staging. This for me is really what is at the center of an argument for an institute such as the BNAI. To have a formally recognized body that can mainstream professional/international best practices while also ensuring that we do not loose sight of the value of our cultural resource (myths, poetry, ritual, history, songs) as a breeding ground for all our narratives. To offer the global arts marketplace product/ions that meet specified standards but also hopefully present something unique to space from which they were hatched. Methinks we should all be praying, knees bent shoulders set to carry, for an explosion of sorts - part peace bomb and part magic wallet.

For general information on what the BSA does please visit . If you are interested in becoming a member or having a chat with the folks at the BSA they are happy to hear from you, kindly email / +267 3952949 or visit them at Plot 10213, Mafulo House, Broadhurst, Gaborone.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


The word Maitisong is a Setswana word meaning place of (evening) entertainment.
The Maitisong auditorium is a small theatre with just over 400 seats in a raked auditorium. It is built on the school grounds of Maru a Pula Secondary School (go MAP!) and serves as that private school’s morning assembly hall and a space for the students’ drama productions and variety shows. Beyond that the space is used for community theatre, professional dance companies, music shows, as well as any and all expressions of art. Besides being Maitisong’s 25th anniversary 2012 is also MAP’s 40th. Over its quarter of a century the venue has had 3 directors David Slater, Gao Lemmenyane and Rosalyn (Ros) Beukes. Their duties range from facilitating, promoting, managing performance and visual arts to producing and directing productions.

A wide variety of events from international classical presentations to stagings of The princess and the pea take place over the course of the year. When we (the Exoduslive poets) used to host monthly poetry sessions, we called Maitisong home for a number of years. Besides externally coordinated festivals, Maitisong directly curates a few annual events such as The President’s Concert (all proceeds to charity), The Maitisong Festival (initially a musically focused fest that grew its repertoire to include dance, theatre, poetry etc spread all over the city on weekends for a whole month) and the Harmony Festival (inviting the foreign missions and individuals to showcase cultural expression under one roof).

I spoke to Ros from Maitisong over a plate of delicious chicken and avo wrap with a crispy salad courtesy of the newly opened resident cafĂ© – The Bean Bag. I ask if she is happy with the state of the arts in Botswana and Ros says she is extremely optimistic. She points out that she has seen positive developments over the years. On the whole artists are exhibiting much more discipline, quality of productions from plots to props is increasing and the variety of acts being staged is broadening beyond just theatre and traditional dance to include other forms and cross-genre collaborations.

I bring up the lack of private sector support or really any kind of steady funding - Botswana has no arts council, no lottery funded projects and CSI is not mandatory for companies doing business here. Ros points out that when she speaks to the private sector she is representing not only herself but a space they are familiar with and accepts that perhaps that allows her more room to maneuver than an individual director or solo vocalist trying to access the same funds. We speak about challenges and she and I agree the challenges are there, but that artists are also brilliant at making excuses and complaining often at the expense of exploring alternatives such as starting small and out of pocket. A number of promising artists have given up as they say they lack support and there isn’t nearly enough crewing and ‘paying it forward’ going on between artists. There isn’t as much of an arts community as there easily could be in a small city where everyone knows everyone else, instead of ‘I’ll film your show if your poets open for my band next week’ artists rarely engage in discourse beyond echoing the lack of support.

Ros reiterates that Maitisong has always been open to partnerships with promoters and organizers. The truth of the matter is as a physical space with infrastructural demands and full time staff they need to generate income in order to survive, but they are also cognizant of the financial constraints facing local artists. Different directors over the years have created opportunities to accommodate or engage the cultural community in various ways which how groups such as the Gaborone Choral Society were formed and the Maitisong festival was initiated and is in part why Maitisong exists at all.

For me Maitsong is an example of the tenacity of art, the possibility of proof that art means something to us all not just the dancer and actor but the watcher and the listener. In a city barely 45 years old, with only 400 000 residents give or take a few hundred commuters, here is a space always with its doors open and the lights on, waiting…


Bokomo the food manufacturer/brand is running a Valentine’s day competition. Winner gets dinner for two and overnight accommodation at Cresta and perhaps most importantly they also get to donate a food hamper to their favourite charity.
But they aren’t just looking for any poem, it has to be a sonnet ( with either the words ‘pure’ or ‘sugar’ in it.
The shortlisted poets will get a chance to read their poems on radio while the listeners vote for the winning poem.

The official details are below
"BOKOMO Botswana would like to run a competition based on their product Pure Sugar. This competition is open to poets in Botswana. We would like them to write a sonnet or 14 line poem (as long asit is 30 seconds long) The poem has to have to words PURE or SUGAR in it.
The poets must submit their poems by the 6th of February. Their poems will be aired on live radio, so they may be called on a scheduled day to recite their poems. Listeners will call in and vote for their favourite poem, and the winner will get a night for two at Cresta (Dinner and Accommodation) and they will also have the chance to donate a BOKOMO hamper to a charity of choice."