I've been traveling quite a bit over the last five years and wanting to work on projects that would allow me to handpick other Batswana poets and tailor make a kind of this-is-Botswana-bevy to present to an international audience, while introducing Batswana to other world voices. Only good can come of word-lovers meeting each other and sharing space.
Barolong is a kind of bridge between his generation of poets and the post 2000 generation of Batswana voices. He is widely published which is actually quite unusual in Botswana as ours is arguably not a big print culture though there is always an open mic/spoken word session happening in some place or other in the city. Enter Drea, before she moved to Brussels its fair to say she and I were two of a small group of the post 2000 poets whose work was becoming quite familiar across the country as it certainly already was within poetry circles in the city. Now based in a mainly French speaking country she continues to work on her craft within this new geographical context. On this trip Moroka is the only one to write and recite in Setswana. I was especially eager to include him because he presents a different and lesser heard/seen face of poetry coming out of Botswana. He is also just generally amazing at honouring the traditional form/s of Setswana poetry and this created an opportunity for me to get a sample of his work translated into English for the first time.
To create some sort of makeshift concept I perhaps should have led with this - Botswana has no arts council and the corporate social responsibility programs are often prohibitive and mainly interested in other, though not less worthy, fields such as children's care, education and sports. Accessing funding for art is always problematic and keeps most productions frozen at the level of high school drama showcase. We do have a department of Arts and Culture in the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture but anyone who lives here will tell you that nothing is cheap (Botswana is actually quite expensive unless you are earning your income in one of the top 3 foreign currencies) and the amounts offered by the DAC although welcome will hardly change the local arts landscape anytime soon.
Botswana is by far one of the most economically and politically stable countries not just on the continent but I might argue further afield and being classified as a middle income country I think adds to the perception that art and culture is a bona fide priority locally. There is in my opinion a lot of investment emotionally, financially and infrastructurally not so much. Quite a number of international funders either explicitly exclude Botswana (or limit applications to developing countries only) from their funding lists or at the very list prioritise other African countries that are of 'special interest' i.e. war torn, recovering from political turmoil etc. To find teh silver lining here its an opportunity to work free from outside string-pulling and influence but the reality is it can be tough out /in here and the end game for a lot of rising artists is to move to South Africa or Europe.
Bookings can be quite sparse and this is not only financially troubling it is more importantly problematic for performance poets for whom working that performance muscle is essential to finding an authentic voice. With a mainly blank entertainment calendar the alternative is often for one to diarise attendance to beauty pageants because at least there is bound to be one of those every other month with a proper stage and one slot for a poet or singer between outfit changes. I'm only half joking, their is a concern about the quality versus the quantity of events as well. Half-hearted rant aside, I love my home and hopefully it will always be a base from which I can draw inspiration. Back to the project at hand, I was absolutely delighted when the Swedish Arts Council announced their decision to back this exchange.
We hope to see you at one of our three stops, come and say hi.