Mmegi/The Reporter (Gaborone)

Botswana: Indigenous Rhythms Inspire Leburu

Art is a tool of expression that has seen artists using it as a medium to communicate their ideas and feelings about their social environment. Kabo Leburu is a jazz musician-cum-guitarist. With the stroke of fingers, he will sure move you to dance, as he makes music with his guitar.

He says he finds inspiration from "our indigenous rhythms and any thing and every thing around me. My own experiences as a young person and those of other people in life and in love have inspired songs such as Footsteps, Baile and Loving You. And sometimes a melody would be playing in my head and through guitar and harmonica I would share it with those who dare listen," he says. The 30-year-old Leburu says his odyssey into the world of music started way back when he was a teenager.

His uncle had a guitar at home, and Leburu would steal it and play it while the uncle was not around. Besides a guitar, he plays harmonica.

"I started playing the guitar end of 1996 and the harmonica in 1999. A harmonica is also called a mouth organ, but most of us harmonica players fondly call it a harp. I am a self-taught musician," he says.

His first flirt with a band started in 1998 when he and friends formed a group called Strings of God in Lobatse. But he later left the band to pursue his studies in Gaborone. "However, most people would remember me as the lead guitarist of Dance Afrika. Dance Afrika, which was formed in 2005. I spent a year in the rehearsal room, went out to play for another year then disbanded. A very painful experience, but I had to carry on," he says. From his new jazz album, Footsteps, you could feel his musicianship coming out of the songs, but perhaps what is remarkable about him is the passion that he has for music. This is one feature that definitely separates him from most of Botswana's popular musicians. It can be argued that most of them, who rely much on CDs and lip-synching, are more of dancers than musicians and one can only hope they take his cue and learn to at least play a musical instrument. Whilst a University of Botswana (UB) student, Leburu and his friends dazzled many people as they would spend the whole day and night taking turns strumming a guitar, whilst singing at the same time.

"That is what happens when there is a lot to share and there is only one guitar. We were many and we inspired one another. We were just having fun and sharing ideas as well as being creative. It didn't matter where, when or how it was done as long as there was a guitar. We kept playing. We even formed a band and did a few gigs at the refectories and other events in both campuses," he explains. His musical trip saw him play with Botswana Musicians' Union award winning female songbird, Puna Gabasiame , Shanti Lo and Machesa.

"My guitar also appears in albums of Diphala and that of Mo Molemi (SA) in which Shanti Lo was featured on vocals. I have played my harmonica on Ntirelang Bearman's Motlalepula, which is where he got inspired and picked one and started blowing as well," he says.

The feeling that he gets as he strums his guitar is so exotic that he is at a loss explaining it in words. When he picks the instrument, he says, it is like opening the keys to a totally different world.

"A lot of times my mind just drifts away and I feel like I am not touching the ground. When you talk to me I can hear you, but often can't respond unless I come back from this un-named world. My performances are my invitation to you and every Motswana to experience that feeling," he explains.

When asked, he would not say whether he considered himself a good singer or good guitar player. He would rather have the question answered by music critics and fans.

Playing the instrument and singing, for him are just his way of sharing with the listening public his perception of life "and I do that best with my guitar and harmonica. Sometimes it becomes very difficult to express this through the instruments and that's where I bring in the voice. I am not a terrible singer. I have heard terrible voices, Bob Dylan is one of them. He got away with that though," he muses.

Talking about his first album he says it is his way of introducing his music in a package. The 10-track Footsteps' intro and outro are known traditional folk guitar pieces inspired by the likes of Andries Bok and Ndona Poifo.

"The other eight songs are a full-band kind of set up and I'm featuring our local jazz giants (I consider myself a small giant). These are John Selolwane, Lister Boleseng, Tsilo Baitsile and Citie Seetso. I have also featured Mingy, an Afro-Pop singer from South Africa. She did all the voices in A Ride To Tsodilo as well as backing vocals in Loving You," he says. The reception of the album, he reveals, has been good and encouraging something which shows him the listening public has been longing for a fresh breather from what some critics have referred to as noise, that has been churned out by the local music industry.

At the moment he is trying to roll out the album and this means promoting it through music shows and radio interviews among other things.

"Releasing this project is one of the milestones in my musical journey. This is a tricky industry and one can only work hard and hope for the best. I can comfortably say indeed, there is a very bright light at the end of the tunnel," he says.

Producing the album he says, has not been easy. Due to lack of sponsorship, he had to finance the album from his pocket.

"I will call upon all those that have financial capacity to support local music projects.

Local artists have a big potential, no doubt about that. I am currently setting up a production and promotions company called Musique Junction that will manage Kabo Leburu's activities so I can concentrate on playing the music. I can't do everything myself," he admits.

He feels his music, thanks to the exquisite sound, has a popular appeal, and is sure that everybody, both the young and the old, will find something to identify with in the music.

"The music is both danceable and soothing. I am working on logistics to do a series of shows to promote the album around the country. I also intend to take it beyond our borders," he says.

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