If you hear that Moremi Game Reserve is rocking these days, chances are it’s not only because of the wildlife spotted. The Okuti
choir is putting on a show.
Guests at Okuti
were treated to what choir members call a full-blown “presentation” one night this week. The half-hour concert featured singing, drumming, clapping, drama and traditional dancing. Twenty members strong, the co-ed choir is one of the loudest, happiest and most harmonious I have heard in Africa. They perform songs written by waiter Laone “JohnBoy” Kehemetswe, the choirmaster, and a classic that never fails to move guests with its lyrics sung under the Southern Cross: “Oh, beautiful Africa…. Africa.... I shall never forget…. beautiful Africa.”
Says Gakenathata “Solly” Solomon, a guide, “Dancing is part of our culture. We're still showing our culture to our guests to show it is very, very special. Even though people are changing up their lifestyles, living in cities, the culture still exists. We show the presentation of life.”
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“Solly when he found me (in school), he was very good in dancing. And then I was the best,” says Ontlametse “Chachos” Njwaki, laughing. “We were always dominating each other. In our school we had the prize giving. He had a prize, and I had a prize.” One would be selected for first place, the other second, and then it would switch.
He and Solly were among 14 traditional dancers who competed against students from around Botswana – Maun, Gumare, Shakawe. “We were always the best,” says Chachos.
By good fortune, Chachos, who started later in pursuing his dream of becoming a guide than Solly, landed last year in Okuti. He finally was a guide like Solly. But he found that Solly had not been dancing. With the two friends and competitors reunited, that changed. Dancing took off in the choir.
“We started to remind ourselves of the steps that we used to dance in school,” he says. “People were impressed to see Solly dance.”
They began working with the other guys. “We are trying to teach “NT,” but the legs is too heavy. Salane is really trying, but the only thing with him is that he is quite old – 43 years old -- but he's trying at the back,” says Chachos, getting a big laugh from guide Ntshupegetsang “NT,” Forombi of the choir. (Salane is Salane Masala, a guide.)
Solly says, “When dancing I feel very proud of my country and my culture.
Even the guests say, ‘This is the best choir ever since we’ve been traveling around.’ The magic is we practice. And we write and combine the songs.”
Chachos sums it up best: “We’ve grown up singing and dancing. … When I sing, when I dance, I will sleep -- wow -- with good memories.”
- Maria Henson, a guest at Okuti in June 2016, spent a glorious year on sabbatical in Botswana in 2008. She loves the “Beautiful Africa” song and still has tears well up when she hears it.