My summer and fall have been long and full of barely containable anticipation and quiet preparation. My winter will be short and driven by excitement and admiration as I watch the projects of my fellow Fellows, Albulena, Katherine and Jeff, take their first steps, before I arrive in sunbaked Gaborone in mid-January. Due to commitments here in Boston, I pushed my start date until the New Year, which has given me ample time to reflect on the opportunity before me and crystallize the amorphous ambitions of my project into concrete goals.
I will be in Botswana for nine months working with local musicians and the AIDS community. Specifically, I hope to investigate and document the current and potential relationship between the local hip-hop music, motswako, and HIV/AIDS awareness. Even in the face of big ambition, I like to keep my expectations grounded in reality, and so at this point they are based on my understanding of global hip-hop and my brief stint in Gaborone as a study abroad student in 2008.
If hip-hop is a universal genre of subversion—a music that is not afraid to stare The Man in the face and turn accepted beliefs and authority structures upside down—then how does a homegrown version of hip-hop confront an epidemic with an adult prevalence rate of 25%? If these emcees, poets and artists are not talking about the stubborn elephant in the room, than the question becomes why aren’t they? And how can I help as a musician, documenter and friend in activating these relationships? These are questions I hope to answer over the course of my project, while stepping beyond the abstracts of a casual observer. That is, I hope to also be a dynamic agent and partner in utilizing the power of an art form with a global reach and a universally recognized power to change societies to foster mutual understanding and inspire progress.
Until recently my plans have been confined to the machinations of my mind, but as my departure date nears I have also been taking some real action. Tapping into the local Boston music scene that I have grown to love, I have been frequenting shows in the area and cramming my memory cards with photos and video whenever I’m not the one on stage. I have started reconnecting with old friends in Gaborone, including musicians I collaborated with in the past and the countless artists in that small city who inspired me to embark on this project in the first place. It’s exciting to receive emails filled with enthusiasm for my goals and eagerness to be involved.
As these things tend to go, I know that the reality on the ground will be drastically different from what I imagine three months and eight thousand miles away. So I’m keeping the imaginings at a minimum and focusing on making sure I am ready to dive into my project as soon as I step off the plane. I can’t wait to share my impressions, discoveries and progress with you.
I’ll leave you with a little precursor, the latest hit from hip-hop giant Nomadic, featuring Motswaki Vic and my old friend Khwezi—“For the Love” is an upbeat ode to the art that shapes Botswana’s popular music landscape: