It does not take long to see why Gaborone-based hip-hop artist Apollo Diablo is known as “the Mayor of the City.” It is hard to walk ten paces anywhere in Gabs without stopping for him to say “dumela” or “howzit” to someone he knows. In his neighborhood, children—eyes open wide with awe and uncontainable grins—yell “Apollo!” and wave. At the launch party of a university lifestyle magazine, Apollo practically doubles the crowd with the size of his posse.
After spending time with Apollo Diablo over my first month here in Gaborone, it quickly became clear to me that my conversations with him could serve as the perfect introduction to hip-hop music in Botswana.
Not only is he a veteran, having been involved in the scene for over ten years (only slightly shorter than the music’s entire history here), but he also approaches his music and the culture it radiates with uniquely critical eyes and ears. More than any other emcee I have had the pleasure of talking to so far, he appreciates the weight of his words and the power of the music he champions. His music addresses issues that are important to Batswana, like identity, crime, struggle and the AIDS epidemic. He sees his casino online music as a tool for social observation and change, but also knows that the catchier it is, the more likely it is that the message will stick. His polysyllabic, multilingual rhymes layered over accessible, booming beats invite introspection while also making you want to throw your hands in the air and party like it’s the turn of the century.
On the verge of releasing his newest full-length album, I sat down with Apollo to learn about what it was like for him to be involved in charting the development of hip-hop in Botswana from its beginnings in the late 90s until the present day. While there are countless other voices that will shed more light on hip-hop/motswako and its social power in the months to come, who better to kick it all off than The Mayor of the City?
Apollo Diablo has released three full-length albums and has appeared on countless mixtapes and compilations. You can find more of his music here.
I have been busy in Gaborone, talking to whoever is willing and showing up to every hip-hop event I hear about. Stay tuned for more exploration of the power of hip-hop music in Botswana, some insight into what makes motswako unique and some forays into other aspects of hip-hop culture like street art and poetry.