What comes to your mind when you think of the four string katara ya Setswana? Sadly, most of the associations of such a guitar are negative. It is the guitar of bommasekanta; village losers (dikopa) who spend inordinate time imbibing traditional beer and indulging in excessive merriment when they should be in some productive preoccupations. “A lot of performance artists….typically lived on the road from shebeen to shebeen. They did not take to formal employment or farming, which was the main economic activity at the time. They never had a permanent physical address. This irreverence for socio-economic conventions ensured them a station on society’s further fringes” writes Mr Tomeletso Sereetsi the author of The solo four string guitar of Botswana. His publication is an 83-page book that comes with a cd. Sereetsi’s publication is a fresh, novel and significant contribution to Botswana’s musicology. It will for many years to come stand as a definitive reference point to a pivotal moment in the contemporization of the folk music of Botswana. His contribution is the more remarkable when one considers that Sereetsi has no formal music training. This is not to say he does not understand the formal music terminology. He understands much of the complex western jazz chord progressions and scales and modals because he is self-taught and an informally educated musician.
First let us consider what is in the book. The book is designed to teach you how to play the four string Tswana guitar. It introduces one to parts of a guitar, so that one would understand what terms such as fretboard, headstock, bridge and saddle mean and what the said parts do in a guitar. He also explains how to get a four string from a modern guitar: that one must remove the A and D strings leaving one with E (low), G, B and E (high) strings which are retuned to Eb, Eb (two octaves higher), G and Bb. The book teaches 36 chords which include a demonstration of finger position on the fretboard, chord formula and a photo showing the finger positions. These are followed by a demonstration of the common chord progressions. An exciting section of the book comprises 9 groves which demonstrate common chord progressions used in many of the common songs played on radio.
The book also pays homage to some of the well known four string guitarists. Amongst these are the following: Dikgang Malete, Molefe Western Lekgetho, Aupa Tlou, Sibonkile Kgaila, Malefho Stampore Mokha, Gaoabiwe Thapson, Taka Kotaeshele Baponi, George Swabi, Johnny Kobedi, Monaga Stika-Sola Molefi, Andries Bok and many others. A discussion of their contribution to the genre is discussed together with their short biographical information. An inclusion of the photos of some of the four string guitarists is a commendable addition to the book since many of them have been heard over the airwaves and not seen.
The four string Tswana guitar has for many years now been part of the Setswana culture. Many have in the past commented on its role in the entertainment industry of our society but none has done what Sereetsi has done. He has demonstrated that its notes and chords can be reduced to staff notation and be taught like any other modern guitar style. For this, he deserves our most sincere commendation. Much of the Tswana intellectual property, especially the intangible ones, has not been contemporized. Developments of the past 10 years where we saw books outlining how to cook certain local dishes are welcomed in the preservation of our intangible culture. We need more texts of how to. Sereetsi therefore through The solo four string guitar of Botswana contributes to the education and preservation of Setswana musical heritage. Batswana must be encouraged to document and preserve various parts of their culture; whether it is dance, dress, cuisine, religion, or language. Certainly one person cannot do everything. However, as each individual does their bit, then we would be able to have a composite understanding and appreciation of our culture. Such a process will take a long time and coordinated efforts. There is however much that can be done at an in individual level to encourage such efforts. First we could encourage those who produce material such as that of Sereetsi by buying it. There is nothing as frustrating as putting time and resources into the production of a book, cd or any product and then it is not bought. Some wish to get such material for free when it had cost money to compile. Others copy it illegally. We need to develop a culture of purchasing locally produced material to support our local artists and researchers. Second, school worthy material such as the one by Sereetsi should be ordered by libraries and taught in schools. This will encourage the appreciation of local culture and heritage and not relegate it to the margins of society and shebeens.