BOTSWANA: Motoko - Sereetsi & The Natives
Updated: Nov 1, 2021
Stories of life's everyday happenings are sung with amazing instrumentation behind them in a wonderful crossover of genres
One of the joys of this journey around the globe’s different music cultures is that we have of course discovered a myriad of musical genres that we had previously never heard before. From Africa alone we have been blessed with raï, mbalax, and soukous, to name just three. Whilst this is a wonderful thing, another pleasure which is somewhat rarer is listening to albums which fuse together different styles that we are already accustomed to in the West. This is where Sereetsi and the Natives come in. In the process of trying to identify what their music actually was, I realised that it might best be described as funk-folk.
“...The Natives are not just the band who play alongside him, but rather the fans as well. After listening to this album, I can proudly declare myself a fully-fledged ‘native’ and I am sure you will be too.”
Singer, songwriter and producer Tomeletso Sereetsi is an interesting character. Considered a cultural revolutionary in Botswana due to his unique four-string folk guitar stylings, which he based his first album on and even sold books about, as well as tickets to a workshop tour about his technique, decided to up the ante on this album by creating a more diverse instrumentation. The often funky, though sometimes soulful, and even jazzy style are part in thanks to the prominence of other instruments alongside the panache with which he plays folk guitar. That said, the guitar as an instrument is of clear importance to him. He named the album Motoko, after his father, Motoko John Sereetsi, to due to the fact that he did not view the guitar as a taboo object, like many Batswana parents might have done at the time. Instead, he accepted Tomeletso’s penchant for the instrument, allowing him to flourish into the talented musician he shows himself to me. Another heart-warming double meaning of the word ‘Motoko’ is that it is a Serolong word which means ‘praising someone’, showing that he feels indebted to his unfortunately deceased father.
The band at times remind me of my favourite group from the modern era, Vulfpeck. Though not nearly as eccentric their sound particularly on the middle section of the album with songs like Botengtengteng have echoes of the Americans’ vibe. The beginning of the album contains some rather floaty sounding tracks such as Maobenka and Mpompela, The latter of these contains lovely backing vocals at is quite a memorable number. In fact, the opener Sebodu is a bit of an earworm too and is a great precursor to the rather mysterious Kgatlha Thuu! which feature Sereetsi’s amazing vocals. This first part of the album ends with the beautiful simplicity of Nthapelala, before the group step on the funk pedal and start to ramp up the tempo of the mellow party.
My favourite song, which is actually sung in Kalanga, is Pasi Pa Nyolo a really beautiful soulful track. This precedes Mpopi, a song rather amusingly about a sex doll. This track features Terry Lewis II's amazing alto sax solo, as the rest of the album continue to have an undercurrent of Motown on both Ke Mono Fela and Ntsholela, which will make most people nod their head along too. One rather surprising discovery on the album is that many of the lyrics sound like they are being sung in Finnish. Though I am not aware of a strong link between the world’s largest producer of diamonds and the European capital of heavy metal, it sure did put a smile on my face. That said, the album featured a bunch of Scandinavian collaborators including Swedes David Bäck on piano, Tobias Grim on electric guitar and was co-produced by drummer Mikael Rosen. Sereetsi himself makes clear that The Natives are not just the band who play alongside him, but rather the fans as well. After listening to this album, I can proudly declare myself a fully-fledged ‘native’ and I am sure you will be too.