Something truly magical happened in New York, USA recently. A whimsical yet authentic moment vividly captured through the #BotswanaUnplugged lens for all to see and cherish for many years to come. You see, they don’t just call New York “The City That Never Sleeps” nonchalantly! Dreams are made here. This is the only city I know in the world where reveries actually bloom and anybody from anywhere can actually become somebody.
Allow me to paint a serene yet vibrant picture for you. You see, when I Love Botswana Ensemble – a traditional and contemporary dance music group from the landlocked country of Botswana – an autonomous country known for its peace and tranquillity, including its profuse and enchanting flora and fauna, but less known by the many unwitting souls around the world – invaded New York, USA recently, where they crooned and pranced animatedly courtesy of their action-packed recital dubbed “Pula” at PlayStation Theatre, Times Square, New York, USA on August 22 – 23rd 2018 – New Yorkers and everybody living in the eclectic city took notice. The I Love Botswana ensemble’s performance on Broadway was marvellous, magnificent, mind blowing and truly historic.
All the youthful Batswana dancers were phenomenal, remarkable, incredible, wonderful and utterly outstanding. From the moment they took to the intimidating and majestic PlayStation Theatre stage until they finished, the Botswana dancers were graceful, mesmerising, synchronised, expressive, heart-touching, creative, exemplary, beautiful, alluring and flawless to the core.
Being a national project aptly tagged Botswana on Broadway and co-created and produced by Botswana Tourism Organization (BTO) as well as Mophato Dance Theatre under the direction of Andrew Letso Kola for the International Tourism Bourse (ITB) Berlin 2017 in Germany – the group is made up of renowned Botswana traditional music groups such as Nare Tsa Pina, Khudu Thamaga, Mophato Dance Theatre, Ntirelang Berman, Skit beat, Tsoga Africa and Bana ba Kwena.
The Botswana group regaled New Yorkers with their U.S Debut and World Premiere of an immaculate performance aptly dubbed ‘Pula’ – the Botswana currency or rain, often used in official salutations. However, prior to conquering Broadway and unexpectedly sweeping everybody off their feet, the I Love Botswana ensemble had also given an impressively charged performance at the 37th Annual Battery Dance Festival, New York City’s longest-running free public dance festival.
This was not the first time the group performed in New York, USA. Just last year, 2017, the ensemble led, choreographed and artistically directed by Kola and being Botswana’s first Afro-Fusion and Contemporary Dance Company was invited to participate at the Battery Dance Festival.
The Botswana group was performing for the first time at the 36th annual Battery Dance Festival in Manhattan, New York, USA where they had the copious dance fans eating out of their dancing and musical palms, earning themselves a well-deserved standing ovation to the merriment of everyone who had graced the evening’s festivities.
And this year was no different, as a repeat and heartfelt appreciation played itself right before the eyes of everyone – a befitting moment which prompted excited New Yorkers to join the group on stage – dancing and singing along to their melodic Setswana recitals.
All the shows were sold out, as everybody hankered to see the Botswana group’s scintillating performances, which the New York Times described as “one of abundance.”
The group received raving reviews across all US media and networks including all the prolific photographers and critics alike.
Each year, the Battery Dance Festival draws a combined audience of over 12, 000 people and this was the second time the Botswana group had been invited to showcase, after they won New Yorkers’ hearts last year.
This year was no different, as the group did it again, earning themselves a well-deserved standing ovation courtesy of their highly-charged and inspired prancing moves. Of all the groups that performed, the I Love Botswana ensemble is the only group that earned itself a standing ovation at Battery Park, Pace University and PlayStation Theatre where they performed on different nights.
The Botswana group earnestly regaled New Yorkers with their U.S Debut and World Premiere of an immaculate performance aptly dubbed ‘Pula’ – the Botswana currency or rain, often used in official salutations.
The vision of the group is to cultivate cultural tourism in Botswana as well as give artists international exposure thus offering young Batswana an equal advantage of opportunity to succeed through this platform. Furthermore, the vision of the project is to give the ensemble significant international exposure and demonstrate that dance in Botswana can compete with the best of the best.
The I Love Botswana ensemble Artistic Director, Andrew Letso Kola said, “I’m so happy our dream came true. This is amazing. The group performed to its outmost best. This is beyond beautiful and amazing,” said Kola adding that “I’m happy to see all our careers blossoming beyond how we had envisioned it. Everybody is super excited. All the standing ovations at Battery Dance Festival and PlayStation Theatre are all testament to the many years of dedication to our hard work, blood, sweat and tears.”
The new production by I Love Botswana ensemble, Pula or rain, is highly cherished in Botswana, a semi-arid country in Africa and this fictional play – anchored on the practical and mystical relationship that Batswana have with rain – traces how rain brings humans, plants and animals under one Botswana sky a befitting story truly told on stage courtesy of the energetic and immaculate Botswana group, as they truly left no stone unturned in search of their well-deserved Broadway glory.
“Because of this close relationship with rain, Batswana have always had endless names for rain depending on whether the rain is creating or destroying, whether it is before or after the plating of crops. And so, when drought hits one tiny village in Botswana, the chief assembles his villagers to find a solution. One young woman, Mmapula is identified as the Rainmaker who must set forth in adventurous search of a specific type of life-giving rain for her people,” said Kola about his latest production which recently took Broadway by storm.
Pula, which is profoundly a spell-binding musical from Botswana chronicles a rainmaker’s quest to regain her powers as her physical and spiritual rite of passage takes her to the inland delta and savannas of their homeland whereupon she consults tribespeople, animal and plant communities for wisdom.
“In this community, where life is lived in communion with all living beings, the Rainmaker – through traditional song and dance – unites all creation toward the goal of bringing rain to her desert land. The result is an exhilarating celebration of all life, with a powerful, heart-warming twist.”
The Botswana group received so much love in New York, USA as everybody rallied behind the group whenever they took to the intimidating albeit enchanting stage. All profoundly united in song and dance, New Yorkers and Batswana alike living in the USA, all dressed in traditionally-inspired attires, came in large numbers to offer their irrefutable support to the captivating Botswana group. Prior to their Botswana on Broadway performance, the group also engaged in various flash mobs across New York; one at Columbus Circle as well as Times Square, and the love was truly felt.
The mood at PlayStation Theatre was also electrifying. Everybody including the cast beamed with smiles ahead of this world premiere. It was gratifying to see everybody proudly united and rallying behind the Blue, Black and White flag courtesy of this production aptly tagged ‘Pula’. The youthful dancers all shined from start to finish, and judging from the ululations which emanated from the filled to capacity PlayStation Theatre, the world is truly their oyster.
Broadway is a multi-billion Dollar network of the largest theatres in the world, which connects productions to audiences, agents and promotes who partner or buy shows from $20 to $200 million+ based on the longevity of the contract to run the performances.
“Having Botswana on Broadway will further the diversification awareness of the country’s tourism product. This is extremely important especially in the positioning of the country at grand scale. The journey started at ITB, and it has truly demonstrated how much value we stand to draw from doing such projects at grand scale. However, such projects require substantial funding and we thank our government for having heeded a call to support I Love Botswana ensemble.
The dream at Broadway is a stepping stone for more opportunities which have already started streaming in and are being reviewed. Private sector support will be necessary as we go forward as such a project requires substantial budgets. However, Botswana has been able to however achieve this at a fraction of a cost and a shorter time as compared to similar projects on the same platform. Return on investment has been phenomenal, skills development and destination branding equally achieved. This will certainly open doors for more groups from Botswana.”