Award-winning Gospel superstar, songwriter and producer, Bafana Phempheretlhe Pheto released his debut album titled “Lekunutu le Morena” in July 1997. This year, the trailblazing Gospel troubadour from Molepolole is celebrating 20 years in the music industry! For two decades Pheto has blessed us with many great songs such as “Lekunutu le Morena,” “The Journey,” “My refuge is in God” and “No fornicators.”
According to Pheto; the who’s who of gospel legends among them Derrick Ndzimande, Moruti Shoba, Mpho Nakedi, Mmereki Marakakgoro and Sipho Makhabane are all expected to come together for a special day of music and ministry celebrating his gospel legacy.
Affectionately known as Phempheretlhe to his legion of fans, Pheto is busy working on a star-studded recording for the first part in his much-anticipated volume 20th Year Anniversary album, which will comprise of songs from all his six albums recorded over two decades. The albums are “Lekunutu le Morena” released in 1997, “Ke Bonye Phenyo” released in 1998, “Legae” published in 2000, and “We Are Waiting with Mmereki Marakakgoro” in 2004, “The Best of Phempheretlhe” in 2006 as well as “Moleke” put out in 2008.
Celebrating 20 years for the musical trailblazer since releasing his first album in 1997, a host of diverse performers will join Pheto for this milestone celebration. Although details of the actual celebration are still sketchy, Pheto affirmed that preparations for the ‘family fun day’ affair to be held sometime this year in Gaborone are currently ongoing where the prolific artist and his special guests will fill the stage with an inspiring evening of fresh, rousing performances on beloved hits such as “Lekunutu le Morena,” “The Journey” and more.
Furthermore, Pheto noted that the long-awaited 20-year celebration album will mix new music and fan favourites. But just who is Phempheretlhe and how important is his story in today’s market?
Born on March 28, 1972, the Molepolole native mastered the craft of playing keyboard/piano circa 1993 and started writing his own songs forthwith largely inspired by the likes of Mmereki Marakakgoro, Derrick Ndzimande and Moruti Shoba, who at the time produced Gospel hits inspired by African rhythms as opposed to Christian Pop, Rap, Rock or Classic Christian synonymous with the likes of Kirk Franklin, Mahalia Jackson and Cece Winans.
“At the time no local artist had a recorded product to their name as we used to go to the only radio station then; Radio Botswana to record our musical pieces on a programme dubbed “O Rudisa Moya Wame”. It was around 1994. It was only until May 1997 when I met Master D to record my debut 8-track album dubbed “Lekunutu le Morena” which was launched on 13 September 1997. The album was an instant hit! The reception was overwhelming,” stated Phempheretlhe who at the time had just completed his course as an Auto Electrician and was attached to government’s Central Transport Organisation (CTO).
When his internship elapsed, a battle of wits ensued as Phempheretlhe found himself “caught between a rock and a hard place” after he was offered a full-time post at Tsabong. Thankfully, one of his cousins; an erudite modern man by the name of Tiroentle Pheto encouraged him to follow his musical path having seen Phempheretlhe’s music prowess as well as the reception his debut album received from the buying masses.
“My cousin, Tiroentle had been exposed to various international cultures and trends and he encouraged me to focus fully on my musical journey. The album flew off the shelves. My shows were always packed to the rafters. My music did more than just put bread on the family table. I was even able to buy my first home in Block 3 thanks to hard-earned royalties,” said Phempheretlhe adding that at the time their music existed only on cassette tape. He remembers vividly how some people even used to think he was South African simply because his music existed on an audio cassette.
Although, the compact disc (CD) was released sometime in 1982, Phempheretlhe said the technology started filtering into the country towards the end of 1997. Quizzed about what myths and trials existed in his era which still exist in today’s musical landscape, Phempheretlhe said the biggest is the continued condemnation by various Batswana parents who still feel a career in the creative arts especially music is a waste of one’s time.
“We grew up in an era where musicians were commonly referred to as rasekanta or mmasekanta! We also heard utterances such as ‘o letsa matlhale aga saatane’. Others discouraged us saying, ‘otla hema!’ It was quite a challenge for one to carve his own golden niche but I persevered against all odds largely encouraged by my church, passion and dedication to the arts.”
Currently, Phempheretlhe sits in one of the Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) committees, possibly to offer his insights on the importance of music as part of the school curriculum.
“If you look at countries such as America, their countries are thriving thanks to the creative industry! There are no diamonds or oil but the country is proudly diversified thanks to its investment in the creative arts. Take for instance the thriving Hollywood or music industry! We need to start broadening our horizons.”
Regarding the subject of contentious debate where musicians continuously argue ‘local content must take front row seat on radio and TV’, Phempheretlhe said this can only be achieved when government issues out a directive to all broadcasters through the Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA). Currently, most if not all radio stations in Botswana are running on a 10-year licenses with a 30% local quota recommended which they are failing dismally to meet.
“Why can’t we do the same as South Africa who following protests by South African musicians against the lack of local music played on radio and TV, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) who last year announced that local music will now make up 90% of its playlist on all 18 of its radio stations – with immediate effect? The more familiar Batswana are with our artists through generous airplay or airtime, the better appreciation for our music,” said Phempheretlhe.
On the continuing and vexing issue of copyright infringement (piracy) especially due to technological advancements, the former Botswana Music Union (BOMU) President who served two terms (2005-2007 and 2013 – 2015) noted that things are slowly getting past crisis largely due to concerted efforts between musicians and government; and even more pleasing to note, the fact that the archaic Copyright Act of 1952 was revised and a new and revamped one put in place around 2008.
The married father of three said his wife, Dr. Figar Pheto whom he married on June 5, 1999 has always been supportive of his music career and always consults her for constructive criticism regarding his music. As a parting shot, Phempheretlhe urged other musicians to know that ‘patience is a virtue’ and that for one to achieve greatness they ought to first persevere.
“For me, music is a calling. I believe God chose me to preach his word via my music. God continues to be my motivator, the support I get from my family especially my wife is immense and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon,” said Phempheretlhe who in between music, family and church (Holiness Union Church) still finds time to carry out his duties as the Public Relations Officer (PRO) for Township Rollers FC.