Keeping culture alive through dance

While most musicians are moving with trends and adopting the latest digital equipment to make their sound better, Tswana dominated, Black Melody Cultural Group believes there is more fulfillment and originality in churning out traditional vibes.

The group has defied all odds and is determined to keep their cultural beliefs alive through music and dance in the primitive of ways, assuming you are eccentric, and does not intend to venture into contemporary music anytime soon.

Despite the traditional group’s core dancers being teenagers and young adults, they have a serious resemblance of what 19th century traditionalists believed in and how most traditional groups lived like in the ancient times.

The group has become a common sight in gala dinners and corporate gatherings in town with potential to arouse cheers from the different groupings of people who attend the formal occasions.

The 20-member cultural group has in the past toured Rwanda and Cuba and has carved its own niche market in the music circles. Most of its members believe their culture has managed to keep the music from the technological contamination brought by of globalisation.

The group, which was formed in 1992 as a choral gospel group but in 2006, rebranded and went back to their roots specialising in traditional Setswana music with the aim of preserving their culture.

Group Chairperson, Thandi Totong said the group’s future is hinged on keeping the Tswana culture and beliefs alive and prove that the advent of technology and contemporary music does not mean the death of culture.

“The fact that we are a small minority group in Namibia has kept us going. People seem to forget where they come from when they get dazzled by urban life. They tend to forget their roots.

“We really do not feel intimidated wearing our skin clothes and for us nakedness is not an issue. Our dressing is about keeping our Tswana culture alive and so many people have fallen in love with us,’ says Totong.

Totong said on numerous occasions, people have enquired about their origins after finding it difficult to relate them to the Namibian lifestyle.

“Many people have asked whether we are from South Africa or Botswana but we are determined to show people that we are originally Namibian and we want to keep our culture,” said Totong.

The group, unlike most other musicians worldwide who have seen their careers going down the drain because they fail to uphold fame and end up indulging in drugs and sex, the group abides by family principles.

“We have managed to stay together for a very long time and once in a while we meet and discuss our relationship with each other. We have seen most youths of today have been overtaken by drugs and sex but for us it’s about doing the right thing. We are more than comfortable performing in our traditional dressing and even if people say we are naked or semi-naked we believe there is no better way of doing it,” said Totong.

She adds that they have managed to separate time for their social lives and time needed for the group to showcase its talent.

“We are proud to be what we are today and we feel like we have a part to play in shaping our future and the other generations to come,” says Totong.

The group has proven that tradition has nothing to do with lack of intellectual capacity as some of the members have degrees in some of the most challenging and enviable fields.

Totong is a banker by profession while Cecilia Labong, one of the members is a diamond cutter by profession.

“It is so interesting how we are happy to take a break from our formal life and showcase our dancing skills for everyone to admire. Such is the beauty of culture which cuts across all boundaries and knows no borders,” Totong says.

Black Melody Cultural Group has so far recorded one album, ‘Tautona Pohamba’ in 2009 and is eager to visit the studio soon.

They believe the biggest challenge they have faced is to bridge the tribal gap existing in Namibia.

“Sometimes it is very difficult for other tribes to buy our music or relate to us because they do not understand what we are singing about but we know music knows no boundaries and we are eager to close in that gap,” concludes Totong. PF