Naked Soul Sessions

Ngozi Chuckura tells us about the growing live music scene

Editors’ Note: By request of the artist Shanti Lo, we have used a mix of pronouns as the identifiers for the artist.

Naked Soul Sessions is one of the most interesting nights out that one can have in Gaborone. The Sessions, the brainchild of singer, Mpho Sebina, began in February 2016 at the Beier Barone in the Main Mall.

It is a platform for local performers to share their craft with an audience that is hungry for regular entertainment in the form of live music in the city. The show has featured Mpho Sebina, Cybil Nite and Ntirelang Berman.

Season Two of the Sessions has been, since the beginning of the year, staged at The Number One Ladies Coffee House. Episode three featured veteran singer, Shanti Lo. Shanti exploded into the live music scene about seven years ago, with a voice like molten rock; strong, versatile, fluid and hot. The Sessions were Shanti’s first live performance after a hiatus of sorts; the anticipation in the air was palpable.

Before she came on, her band performed a song called “Backstabbers”. The title of the song belies the tone; upbeat, jazzy undulations and a vocalist (Shanti’s backup singer), with a voice dipped in honey and butter. When Shanti stepped onto stage, he didn’t disappoint. She glimmered in a green jacket, drenched in gold sequins.

He was nervous, he said; “the music industry has received a series of blows… political, personal; its an emotional performance for me; I haven’t been this intimate in a while, having a drink, I’ve always wanted to do NSS and I think it’s going to grow because of the team of dedicated people behind it…”

Her nervousness didn’t show; by the third song, she had warmed up- increased the heat to that molten gold her audience is used to. He sang his heart out, moving steadily through her repertoire of songs; many of which the audience danced and sang along to. She intimated that she is working on a new album, and shared a number of songs from the offering. Many of Shanti’s songs are about love. Not the sugar- coated, rose-tinted- glasses love; he sings of a love that transforms those that do the loving. A love that changes societies, that permeates every word that she sings.

“Kgale ke mo ratile”… he sings, (I have loved him / her for a long time)… a song of praise for a lover who draws out the best in him. Following “Ke a Mo Rata” she performed “Chirwele”, a rendition of a folk song about a young girl whose mother le her at home to go and run errands. At the time, a fearful demi-god, Dimo, was terrorizing the village, and Chirwele’s mother composed a special song that would serve as a ‘password’ so that the girl would not mistakenly open the door for the deaemon. “Chirwele” began with high, forceful vocals and eased into Shanti’s contemporary rendition of it.

“We keep trying to revamp it,” he said, when he was done. For Shanti, jazz is a pliable medium; the song has had many incarnations, and will evolve even as the artist and her band do.

“Sala le Nna” (stay with me) pulled the audience into their feelings. “Sala le Nna” is ballad about the pain that sometimes accompanies love; a plea to a lover to stay, to work on the relationship. Next, Shanti performed “Botho”, a song about the brotherhood of man; the love that pulls us together, as human beings. “Don’t put down another man, he is your brother. Don’t take pleasure in his pain and suffering,” Shanti sang. By the time the final song played out, the crowd was on their feet, swaying, singing and whooping in time with the music.

One of the most interesting things to watch when one goes to see live music is the rapport that the band has with one another. Shanti and her band were a joy to watch. eir love for their cra was transparent, and they carried the crowd with them, on their musical journey.

As Shanti said, Naked Soul Sessions is an extremely intimate night out. The crowd is small, and Jade Solomon, the ‘hostess with the mostest’, oats through the audience, greeting everyone- many by name.

And no matter who is on stage, it really does feel like you’re in the right place.

By Ngozi Chuckura