President Festus Mogae has a few months going to the general election expected in 2009 to add to the legacy that has been left by his predecessors, Seretse Khama and Ketumile Masire. One of the things that he will have initiated, once all the bureaucratic stumbling blocks are out of the way, will be the renewal of the Botswana National Anthem, over which his office presides together with the Coat of Arms and the National Flag.
Reggie Kopi, a graduate of the Durban School of Music in South Africa, was apparently cajoled into the project of refurnishing the national anthem - K.T. Motsete's 'Fatshe La Rona'- by President Mogae's comment, that it appeared that the young people of Botswana were unfamiliar with the song. Or perhaps that it did not seem to carry the same meaning for them that a national anthem should carry for its citizens.
He proceeded to seek permission from the Office of the President, with the cooperation of the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs responsible for culture, to embark on the refurbishment of the national song.
He enlisted the assistance of Philip 'Mosco' Modise, now band master at the Francistown detachment of the Botswana Defence Force Band and an erudite student of music in his own right, to write the necessary orchestration for the anthem and to write the harmony parts for the choir.
About two weeks ago the Botswana choir travelled to Johannesburg where they joined an orchestra of the best musicians there - about a 33 piece band - to marry the lyrics to the sound of the orchestra. It was Kopi and Modise's aim to also make it easy for students and citizens to learn the song. So they recorded the first, second, third and fourth parts of the voices, also referred to as the soprano, alto, tenor and bass on separate tracks so that they could be played and sung separately for ease of learning.
According to Kopi, he had discovered that most Batswana are only familiar with the soprano voice and only harmonise randomly, following that 'first part' by ear. President Mogae visited the studios of the Department of Information and Broadcasting services on Friday afternoon, to listen to the first recorded version of Fatshe La Rona, and the Kopi and Modise arrangement.
Kopi promised to furnish him with copies that he will listen to and then advise on the next step.
Without pre-empting the President, I should be permitted to say, having had the opportunity to listen to Kopi's work perhaps a few more times than he has, that the new work represents a definite improvement on the version that is currently in use in schools and at the government institutions. It is also, aesthetically superior to the versions of Botswana folk songs made by the South Koreans a few years ago.
I should only caution that there is often a tendency among Batswana singers to attempt beautification of the Setswana words in order to make the language sound English.
I should not suggest that this is the case with the Kopi recording, but I would advise that adequate scrutiny should be given to the enunciation of the words, which concern has already been expressed by Kopi anyway.
The national anthem, like the constitution of the country, the coat of arms and the flag tends to have a certain permanence that is not enjoyed by the 'Top of the Pops' songs that change every week on the radio.
But from this point of view, Kopi's is an artistically credible piece of work that should receive the highest consideration so that Botswana should be able to sing a lively and pleasant national anthem, come September 30, 2006, and every Independence Day thereafter.