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The King of Kwasa

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The King of Kwasa

Fantastic Franco and his magic music

Although there are many pretenders to the throne, Frank Lesokwane – aka Franco – is the undoubted King of Kwasa Kwasa.

Combining his God-given talent with an impressive work ethic, the popular 47-year-old Gabane-born musician is one of the country’s best-loved musicians and has been for almost two decades.

A former soldier, Franco’s rise to the top began in the late 90s, establishing himself as an integral part of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Band.

During that time, he worked with legendary groups such as Taolo Moshaga and Lonaka Band, Nata Capricorn, Delta Sounds, Alfredo and Les Africa Sound as a backup singer, guitarist, drummer and saxophonist.

At the turn of the new millennium, Franco brought an end to his military career, trading in his gun for the microphone.

It proved to be an inspired decision.

In 2001, he launched his debut album, ‘Ke Lela Le Lona’ which took the country by storm.

16 albums later and Franco’s star burn brighter than ever. With an 18th album set for release, he remains the darling of the masses.

Away from music, Franco has proved an astute businessman and owns a Guest House and farm in Kumakwane, where he rears livestock and has also set-up a Recreation Park.

Following a busy festive season, the Kwasa King sat down with The Voice’s Portia Mlilo for a quick chat.

Q. What made you quit the force and join the music industry all those years ago?

A. Growing up I loved music so I felt I needed more time to focus on it because it was difficult to balance work and my talent.

I was in the band but sometimes I had to do other force duties and I was not much into the army.

I also wanted to grow as a musician and that cannot happen if you are under another organisation.

So I decided to start my own music business.

I did not have passion for the force but I joined because I was unemployed.

I also did it for bragging rights (laughing).

Q. Take us through your journey in music, how did it all begin?

A. When I was at school, I used to be a DJ when there were activities.

One of my teachers had a radiogram and I would play cassettes on it.

I loved DJ Easy B, he used to have a disco machine and I would carry it for him when he had gigs at Old Naledi.

I would be by his side forwarding and rewinding cassettes with a pen.

He was known as Bannye’s Crazy Disco!

I often attended festivals organised by Fairwell supermarket at the stadium featuring artists from South Africa.

I loved Brenda Fassie and Kofi Olomide, Pepe Kalle, Kanda Bongo Man – when their songs were play I would sing along.

When I joined BDF our trainers recognised my talent at Panda and I was recruited to join the band.

Other groups saw me during the Band Charity Concerts and during the consumer fair and they were interested in my service.

Q. And how did you harness your talent?

A. I was playing euphonium at the band.

I learnt to write songs, play piano, guitar and play drums.

There was a man from Sri Lanka who was a Band Master who said I should be in the dance band.

I started singing Kwasa Kwasa songs and playing keyboard.

I also started playing with other groups in Gaborone to gain more experience.

Trekkers Club, which back then was called Bodiba, hosted a group called Lubumbashi Stars from DRC and I was playing music with them.

In 1996 I joined Nata Capricorn and recorded two albums, ‘Dumelang’ and ‘Bula Matlho’.

I then joined Les Africa Sound led by Lawi Somana and in 2000 I formed my own band, Franco and Afro Musica.

Q. How important was the BDF Band’s contribution to your musical development?

A. Very. I do not know how I can thank the organisation for their immense contribution in nurturing my talent and moulding me to be a disciplined person.

I am the musician I am today because of them.

I learnt how to write songs at BDF we had the best music teachers from other countries.

Q. What do you focus on when you compose a song?

A. When I compose a song, I mostly look at things that are happening in our society and my experiences.

I also consider if it will appeal to the listeners.

It is like when you are preparing a meal and the ingredients you add to make it tasty.

For example, the song ‘Noka ya Metsimotlhabe’, is about my friends who are living with disability but I talked about a scenario where the river is flowing and I can’t cross it to go visit them.

The song has to inform, educate and entertain.

Q. Your time at the top stretches back almost two decades now – how have you managed to stay relevant for so long?

A. I think BDF has taught me a lot of things, one of them being discipline.

You also have to be a hard worker, patient, determined and stay focused.

I have a manager but I am always hands on and make sure I am part of most of our business meetings.

Most of the time, when they host successful shows, artists misuse funds and during dry times they suffer.

You should be disciplined and run music as business – save for the future!

Q. What are some of the challenges local artists face?

A. It is very difficult to find gigs.

I survive by hosting my own shows because I do live performances and it is appealing to people.

Most of our local promoters like international acts and they are paid a lot of money while local artists are paid peanuts.

We should also take out job seriously and honour shows on time.

We survive by shows because people are no longer buying our music – they download it from the Internet for free.

Q. What are you currently working on and when can we expect the 18th album?

A. ‘Mene Mene Tekele’ is still doing well in the industry but yes I am working on my 18th album.

I couldn’t launch it at the end of last year because companies had engaged me in their promotions and we were touring the country with them as they were taking their services to people.

I have recorded the songs and I have sampled a few during festive shows.

There is a hit of Ronnie [Franco’s MC] fighting with a Zambian and our fans have loved it.

Q. You were recently quoted as saying you do not need an international act to fill up the National Stadium. Do you believe our industry has grown to a level where organisers can sell-out venues using local acts only?

A. I challenge the owners of the facilities to give me the National Stadium and I host a show with local artists only.

We can do it on our own! Our music industry has grown and we are capable of filling the stadium.

If things go according to my plan, the show will be at the end of March.

Q. You were billed to perform at the Monate Wa Tswapong Music Festival over the holidays but did not take to the stage, what happened?

A. We had agreed with the organisers that they would provide live sound equipment.

Unfortunately on the day of the show, they did not have combos used by our guitarists.

There was nothing we could do and it was not fair to our fans, which is why we made an official statement apologising for the inconvenience.

Q. Moving on, who is your inspiration?

A. My mother, Gaongalelwe. She is my pillar of strength.

We are a family of 12 and after the passing of my father she continued being a provider.

She currently stays at Diphiring lands taking care of livestock and I am very grateful for that.

She raised us and now she is raising my siblings’ kids.

I wish I could find a woman like her and get married!

Q. I’m sure there are plenty of willing volunteers! So, what’s next for Franco after music?

A. Music is my life. I will be a musician until I die!

I will continue doing it with other businesses.

Q. And finally, Thank God It’s Friday, what are your plans for the weekend?

A. We are on a break.

My dancers have gone on leave to visit their families since we were working during festive.

I will just be at the farm and on Sunday I am going to church.

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Simply the greatest

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*THE HUMBLE HISTORY MAKER

With her career seemingly drifting into oblivion, stained by a failed drugs-test six years ago, the country’s most decorated athlete produced arguably her greatest comeback earlier this month.

On 14 March, at a low key University of Botswana Athletics Club meet, former 400m World Champion Amantle Montsho qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (now postponed until 2021).

Displaying the determination and guts that has defined her time on the track, the 36-year-old defied her aging limbs, clocking 51.22 seconds to smash the required qualifying time of 51.35. In doing so, the Maun native once again carved her name into the history books, becoming the first Motswana to qualify for four Olympics.

Having missed out on a place at the last Games due to suspension, for Montsho it represents redemption of sorts and a final shot at a medal she was .03 of a second away from claiming at London 2012.

The current Commonwealth Champion sat down with Voice Sport’s Portia Mlilo to look back over her eventful career, a career that might contain one more incredible high.

Who inspired you to become a professional athlete?

I joined athletics when I was doing Standard Three in 1992 and by then I was doing it for fun. Our Coach at Bonata Primary School, Thobogang recognized my talent and nurtured it.

I started running 100m and 200m but by junior school I focused on 400m. When I finished my Form Five in 2003, Botswana Athletics Association called me for out of school camps and that was when I started to take it seriously.

I started competing in regional competitions. In 2006, International Athletics Federation (IAF) called me to train at their high performance training center at Dakar in Senegal.

Why did you choose to be a runner?

Athletics is the number one sport in the world followed by football. In football, when you win as a team you share the prize money while in athletics the money is all mine (laughing).

There are also many athletics competitions in a year in different countries and that is why I decided to be a professional runner.

I used to play softball but after one of my teammates got injured I decided to quit and focused on athletics.

What is the first thing you do when you wake up?

I run! (laughing). I wake up, take a shower, eat breakfast and go for training.

Is there any athlete who motivates you to do your best during competitions?

There is a lady who makes me take athletics seriously, the American track and field athlete, Allyson Felix.

She is the 2012 Olympic Champion, a three-time World Champion and two-time Olympic silver medalist. She really inspires me.

I always wanted to be a champion like her!

What do you regard as your most memorable race to date?

The World Championships in Daegu 2011 when I won the Gold medal. When approaching the finishing point I really enjoyed the moment.

It was very competitive and I was fit. I was with Felix at the front and I managed to beat her.

What is your favourite part of being on the track?

I enjoy it when I compete with the best athletes and when the fans cheer us on.

Most Batswana used to follow and support football and were not too bothered about other sports codes.

But I made them like athletics and take it into consideration!

I enjoy most when I approach the finishing line because I go all out from 150m. I also enjoy when there is an athlete who gives me competition.

Massive congratulations on being the first athlete from Botswana to qualify for four Olympic Games. How much does this mean to you?

This really means a lot. It shows I am doing something right. I had so many challenges in this career but I remained focused and do what I love most.

I am very thankful to our government, Botswana National Sport Commission, Botswana Olympic Committee, our association for giving me the necessary support to become a professional athlete.

This should be an inspiration to others, especially female athletes, because we go through a lot of challenges. You are expected to be married, have kids – people forget you also have other interests like sports career!

What makes a great athlete?

Discipline, determination, dedication and focus. You must have goals and set targets to achieve them. You have to follow your coach’s instruction.

Growing up, I was very disciplined. I missed out on a lot of things that young people considered ‘cool’.

I did not drink alcohol or smoke. It was only two years back when I could have a glass of wine, drinking not to get drunk.

You should be careful what you eat and drink. You must be disciplined, otherwise your career will be very short!

You mentioned your Gold medal World Championship winning run as your most memorable race. How did it change your life financially, professionally and socially?

My life changed. I was now the country’s diamond, a role model so I had to do things professionally.

I even had to be careful what I shared on social media because now I had a large following, both locally and internationally.

Amantle Montsho

After winning Gold, I had a few endorsements and Nike increased its sponsorship. We have seen a lot of athletes struggling with life after sports so I decided to invest in property with the money I was making from athletics. So far I have six houses in Block 7 Gaborone.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a top athlete in Botswana?

Lack of facilities! Athletics is a big sport and it is high time the country establish a high performance centre.

The other challenge is when you do not deliver as the nation had expected during major competitions.

People will start bashing you and put you under a lot of pressure.

Money and fame often make people lose focus – how do you ensure you are not led into temptation?

Like I said, discipline is important. Refrain from things that will ruin your career. Avoid unnecessary trips and misusing money.

Invest for the future and do not lose focus. In life you should know what you want then it will not be easy for someone to shift your focus.

Just remain humble, respect others and manage your finances well.

How do you relax during the off-season?

I love travelling so I visit my friends in other countries. I also go shopping, especially when I have stress.

I make sure I spend time with my parents and my siblings.

The 2020 Olympics have been postponed until next year due to the Coronavirus pandemic. How is this going to affect your form and what are you going to do to ensure you remain fit?

It is unfortunate that the games are postponed to 2021 due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

I am on form and I was ready to compete. Now facilities, stadiums are closed and we do not have access to the track.

The President has also announced social extreme distancing, which is going to make it difficult to do roam work.

I will be indoor training at my house to keep fit – fortunately I have a gym.

Realistically, what was your target for the Tokyo Olympics?

My target was an Olympic medal. I had trained very hard to win a medal. This was supposed to be my last competition.

I believe I have done my part in sports and it is time to quit. I still have to talk to my coach and see if I will compete next year since I have qualified.

We’ve touched on some of the highs of your career. At the other end of the scale, what has been your most disappointing experience as an athlete?

Eish, the doping case! I tested positive for a prohibited substance methylhexaneamine at Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.

That was the worst experience I have ever had. In 2015 I received a two-year ban.

I couldn’t go home because I was afraid; my father was very angry. I also had to hide from the media and the public.

I will be forever grateful to the government for engaging a psychologist!

I stayed at the hotel for two year and I even changed my number. I couldn’t go to the mall or interact with people.

At some point I thought of quitting. The psychologist advised me not to and I also believed I can bounce back.

After three months I started training on my own because one of the conditions was that the association was not suppose to help me with anything.

I made a great come back and in 2017 I qualified for the World Championships.

How did it happen?

I went to a pharmacy in Gaborone to buy an energy drink. The pharmacist recommended the drink and said it does not have any prohibited substances. I was so depressed.

How do you intend to spend your retirement?

I want to start my own academy. I want to turn one of my houses into an athletics academy.

This is a way of giving back to my country and contributing to athletics development. I was supposed to start athletics coaching course after this year’s Olympics.

And finally, Thank God It’s Friday, what are your plans for the weekend?

Extreme social distancing. I will be locked in my room.

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Entertainment

Kabelo tiro drops Chuchumakgala

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KABELO TIRO

Afro pop musician, kabelo Tiro aka Skavenja has released a 16- track album dubbed, Chuchumakgala.

The choreographer and Fashion Designer has not ditched his style of Afro pop that made him a star in the entertainment industry.

The album has songs such as, Rato lame, Ke Shy, Morate and Ntho Yame amongst others.

He features Philey in the title track and also worked with Tshepo Lesole, Emjoe and Beekay Productions.

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