Music has a way of erasing social barriers and geographical borders. Artists that make music in languages you may not understand are still great artists, everyone can connect. Moreover, music transcends borders. Artists have followings all over the world without ever worrying that there is no connection to their listeners because of any language barrier. Right next door to South Africa lies Botswana. For some people in South Africa this is a holiday spot and for others Botswana is home. Baanthata Mokgwathi, a student at the Academy of Sound Engineering, is one such person who refers to Botswana as home, a place where the heart is. Baanthata Mokgwathi, better known as Ban T, has been in South Africa for just over a year studying to better his work as a musician. With his heart vested in hip-hop, an interesting story about wanting to empower and motivate the youth of Botswana and the rest of Africa, as well as an amazing single ‘Naomi’, I had questions.
Q: What is your affiliation with the Why So Movement exactly and what was the motivation behind its creation?
A: Me and some friends wanted to inspire and really push the youth if Botswana to believe in themselves. As young people we see so many things and think that we too can accomplish them, but we don’t go for it because of self doubt. Think of when you do something that you’re really proud of and you think “Why so great?!” We wanted to get Batswana thinking that way about their talents, and hopefully that mentality will spread to the rest of Africa.
Q: You have a song with the Faded Gang as well as your own solo single ‘Naomi’, how was it creating both?
A: Thankfully I don’t have those crazy experiences of not working well with groups, and I hope I never do. I really enjoyed working with Faded Gang on ‘Why So Faded Anthem’; before we are musicians, we’re friends, brothers. I did notice though that as much as the song featured Faded Gang, I did need to put out music where I was the only artist on the track for people to better understand my style and judge my flow alone.
Q: Who would you say you make music for; and with that in mind who did you make Naomi for?
A: I make music for my people, people like me… for people who love hip-hop. A lot of people ask me who Naomi is, and really Naomi is a type of persona. I feel like in every woman there is a Naomi, so with that in mind I really made the track for the guys who find themselves dealing with the type of woman I describe in the song.
Q: You talk about hip-hop as if it’s your long lost brother, what is your connection to the genre.
A: I honestly believe that you can’t choose hip-hop, but hip-hop chooses you. I am thankful that I realized my passion for music at a young age. My dad listens to jazz and old school music, whereas I have always been about hip-hop. I listen to most other genres, but my art is rooted in hip-hop. I am most free in the studio, and when I am making music it literally feels like the gods of hip-hop are kneading my back and cheering me on.
Q: I know that Botswana is a hop, skip, and a jump away, but how is it living so far from home?
A: Thankfully for me I have family in SA, so being here is like being in a home away from home. Also, a lot of students here are from Botswana, so some of my friends are here anyways. But I maintain ties at home through social media. My friend Bugalo manages my PR for me and is based in Botswana so I never really feel that far away. In all honesty though, whenever I’m in a studio feel like I am back home.
Q: How has studying sound engineering changed your understanding of the process of making music?
A: Usually when you think about the music industry you first think about the artist, but now that I study sound engineering I can see that it’s the people behind the scenes that are the ones that really make the magic happen. I have a new found appreciation for the science behind how any track is made and I feel like I have all of these unsung stories at my fingertips now, more than I did before.
Q: As much as young people want to pursue their dreams there is also an understanding that their education has to come first and usually studying music, especially sound engineering, is not the avenue most parents are willing to invest money. How did you get your parents to support your dream of becoming a recording artist?
A: Well like I said, I knew what I wanted to study, or rather be, from when I was in grade 10. When my parents noticed that I was not changing my mind they finally relented and let me be the one to spearhead the decision of what I studied. I see some of the people that are musicians and studying something that has nothing to do with music and I know that that takes a lot of discipline to put your passion second to an education; but I also know that I wouldn’t have done as well studying anything that didn’t have something to do with music. I’m so passionate about the art that I would never have totally committed to anything else.
Q: You mentioned that you have been making from when you were in grade 8; how have you progressed since then to now?
A: When I was younger I lacked the understanding of the commitment and discipline it took to actually make a track. Now that I am studying sound engineering, I have that. I really enjoy being in the studio, as I said earlier, it’s a home away from home; and the one thing that I’ve learned over time is that you don’t want to have too many people in your home at one time. Having too many people in the studio with you kills that home vibe. You don’t feel as comfortable and when I’m in the studio I want to say whatever I feel and have everything just flow.
Q: Recently Emtee and Nasty C were meant to perform in Botswana, but that performance didn’t take place. You and the Faded Gang ended up being the main headliners for that event, how did it feel being on that stage?
A: I’m a fan of the Emtee and Nasty C, so from that prospective not having them there was a bummer. As a performer, and especially one from Botswana, I know that local artists aren’t really taken seriously, so having the opportunity to perform for such a large crowd was honestly very humbling. I don’t realize how many people knew the lyrics to Naomi and in that moment I really felt like being a recording artist wasn’t such a big dream… that it was achievable.
Q: You mentioned being a fan of Emtee and Nasty C, is there any other artist in the industry right now that you look up to?
A: I have been a fan of AKA’s for years. He is trying to conquer Africa in a way that I would like to be able to do one day. On top of just him, I also really enjoy going out to clubs and seeing other artists. I can learn from their accomplishments and mistakes. I like to get as close to the music and the people as I possibly can, and the best way to learn is by observation.
Q: When do you think you will have a full body of work ready for the public?
A: I always fear this question because I hate the idea of setting a release date and then not meeting it. I mean ‘Naomi’ was recorded twice before it was released because it felt like it wasn’t ready the first time, so imagine if it takes that long for every song that I make, but let’s hope not. Right now I think everybody can expect my EP by spring, but until then I will be working on the ‘Naomi’ music video. At the end of the day, I want to make my countrymen proud, to inspire them, and to show them that anything is possible. Making music is my way of doing that.