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The brains behind Northern Arts Awards

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PASSIONATE: Ontiretse "Nthithie" Zuma

At a tender age of nine, a musical career seemed carved out for Ontiretse Bakaile Zuma aka Nthinthie.

However back then, little did he know that his love for traditional dance, would be his ticket to travel the world, proudly flying Botswana’s flag high.

Twenty-two years later, the founder and director of Dinkwe Nkgoga is the brains behind the Northern Arts Awards (NAA); a cherished dream pursued in 2015 and set to grow in leaps and bounds with each passing year.

Nthinthie recently granted The Voice an interview where he spoke about his early days as an artist and his aspirations.

Q. Please give us a brief background about yourself

A. I am the second child in a family of nine. Sadly five of my siblings have passed on.

I am a Mokwena from Mogoditshane which is where I also did most of my education.

I have a certificate in Business Management.

Q. How and when did you get involved in traditional song and dance?

A. I started dancing while at primary school as part of extra mural activities, and as part of culture.

To be exact at Standard Three. But by the time I was in standard Six I had joined a professional dancing troupe.

This is when I began to develop an interest in arts and culture. By the time I reached Secondary school, I was sure I wanted to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.

Q. Any regrets so far?

A. None at all. I am what I am because of arts. Dance took me to Disneyland in the U.S.A in 2005 and London.

A place I never dreamt I would travel to. I have been to South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and other African countries.

Flying our flag high and showcasing our culture. Locally I have crisscrossed the whole country; I have performed in towns and villages.

But I am not saying it has been smooth sailing. All the pain and sacrifice has been worth it.

Q. How did you land up in Francistown, when other artists are trekking to the Capital?

A. (laughs) I first came to Francistown in 2006,soon after my return from the Disneyland.

My intention was just to visit friends for a few days and go back to Gaborone. But as fate would have it, I am still here.

Mophane traditional group asked me to join them’ and I said why not.

Q. And then?

A. After a brief stint with Mophane, I teamed up with a Teedzani and OT to form Dinkwe Nkgoga the traditional troupe that I am working with.

In 2007 we released our first album titled Thoang Tsebe, two years later we released a seven track album Ma Africa.

With publicity given by media houses Ma Africa album clinched us a deal with the safe male circumcision campaign in 2008.

Q. You are the man behind the Northern Arts Awards. What pushed you to come up with such a concept?

A. In 2013 I met up with Lionel Nkosi who is our manager as Dinkwe Nkgoga.

After working together on our third Seshandudi, I shared with him my dream to have an award ceremony for artists in the Northern part of Botswana because I had realised that there were no events which brought artists together.

The Northern Art Awards are meant to tackle artist’s concerns and address their various issues and to give them a platform to interact and be appreciated for their artistic talent and input.

Q. So in other words you are saying artists from this side of Dibete are being sidelined?

A. Yes! For example MC Maswe is nominated for an award at the BOMU awards every year but fails to get an award despite overwhelming response from music lovers.

Another thing, when the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture holds festivals this side, they bring musicians from down south because they say artists this side cannot pull crowds.

We want to dispel this perception because artists from here are equally good.

Northen Arts Awards will show the corporate world that from Nata, Kasane, Maun and other parts of Botswana they are excellent performers who just need the support.

The current scenario is not satisfactory.

Q. Looks like you are in competition with BOMU?

A. We want to help artists become more competitive at BOMU awards, which is a national arena.

From inception the awards were supposed to be held in different venues around the country, but that has not been the case.

We subscribe to BOMU and work with the current structure of the union, we want to work together and increase our impact at the national wards.

Q. But maybe an artist has to be based in Gaborone to get a break through?

A. No no. This is the perception we want to change. The life and success of an artist should not be in Gaborone.

This is the message we are sending across.

Through NAA we want artists to improve their quality of music, poetry and whatever art and reach the standards of even those in Gaborone.

We are also appealing to the corporate sector to use winners of the Northern Arts Awards and stop using the same artists at every event.

Q. What was different about this year’s Awards?

A. Our maiden ceremony had 12 categories. This year we had 29 categories and more than 78 artists registered.

We had artists from Bobonong, Letlhakane, Maun, Orapa, Serowe, Francistown and surrounding areas.

Unlike last year where we had no sponsors and had to fund the event from our personal resources, this year NAA managed to secure sponsors.

On board, we had the Kgalagwe Foundation and the Kwambala Cup. Dumafm offered us a jingle, and we also had a trophy sponsored by Taolo Moshaga.

Q. Is the Ministry of Youth, Sport and culture part of NAA?

A. Not yet as we have not received any financial support from them.

We have extended our request like we did last year but they are not forthcoming.

The attitude from the youth office is so disappointing. Last year we invited them to grace the ceremony and all they could do was to send an intern.

Imagine! The only thing they have done is to give us permission to place our posters and registration forms at their office.

Q. You seem to passionate about grooming upcoming artists. What it’s in it for you?

A. I am giving back to society and want to see the world of art growing to greater heights.

I am an artist and I know the challenges that budding performers face such as failing to record, not having a thebe for taxi and money for rent as majority of us don’t own houses.

In essence, I am saying I want to see this industry grow into a lucrative sector that artists of all kind benefit from. Artists should be able to buy and own property.

I am just standing up to the aspiring men and women out there.

Q. This year you introduced a registration fee what is it for?

A. That is to cater for logistics of organising the event and mobilize artists.

Q. Apart from yourself, who else is running the show?

A. Northern Art Awards are being run or put together by a seven-member committee of young people in business, some of whom are community leaders in Francistown.

Q. What advice would you give to that young person out there thinking of pursuing a career in music

I urge them to be patient, persevere because the music industry is tough and not for the faint hearted.

Our NAA office is open and they should seek advice all the time.

Q. Lastly, what are you up to this festive season?

A. Dinkwe Nkgoga will be engaged in a tour with Franco.

The tour will take us from Gabane to Tshetshebe starting from December 22 till New Year.

For the winners of NAA, from January we will put up posters of where the winners and the upcoming artists will be performing.

We are targeting Selebi Phikwe, Orapa, Masunga, Francistown, Tutume amongst other areas.