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Songs from the street

Guitar guru bares his soul

It is almost 11:00 am as Lefithile Robin Manuel takes his usual spot at Maun’s New Mall next to the pillar in front of Wimpy and Liquorama bottle-store and begins to hit the strings of his guitar.

It is warm, although it is the middle of winter, the dazzling sun has melted away the early-morning cold.

Manuel’s gentle music turns heads. However, it is a working day so there are few people about and not many heads to turn.

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The sight of shopkeepers armed with thermometers, sanitizers, and record books serves as a constant reminder that the threat of Covid-19 remains as real as ever.

Occasionally, appreciative shoppers will drop a coin or two into a black bowl laid out before him.

The 37-year-old bows his head in appreciation and continues his rhythmic playing without skipping a note.

On a good day, he can make up to P200.

“I have no job so I raise money through my talent. That is my only way of living and I use the money to buy myself food and necessities,” Manuel tells Voice Entertainment during a brief break from his strumming on Wednesday.

Manuel is a Gospel artist. He recorded a 5-track album in 2017 but is unable to release it due to financial constraints.

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“I need at least P20, 000 to cut the CDs. I am hoping to raise money and save some to achieve my dream of releasing the album. I have recorded it and all that is remaining is to cut it,” explains the passionate muso.

In the pre-Covid days, Manuel would play for tourists.

Back then, his black bowl filled up fast and notes were not uncommon.

“Covid spoiled everything. Back then I could make some savings and that is why I managed to record the album, but Covid arrived before I could release it.”

In his music, he sings about peace, faith, hope, family life, and forgiveness.

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“There are a lot of things happening around us – in our homes, people are dying, we are facing sicknesses which have no cure, that is why I sing about these things; that in whatever we do, love is supposed to lead. Whether you are from Angola, Botswana, or America, we are all the same and we have to put love above everything else and the world will be a better place for all of us,” he declares poetically, before returning to his guitar to serenade the lunchtime commuters.

Manuel’s struggles are typical of those currently being experienced by artists and singers throughout the country.

As well as having a devastating effect on human life – the confirmed death toll in Botswana sits at 926 – the pandemic has hit pockets hard.

Live events have been sidelined since last March and most locals have seen their spending power reduced.

As a result, support for the music industry has declined.

Reiterating the industry’s well-publicized woes, the leader of local musician organisation, Maun Hip-Hop movement, Balatotswe Tower Makhao says these are trying times.

“It is very hard for upcoming musicians to take a break especially if they are not working. It is hard to cut CDs when you have no money and even if you manage to, it would be another struggle to sell them. These days people prefer to buy the very basic needs such as toiletry and food before they can think of spending on anything else,” Makhao explains.

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