You realise that you’re unbelievably beautiful right? Were your parents in love? You look like you were made on one of those nights when your parents had the candles lit and they made slow, sensual love before the fireplace, I tell Baanthata ‘Ban T’ Mokgwathi the first time we officially sit down to talk.
It’s best to get these things out of your system straight away – and I’m staring.
As it turns out, his parents were deeply in love and had a pretty solid run till BanT was in high school and life and capitalism got the better of their relationship.
‘My father was a very hard worker. Both of my parents still are but at the time my dad had just bought Khwest (a once really popular restaurant which has since shut down) and business was booming. On top of that he had other investments and hustles and so he was just pretty much always gone. He’d come home at about 4am, take me to school at 7am and then go back to work and that was pretty much the routine. We’d hang out on weekends though, we really had family time and it would be the three of us and we’d have a lot of fun, those were good times but eventually my mom just said it wasn’t working for her so she left.
I feel like the counsellor he didn’t think he needed.
‘I had to go for counselling and stuff and that was some bullshit. Afterwards my dad… I think he felt that like, he’d lost his family all because of the night life, in one way or another, and he just threw the towel in on Khwest. I felt guilty for a very long time,’ he tells me as he focuses on the glass before him, the pool – anything else but me.
I’m perplexed and have to ask why, and I think for the very first time he unpacks the truth. I feel like the counsellor he didn’t think he needed. For a brief moment I wonder if this is what good journalism is about. ‘I’d hear them just, going back and forth about decisions when it came to like, my school trips, the things I wanted to do, just general stuff, and I thought that somehow I’d been the reason for their divorce – Like I’d caused the rift. That really fucked me up but at the same time there was nothing I could do about it. I was there, I couldn’t erase myself.’
It’s evident there’s little closure on the matter and I feel compelled to point out that the main reason why it sounds like it didn’t work is because his father was simply too busy to nurture a relationship with his wife and she then made the decision she felt was best.
She’s at the interview. And she has the youthful glow only happy people have. Her skin is flawless around her Prada shades and her outfit in itself is quite laidback – denim jacket, sundress and canvas shoes. She smells divine and for the entire time she’s around I rack my brain trying to figure out how old she might be. Eventually I ask BanT and he puts it as simple as possible – ‘My mother is quite old, but also quite young. She’s very young at heart.’
Anyone who knows Ban T will tell you that his mother is the main driving force behind his career. Before he was earning five figures for a show and causing minor disruptions everywhere he went, she was there – paying the producers and looking for the managers. ‘My mom’s my hitta, she’s my number one, my partner in crime. She’s really spiritual, so when my last manager snaked me and ran off with our money after a show, she told me she had faith and we’d soon meet the right one. She wasn’t tripping.’
There are two main women in his life driving his success.
Her prayers were answered when she got word of manager/promoter/Industry badass Zenzele Hirschfield – who had more than 15 years under her belt. But as things go, she wasn’t initially keen to commit, having been out of the managing game for a while. But while he was still at school, she changed her mind. ‘I’ve been riding with her ever since. She’s the backbone behind the operation, I don’t consider her my manager, she’s my homie. She gets shit done and makes shit happen.’ There are two main women in his life driving his success.
Ten months ago, nobody knew who Baanthata was. A strategic collaboration with Botswana’s (in)famous music collective FADED GANG catapulted him into the limelight and a crisp video for their single WhySoFaded Anthem shot by Owen Bands made sure everyone knew his face (and his equally corny lines in that song). It was an introduction and I guess his best foot forward in every way but lyrically. I’d no interest in meeting him when I went to the WhySoFaded set to interview Veezo. Having heard the song I was convinced he wasn’t going to last, as catchy as his little titbits were.
When Naomi plays nothing else seems to matter and I think he just might be well on the road to being Botswana’s first actual superstar.
A few months later he went on a social media campaign, putting word out that he was actively seeking a young lady called Naomi and of course, the people bit the line. I’m pretty sure they just wanted a sordid love affair to emerge from whatever it was, but what they got was way better than a tale of nightclub fingering and side chicks.
The Taku-produced banger Naomi dropped and life hasn’t been the same for him since. I’ve personally never seen anything quite like it. Batswana of all ages and from all walks of life screech the lyrics at the top of their lungs, word for word and with no care as to selfie moments and whatever else club culture is about nowadays: Ban T’s performances make people lose their shit and more importantly, they make them PRESENT. When Naomi plays nothing else seems to matter and I think he just might be well on the road to being Botswana’s first actual superstar.
I’m pretty sure he knows it too and yet it doesn’t seem to have hit home. Recently, he was driving around with his aunt and a group of girls at a traffic stop were trying to stealthily record the fact that he was in the next car. He realised, and waved and they, of course, lost their shit. Just after he tells me about this, still as confused as I’m sure he was when it happened, Naomi starts playing from a security guard’s phone a few meters from us and we both wonder if it’s a coincidence or not, but nonetheless keep talking. On his way back from a bathroom break I hear the track start up again and our waitress jogs over to ask if she could have a picture. She hasn’t so much as looked at him the entire time we’ve been seated but I guess now we know why.
His name Baanthata literally means ‘They love me’ in Setswana.
At 19 he’s already been playlisted on BBCXtra’s Dj Edu’s show and had chart topping hit after hit. He’s been nominated for a record seven YAMAs (Yarona FM Music Awards) and his recent video for We Know is gradually climbing up the charts on Trace Africa. It’s enough to make even industry veterans jealous and yet despite the numerous beefs and online tussles that pop up every so often in our otherwise lacklustre entertainment industry, he always seem to dodge.
Right now, he’s seemingly untouchable, like Daniel in the lion’s cave. At the very least, it’s wildly amusing because his name Baanthata literally means ‘They love me’ in Setswana.
Word on the streets is he’s set to tour America at the beginning of 2017, an amazing feat considering he hasn’t dropped a full-length project yet. ‘A lot of people think there’s favouritism behind the scenes or something and that’s stupid. They don’t know how hard this boy works. Everything he’s getting he deserves,’ Zen tells me a few days after the nominations and news of the tour. ‘There’s nothing he’s done that other people can’t do.’
If you ask him he’ll tell you he’s just doing what he’s supposed to be doing. His musical journey is about him fulfilling his purpose and changing the industry in Botswana for everyone involved. He wants the money, and the chart toppers, and he’s studied his craft to get those, but he also wants a better working environment for us all, and how weird is that? Because in 2016 with capitalism firmly holding on to our nut sacks, who gives a damn about what the next man ISN’T eating? But BanT does.
And I really think he’s for the people.. There’s a grace with which he speaks, acts and creates – a grace that’s not rehearsed, and a certainty and sincerity. I have faith in him, and I don’t have real faith in many people – to not just fulfil his personal goals, but to leave a significant mark on the world’s music industry, one chart topper and calculated move at a time.
Photography by Bakang Akoonyatse
Jacket: Nick Black by Didah
Tshirt: Artist’s own
Chains: Artist’s own
Jeans: Artist’s own
Location: The Grand Palm
This is part of a guest editorship series by Bakang Akoonyatse. She’s producing a series of pieces for TRUE Africa as a Guest Editor. More here.