Described by the Bushfire Festival as “a global music force with a voice that dances over melodic beats and production”, Mpho Sebina has made a mark on the musical landscape in southern Africa that is sprouting across the globe.
Being the only Motswana on the 2022 billing for the illustrious festival alongside Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 (Nigeria), Rinom (Eritrea), Leomile (Lesotho), BLK JKS (South Africa), Tresor (Congo) and other luminaries is testament to the power that the singer-songwriter commands. However, it would appear that the ethos of mindfulness and intentionality of action permeates through her personal life as well. Having started her journey in the public space singing covers for other recording artists, Sebina now boasts a wealthy catalogue of songs to soundtrack any moment in life. Selections from this catalogue would have rung through hallways in Austin, Texas in 2020 during the South by Southwest convening had it not been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Getting accepted as a performer for the festival that celebrates the convergence of the tech, film and music industries was also a moment of learning for the singer. Admitting that she was “not comfortable with the business and fundraising end of the industry”, having to obtain funds to honour the invitation was an awakening to the difficulties of being an artist in Botswana for her. All across the creative industries in Botswana, a portion of the national economy that is yet to be sufficiently quantified, the plight of stakeholders who need financial support has been a long standing chorus.
Sebina’s fortune came at the midnight hour through support from the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sports and Culture Development. Having overcome but one of the obstacles of independent work, the trailblazer is quick to advise neophytes in music to form cohesive support structures that can offset the burden of dream-building early on in their pursuits, all with clear understandings of the direction they wish to go. In the trend of many of her kin in Botswana, the songstress’ career is co-managed by herself and Tanisha Colon-Bibb of The Rebelle Group in South Africa.
The pandemic restrictions, while daunting, unlocked a certain resolve of agency in Sebina that would be envy of many. While the world was baking banana loafs, she was acquiring studio equipment and riding on the power of the internet to extend her reach. Born from this at home production project was the summer craze hit, “Dinaledi”. The collaboration with the Major League DJs and Abidoza earned them the Best Amapiano Music Video award at the inaugural South African Amapiano Awards, and became Sebina’s first No.1 single. The Nkoyaphiri-based studio also enabled the soul singer to compile her first full album, “Lora.” The 12-track offering features soothing melodies interlaced with igniting rhythms akin to timeless hits such as Goapele’s 2002 classic, “Closer,” which “Dumelang” is destined to become for the meditative singer.
On the pathway to becoming a heavyweight player in music, the Multimedia University of Malaysia graduate has made strides with industry giants. On the importance of income diversification for artists, Sebina, who holds an Honours in International Business, cites her own experience of having her music featured in film and television as a seldom explored avenue by local artists. Before South African Netflix series, Blood and Water, placed her songs “Loves Light” and “Dumelang” in its first and second season soundtracks respectively, Sebina’s vocals had already underscored an advertorial campaign for automotive legends, Ford. As such, when historic Grammy Award winner Black Coffee and Gallo Record Company came knocking in 2021, it was a matter of her art speaking for itself. Brenda Fassie’s “Too Late For Mama” is reimagined by Sebina on the ‘Gallo Remixed’ album, and there could be no better commendation of the achievement than the original producer of the 1989 smash hit, Chicco Twala, lauding that Fassie would be proud of Sebina’s tribute.
Where one might take all these achievements as permission to be self-important, the songstress remains grounded. A major proponent of self-care, she notes that “meditation, taking my down time seriously, and ensuring that I’m not too hard on myself when working”, are important parts of maintaining a healthy work life balance. With the return of physical gatherings, such as the Bushfire Festival in the Kingdom of Eswatini, Sebina also presses on how fundamental honouring the pre-production process is, and this is particularly pertinent for her as she has two independent bands that back her in two different countries. The South African ensemble will be the one that she travels with to the festival.
While she celebrates the festival as a potential opening of the doors to re-entry to the global touring circuit, she chimes a cautionary that “I feel as though we spend so much time chasing the dream that you forget to care about yourself: mind, body, spirit and soul”, a lesson she strictly holds herself to. Needless to say, Sebina’s star is on a measured rise and taking this advice will be essential to countering any onset of burnout. With new music releases scheduled for this winter, it looks like Botswana is in for more melodic treats from the multi-skilled artist, as is the world.