It may not be easy for many of us to understand how it is to live in a foreign country, to be always on the run while everyone else is enjoying their sleep in the comfort of their homes.
Jazz singer and daughter of Roman Catholic Church Catechist, Kearoma Rantao, found herself living in apartheid era and having to run for her life from Boers.
She never understood why but has lived to tell her story. A talented vocalist and singer, Kearoma has released an album, When the Music Plays, which has given her an opportunity to express her inner feelings and let go of the pain she had to endure over the years. KGOMOTSO TSHWENYEGO sat down with Kearoma to find further about her life outside
Q. Briefly tell us who you are.
I am Kearoma Rantao, third in a family of seven. I am a mother, a business woman and I do voluntary work as well. My mother is a great singer so is my younger brother and sister.music.
Q. It seems you all can sing in your family, where did you get your singing genes from, your parents?
Hahaha my dad can’t sing but he loves music. He used to teach me hymns and I would sing them.
Q. Are you a celebrity?
I havent quite reached a point where I have achieved the level where I can consider myself a celebrity. I have a big dream which I would like to achieve with the talent I have. This dream isnt limited to my voice or talent, I want to reach out to the world and spread the gospel of music. Until then, I cannot say I am a celebrity.
Q. Most artists call themselves musicians and sometimes singers, can you tell us the difference between a singer and a musician, if any?
Yes, there is a difference. A singer is someone who sings but a musician is someone who plays a musical instrument. There are singers who can play a musical instrument as well but there are those who can only play musical instruments very well but cannot sing.
Q. Every artist has a dream of getting to a certain stage in their career including working with a legend, for you who would that person be?
It is so sad that for meI will never get to realise my dream. I had wished to work with Miriam Makeba but she passed before I could. She was a mother and what she went through in life and having to move places, but still she kept strong.
Q. What is the one thing you want people to know about you?
I believe too much in myself, even if am unable to achieve. I am strong, look positively at problems. When I do something, I ask why and how it should happen. I also like postponing things for no apparent reason even very important things.
Q. Is that why you took so long to record your album, you kept postponing?
With my album it is different. You see, when I sing I do it for the people, I do it because I have to. I like to stick to what I can. I took time to release because I did not believe it was time to record. I didn’t want to put myself under any pressure. My album comes from deep inside and I didn’t want to come out with something that didn’t have much meaning. My album is about music, its about sending a message out there, it is not about Kearoma. I believe a song has to come from the heart.
Q. Which is your favourite song in the album?
A Woman’s cry. Its about the many pains women/girls go through. We have issues of single parenting but in all this a woman will always show strength and will prevail. Yes we have cases where some women throw away the child and to me its not being careless or coldhearted. Women cry but there arent enough people to hear or listen.
Q. Let’s talk about the first track, Africa, it does have a very strong South African feel including some words in it, what motivated it?
It’s a poem I wrote when I was 16 but I converted it into a musical piece that I dedicate to people who went through what I have been through.
Q. And what have you been through?
As a young girl all my life I knew we were always on the run. I didn’t understand why but there were days when we would wake up at 3am to run for safety in the church. I grew up during the apartheid era.
Q. Run for safety?
My parents, aunts and uncles came to Botswana to seek refuge during the apartheid era. There was no communication with distant family or relatives back in South Africa. Even here in Botswana the only relatives were my aunts and uncles.
Q. Earlier on you said you had to wake up in the early hours on several occasions to seek refuge in the church, can you share with us why?
Time and again we would be woken up because it was feared we would be attacked by the Boers. We were never attacked at the mission house because we had the church to hide in. There were times when we would sleep in the church for several days.
Q. So you don’t have any personal experience on the attacks yourself?
There is an incident that I remember very well which has forever stayed with me. We were at Sakutswane lands (near Otse) to be with my grandparents for end of term holidays, me, my cousins \ and my younger brother (pause)
Q. Please share your story with us
Ok. I was 14 at the time. My grandfather wasn’t home and we were just going about as kids playing around the yard. My younger brother, who is now a lawyer was a toddler by then. As we ran towards the gate, we saw two Boers, in full army uniform carrying loaded guns standing at the gate (pause) I was a little girl and I don’t know where I got that energy and speed from but (through tears) I picked my younger brother and started running, all I was waiting to hear was a gunshot. I have never been that scared in my life.
Q. Did they shoot or chase after you?
They didn’t shoot. Maybe they realised we were just children. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. I don’t even know where we were running to but I just carried my brother and ran. In the evening when my grandfather came we told him about it and that night we never slept, we just sat and prayed.
Q. Did they come back?
If they did, I never knew because we went back to the Mission house the next morning. Two weeks later they raided my uncle’s house and my aunt was shot and killed. My cousin and uncle were shot as well but they lived. My cousin was left paralised and to this day she is still in a wheelchair.
Q. How has this affected you as a person and your family?
After my aunt got shot and killed, my other aunts and uncles had to run again spliting thefamily further. It was now only my parents and siblings left in Botswana. One of my aunts and children went to the States and another one went to Angola. Aunt Theresa, who was the first Miss Botswana in 1964 got married and relocated to USA.
Q. Have you been in contact with any of them?
I have been able to locate my cousin through facebook. That is how I knew she is still alive. My uncle has since passed on and she is all alone in the USA with no family.
Q. You are such a brave woman. How has this experience contributed to your life today?
I have been able to live through hardships, though I didn’t understand what was going on at the time. It is through music that I am going to express the inner me. I am a mother I have wonderful children that I love, I raised them and I still live with them.
Q. Why didn’t you do gospel?
I could have done gospel but it is jazz that really appeals to me. I can sing anything actually. I almost got frustrated when it seemed to take long because of some issues but by God’s grace I was able to release at a time when I wanted to and was ready.
Q. Someone has been holding Botswana’s Queen of Jazz title, so I am going to ask you, now that you have released your solo album, would you say you are the Queen of Jazz?
Yes, most definitely. It may have taken me longer to release an album but I believe that I am the real queen of jazz. I am more vocally talented.
NAMES: Kearoma Rantao
DATE OF BIRTH: 13 February, Lobatse
PARENTS: Mr Peter and Mrs Josephine Rantao
FAVORITE ARTIST LOCALLY: Maxy, she is really talented
FAVORITE ARTIST INTERNATIONALLY: Aretha Franklin, MirriamMakeba
FAVORITE DISH TO COOK: Pasta with tomato or chilli sauce
WHAT PLAYING ON YOUR DECK: Letta Mbuli and Caiphus Semenya, Kearoma
WHAT PISSES YOU OFF: baseless criticism
WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY: love and unity