In conversation with Sinqoe Tessa
It is a blazing hot Monday afternoon when I finally sit down with Tumediso Loeto, better known as Shanti Lo, for my long awaited interview.
As we step into his home in Phase 4, he disappears into the kitchen for some time before coming back carrying a tray of ice cold juice. We raise our glasses in celebration, and then a few sips later he’s up again, standing in front of the mirror, giving serious attention to the image that pouts back at him.
“I need to make sure that my make-up is flawless as you will be taking pictures,’’ he says turning to face the photographer with an easy smile.
“Shanti Lo, I know you are a guy, but to be honest I always get confused when talking to you – are you a ‘mma’ or a ‘rra?’
It is a question many of those who see him in concert for the first time ask themselves.
“I don’t know why you get confused,’’ he says with a frown and an exaggerated shrug of his shoulders. “It is the industry that I am in that makes me particular about how I look. I have to be presentable all the time and my image has to be consistent.
“I don’t have to be a woman to be interested in make –up, but I guess it helps,” he says as the smile returns.
“I take pride in what I do and I take my career seriously. People know me because of who I am and what I do. I am an entertainer,’’ he adds with a simple conviction that overrides the apparent complexities of his personal life.
“Shanti Lo is an extension of Tumediso, he is a performer, an artist and an entertainer and does not live by the rules, but Tumediso does. However I do not put my life into a box where I can say now I am Shanti Lo then switch back to Tumediso.
“What people should understand is that both these people have needs just like everyone. They need that sense of belonging and someone to come home to,’’ he explains.
Shanti’s image of course is his trade mark, and anyone who has seen him on stage knows that he is a supreme showman. As for local audiences, they are able to get over the obsession of his sexual orientation and just enjoy the show, many talk of him as Botswana’s answer to Michael Jackson.
It is a comparison not without foundation. Both combine outrageous showmanship with a musical brilliance that truly warrants the tag ‘super star.’
But when the comparison is put to him he laughs. “It is an honour to associated with such a big brand, and I guess it comes with the job to be put into a certain category. If I remind people of Michael Jackson that’s fine, but he is not an influence musically.”
Shanti lists his influences as coming from world music generally, and South African music specifically, which is why both Dolly Parton and Yvonne Chaka Chaka feature as inspiration in a career that has spanned 18 years. Now 28, he learnt his trade as a backing singer for the first eight years, before going solo in 2000.
It is something of a frustration that his talent has not been more widely launched onto the international stage, but he remains both patient and philosophic about his career development.
“This is Botswana, and it is almost as if we are not allowed to have high expectations. But I look at others that have made it on the international stage, and know, even if I only admit it privately, that my talent is up there with the best of them. So yes, it is somewhat frustrating, and maybe now is the time to get out of Botswana and develop my career outside these borders.”
But before then local audiences have the chance to see him in action in Gaborone this Saturday at the SSKB auditorium, and Francistown later next month as he launches his third album Lerato.
“As I grow as an individual that growth should also be reflected in my music and stage performance so people should expect better things from me,’’ he says.
Anyone going to his show this weekend will not be disappointed. Shanti just gets better and better – quite simply he is the ‘man’ of the moment, so catch him while you can.