The Man with a dream
GIMC GURU: Pabalinga

The GIMC guru

When it comes to local entertainment, The Gaborone International Music and Culture (GIMC) week is undoubtedly the busiest and biggest music event in the country.

The week-long festival is the brainchild of Thapelo Pabalinga, and represents his ambitious dream of putting Botswana on the world entertainment map.

Four years after its inception and it appears Pabalinga’s dream is fast becoming a reality – last year featured GIMC as one of the continent’s top ten must-attend music festivals.

Although he is the face of GIMC, Pabalinga is also the Botswana Democratic Party’s (BDP) Communications and International Relations Chairperson. He is also the founder of Leapfrog, which has grown into one of Botswana’s leading advertising agencies.

In the build-up to GIMC, The Voice’s Sharon Mathala visited the pintsized man at his Leapfrog office in Main Mall, to learn a bit more about the individual who also trades by the name ‘Fish’.

However, before the interview starts, Pabalinga candidly explains, “Only the ladies call me fish!”

Q. As an icebreaker, please take us through your journey to be counted as one of the country’s most successful businessmen.

A. I have always been ‘streetwise’ even as far back as my varsity days. Back in the day the stereotype was that the intelligent students should study Sciences in varsity – I fell in that bracket but Sciences were really not for me.

To cut a long story short, I used to sell takkies in University and I also opened a car wash.

So I was in business even from a young age. Eventually I fell in love with the business of event organising.

It does not start now, even then I would host shows at school.

Q. But there is a general belief that you are able to ‘get’ events like Miss Botswana, and now GIMC, because of your position and affiliation with the BDP.

A. (giggles) I was not aware there is that thinking! Look I meant what I said – I have been doing events from as far back as my varsity days.

The truth of the matter is one day whilst still in varsity there was a student strike because the then Minister of Entertainment stole P60, 000 from the student account.

That is when it hit me that there could be money in the business so I took advantage and started organising events at school.

I have always been successful, even before the BDP – so that thinking is absolutely absurd!

Q. But a few gigs from school would not have made you ‘successful even before the BDP’ – tell us more.

A. Look I doubled school with ‘hustle’. I had opened a car wash in Phakalane plus the gigs at school.

Most of them were major because somewhere around 2000, I approached the Ministry of Health and sold them the idea that they had to invest in activations to teach university students about their ABC campaign – ‘Abstain, Be faithful and Condomise’.

They paid me lots of money to come up with brochures and activations around the campaign.

I would then invite influential artists like DJ Fresh and others who would host a festival later in the evening.

So I have done a lot but that is basically how it began.

Q. How did the concept of GIMC come about?

A. It is a long journey and is basically the realisation of many things.

The starting point is I have been doing events as an individual, and later as a company, for many years.

I really wanted to have a festival that caters for all wishes and desires hence why we have comedy, choral, music festival, poetry and all the likes, so we cater for every bracket.

Q. But why a week-long event – how did that happen?

A. Look there is a bracket that would attend a jazz show but would not attend a music festival.

There is one that would attend the choral and not the comedy. So we basically wanted to be different in that we offer something for everyone.

People at first thought it was a crazy idea. I almost gave up at one point, especially after we did not even break even in the first year, or in the second year!

But at least by then we had the masses, even though we still did not break even.

In the third year there was little progress in terms of return on investment because at the end of the day I am a businessman.

Q. Hosting a week-long event must require dipping deep into the pocket. In the past you have declared a budget tallying up to millions – where do you get that kind of money?

A. I rely mostly on sponsorship. Companies seem to believe and trust the idea and would obviously want to associate themselves with the event.

I started at a lower budget but this year the budget has shot up to P3 million! Most of the sponsorship comes from Leapfrog but some from companies like Stanbic Bank have made this year’s extravaganza possible.

Q. What is the ultimate GIMC experience?

A. I think it would differ from person to person. Like I say, the event caters for everyone, but I would say it is walking out of the event having enjoyed one’s time and money to the last dollar.

We tend to want to be the best so we would want one to walk out of there having enjoyed to the fullest really.

Q. Being the face of an event of this magnitude, the ladies must throw themselves at you – how do you handle them?

A. I am a married man. I respect my wife and kids so I would not let any distraction and/or temptation lead me astray.

But to answer your question, I have not had any of those – maybe because I have been in the game for a very long time and I’m really a private person and quite shy at times.

Q. You, shy! Really?

A. I keep a very small circle and those who know me would attest to this.

Plus, I think people generally have an idea that I am not easily approachable.

I have a twin who is the exact opposite of me and is more ‘approachable’.

So maybe that has worked for me!

Q. You recently posted on Twitter that you had received a gift from Kirk Whalum, what was it and how much is it worth?

A. (giggles) You saw that? I am into golf just like him, so he brought me his very own personalised gold ball. I cannot say how much it is worth because it is not for sale anywhere.

Q. TGIF, how will you be spending your Friday?

A. I will obviously be at the comedy event!

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