CMP Month In Review : August 2016

Featured Photo by Thalefang Charles for Cross Okavango Delta Expedition.

Okavango, Okavango, Okavango… The Conservation Music Project glided into August aboard a mokoro, a week after launching from its birthplace of Seronga with the Cross Okavango Delta Expedition (CODE) on July 25th. It was a scramble to reset and repack in Johannesburg after arriving from Zambia July 21st! (The Zambia project, Tushange Isamu, was done alongside Greenpop, a Cape Town-based environmental education and tree planting group. More on that in another post!)

The Creative Crossing

CODE 2016 marked the first official “Creative Crossing” of the Okavango Delta, in hopes of supplementing research efforts to understand and conserve the place with poetic and musical messages to bring more Batswana (people of Botswana) on board, as well as to inspire a global audience. As many of you know, the Conservation Music movement was crystalized in Angola, en route to the Delta, aboard a mokoro in 2015 with Dr. Steve Boyes’ Okavango Wilderness Project (OWP). At the time of this writing, the OWP crew is pulling their boats through the deep, muddy wilderness as the water that carried our crossing continues to drop during theirs. You can follow along with live updates at www.intotheokavango.org.

The CODE 2016 crossing was quite special… a group of 15 Batswana was joined by just a single foreign member, Conservation Music founder Alex. In general, the Delta is visited and run by either foreigners or white Botswana nationals, and one intention of CODE is to inspire more Batswana to visit and invest in this incredible national heritage site. Needless to say, it was an honor to be made the exception and join the team of creative celebrities, media professionals, and polers from Botswana to produce a song and music video throughout the two-week crossing.

EricPoleVideo still shot by Alex Paullin.

The song is entitled, “Okavango Oa Moxa,” which means “Okavango You Are Beautiful” in seYei, the mother tongue of famous four-string guitarist Stiger Sola, who was born into the lineage of the baYei, also known as the “Watshara,” or “The River People.” This tribe is said to have been the first to break into the Delta long ago, bringing 6-meter long wooden mekoro (mokoros) to enter the deep, wild paradise that the land-based KhoiSan bushmen in the region left alone.

Indeed, Stiger Sola himself was born inside that very wilderness… his aunt assisting his young mother to deliver him on an island, as his uncle waited aboard the mokoro, long ngashe pole in hand. They were still far from the village of Sharobe, the place where he was meant to be delivered, which would soon become his home. Thus a legend of Botswana was born in the heart of the same inspiration that our expedition was seeking…. We brought him back into the wild with a guitar.

Stiga River

Photo by Thalefang Charles for Cross Okavango Delta Expedition.

The other musical celebrity on board was HT Tautona, a Maun-born rapper who grew up on the cattle post but made his claim to fame in Gaborone, Botswana’s capitol. For HT this trip was like returning home, but finally seeing the Delta he grew on the edge of the right way… by mokoro, in the depth of its wilderness. His lyrics describe the overflow of emotions upon returning to this place “like a pen without ink” and being filled with inspiration to write. HT was a major team player and was easy to find helping in the kitchen.

HTKitchen

Photo by Thalefang Charles for Cross Okavango Delta Expedition.

Last but not least, as a surprise addition to the music team, multi-talented poet Leshie Lovesong spoke up during a fireside brainstorming jam session with a poem she had written, which now serves as a deeply emotional opening to the song. Once she was brought aboard the music team, she also lent her voice to the chorus, responding to Stiger’s calls of “Okavango, Okavango, Okavango” with Stiger’s own declarations to his mother, the Delta, of her lovable, everlasting, beautiful nature, and her role in his existence as “a way of life.” Leshie’s own way of life took quite a shock in the wilderness… prior the expedition she had never even been camping.

LeshieSmileEle

Photo by Thalefang Charles for Cross Okavango Delta Expedition.

Conservation Music is extremely excited to be part of Botswana’s 50th anniversary celebrations. As we speak, the new song “Okavango O Moxa” is being registered with the Copyright Society of Botswana (COSBOTS) so that the artists involved can earn their royalties and protect their rights when this song hits the radio in September. The music video shot in the Delta is soon to follow, and will we broadcast on Botswana Television (BTV) and on Youtube and Vimeo. The song and video will also be made available on iTunes and Google Play soon!
Overall the Cross Okavango song project has been a resounding success. The tune is set to be a hit, the video will be made up of some incredible moments with people and wildlife out in the deep wilderness, and new opportunities are coming up rapidly as this project gains attention. We cannot wait to release this song and video, and hopefully do it all over again next year.

What’s Next On the Horizon?

In the meantime, lots of other things are happening too! For example:

Conservation Music Presents Sotho Sounds @ Rocking the Daisies

For instance, Conservation Music is preparing to bring our old friends the Sotho Sounds from Lesotho down to Cape Town for the massive Rocking the Daisies* music festival! The festival runs from the 7th-9th of October, and we’ll be rocking the Hemp Stage in the Green Village area on Saturday from 2-2:45pm. The Sotho Sounds are a group of rural musicians with enormous heart and talent, and we are extremely excited to give them the chance to perform for such an audience, and hopefully to sell some of their handcrafted merchandise!

FYI, preceding the festival opportunity, we are discussing a collaboration in Lesotho with an American celebrity musician. More on that soon!

SSCrawfurdPhoto by Jacob Crawfurd of Crawfurd Media.

Zambian Tree Song “Tushange Isamu” Release with Greenpop

Quite close to the release date for “Okavango O Moxa” in Botswana, we look forward to releasing the tree planting song and music video recorded in Livingstone, Zambia alongside Greenpop. In July, the song was composed and performed by the Mosi Oa Tunya band, alongside members of the Golden Leaf band as well as Conservation Music’s own Alex Paullin. September is Arbor Month, so this release is very relevant!

ZamStagePhoto by Lee-Ann Olwege.

Return to Angola with The Okavango Wilderness Project

Conservation Music looks forward to returning to Angola in October, following Rocking the Daisies festival in Cape Town. The Okavango Wilderness Project (OWP) is bringing several research teams to survey the Angolan catchments of the Okavango watershed. We are grateful for their continued enthusiasm regarding the power of music to foster conservation ethics in the minds of the people living in the region, where decades of aggression have scarred both the people and the landscape. The beauty and importance of the landscape there are something to be proud of, and we look forward to encouraging that pride alongside OWP and National Geographic.

AngoVidVideo still shot by Alex Paullin.

The Elephants’ Playground

As soon as we beached on this island I named it the elephants’ playground… Dozens of tall, regal, royal fan palms dot the place, evermore dotting the ground with their fruit. I tasted this palm fruit today, which lived its life high off the ground, tucked away between its crunchy outer shell and the large ball of vegetable ivory within. As I write this, the trees that surround me are shaking the as elephants ram them to bring down these bittersweet morsels.

Two nights in a row now we’ve slept with the elephants near. Today I ate their fruit. Tonight I ponder if they will come visit me here. Last night they had already past when my head hit the pillow… but before my tent was up I had been with them like never before.

The images are clear in my mind… I will never forget, thus yet again I can relate to my elephant friends. The herd of fifteen-odd adults and adolescents with their two wobbly-trunked younglings in tow had just passed by our camp as the light became golden. I found a perch atop a standalone turret, a sandcastle built up by termites for years. I was hoping to watch the herd crossing the river en route to the flats near Jao Village, Djedibe, the place that made me think this afternoon that we would not see any wildlife this evening. From upon my tower I watched them turn towards me.

An elephant’s moment is longer than others, but to them it must have felt like an instant as I slowly felt my heartbeat picking up as they grew closer, tree by tree. Through the zoom lens of my camera I had watched from afar as they brought down a tree for the babies to eat from. At this point the naked eye was plenty to capture this larger-than-life moment… they were standing right in front of me.

The matriarch had given me her blessing. We had been making frequent eye contact as I focused my intention on peace, love, and respect for the herd. These emotions undeniably mingled with fear… what if the villagers nearby had been in conflict with these animals? Or if a young male in the herd had been spited that day? Or a mother grew defensive, or her mate had a toothache? But consciously I focused on peace, love, and respect. Any negative visualizations must pass by as glimpses, not to be focused on.

But even when a youngling stood less than two meters below me, it’s trunk reaching up for a leaf near my dangling foot, and was startled to find me there, spreading its ears out and stumbling back, the mothers that surrounded me stayed calm. A significant look here and there, a bit of a head shake, perhaps a raised trunk. We were sharing the space. I was granted a point on the plane. For a moment, even less than an elephant’s instant, I could feel like a part of the herd. As the sky became dim, they moved on. Their wind tunnel breathing and near-silent footsteps that were filling up my ears had grown distant the moment the matriarch pointed her trunk in the direction they had come from. Only two of the herd were nearby when she pointed, but as one they all departed. An ultrasonic rumble of the stomach was the real cue. The herd had moved on through the trees, but our mother remained there with me, locking eyes for an eternity. I raised my hand. She raised her trunk and went.

On assignment for The Conservation Music Project and Cross Okavango Delta Expedition. Follow @crossokavango and @intotheokavango for more stories like these.

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