There is a difference between poetry and praise singing. A poet writes a poem and reads it out. Praise singing happens on the spot and that depends entirely on the right network with the spirit of the ancestors. That was what Mr Boikanyo Ramagoelelo, who is going to sing praises to President Cyril Ramaphosa tonight before he delivers the 2019 State of the Nation Address, said.

Mr Ramagoelelo, who is a Motswana, began praise singing in 1995 at the launch of Radio Mmabatho in the North West. “I was unaware that I have this gift of praise singing until that day when I participated in an awareness programme about the radio station where praise singers competed in praise singing and I participated unaware that the programme was about praise singing.

“When I was told the programme was about praise singing, I told the programme producer that I was not a praise singer but I was told to nevertheless take part in the praise singing competition – and I ended winning the competition. I realised on that day that I am a praise singer and I never stopped after that.”

Although Mr Ramagoelelo is a Motswana and North West-based praise singer, he says he is a national praise singer. He praised the late President Nelson Mandela and President Thabo Mbeki in Parliament. “I was among the guests of the late President Nelson Mandela in 1999 here in Parliament because of praise singing.”

Asked by the Insession writer about his rehearsal schedule for tonight’s praise singing, he said praise singing is not like writing a poem. It’s something that happens on the spot. “For praise singing I depend entirely on the network with my ancestors. If I lose that network, I will have a problem. I don’t rehearse what I am going to say, I just open my mouth and say things I didn’t plan to say,” he said.

The selection of praise singers for the State of the Nation Address (Sona) rotates among the nine African languages that are spoken in the country’s nine provinces. The Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Ms Thandi Modise, through the provincial legislatures, selects the praise singers. For this year, it is the turn of the Setswana language.

By Mava Lukani
7 February 2019