Nov 29, 2021

Berry Heart: Changing lives with her art

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I’m not up for making hits that are going to make me a millionaire, and tomorrow are forgotten.

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Born in the settlements of Kgalagadi in one of the poorest regions of Botswana, Keotshepile did not know that she would one day become a successful name in her country, writes Thando Nondywana. The award-winning poet and musical sensation known to many as ‘Berry Heart’ carved out her path when she became the only graduate in her area after studying in Germany where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in English and a second BA degree in Creative Multimedia.

The multifaceted artist, who also holds an International Master’s Degree in business, has featured on several local dramas and is looking forward to furthering her acting aspirations. She has traveled extensively around the world as part of her voyages sharing her poetry and using her voice to sensitize Gender-Based Violence issues while serving as the Botswana ambassador in the UN Creative Advisory Council.

The controversial star released four albums under her belt before deciding to take a break in 2018 after the release of her last album Kgolo to focus on her entrepreneurship journey. “Most of them were charity albums because coming from a poverty background I know exactly what poverty tastes like. I use my art to sensitize Gender-Based Violence that I grew up around and also to try and eradicate poverty around the girl child so most of my music was giving back to communities. One of my albums was giving back to organisations like the African Women’s leadership academy that are taking care of a girl child,” she said.

Berry Heart wants to impact lives with her art. Pic Supplied

Were you always passionate about the arts industry? WHERE DID IT START?

A: It all started in Germany after my graduation in 2010. I started producing music in 2011 immediately after my first degree in 2011 and in that same year that is when I released my first album. My father always told me that I should finish school first and then I can do whatever I want to do with my talent so I did exactly that. As I was in Germany trying to make a living as a black person living in such a country, I happened to walk past a certain pub and saw people performing poetry and I asked them how it is done and they told me they interview people/individuals first and if they like your art they are going to be giving you 40 euros per performance. At the time, 40 Euros was around 400 Pula and for me as a student that was a lot of money. They liked my performance and I started performing every week at that pub in Southern Germany.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

A: I draw inspiration from a lot of women, even the ordinary ones. You know the women that are going through the everyday struggles, our mothers, and our grandmothers are the kind of people that inspire me because they are the ones that are living the real life that I see…women that I can associate with and relate to. The kind of woman who has seven children to look after and she’s a single mother trying to make ends meet. You know the kind of woman who was molested as a young girl and is trying to be somebody in life. Those are the kinds of people that inspire me because they are living the reality that I see before me every day as a black woman trying to have power in a patriarchal society. These are the struggles that women go through; these are the struggles that a girl child goes through. These are the kinds of women that inspire me and whom my music is for.

Berry Heart believes art should be edutainment

What message are you trying to get across to your listeners using music and poetry?

A: Art should be Edutainment and not only entertainment.  I’m trying to teach the world out there that you can use poetry and music to sensitize societal issues. I believe that when you listen to it, it is going to change your thinking and perception. That it’s just going to challenge you. Music and art should play a role. I don’t want to be the musician or poet that just produces hit songs for people to only dance to but not get challenged or changed. I believe in the empowerment of education and I just want my music to be a legacy about edutainment. I do not want a girl child out there listening to my art and not get challenged or inspired to do something. I’m afraid that when I pass on, people will listen to my music and it is not going to tell them to act against Gender-Based Violence, to not empower a girl child, to not see the importance of education. I’m not up for making hits that are going to make me a millionaire, and tomorrow are forgotten. That being said, I am not in the mainstream or should I say bubble-gum, that is not my fortier. I am here to change lives with my art.

Why is activism and advocating for women and children important for you?

A: It is important because of my upbringing. I grew up around the settlements, with women being battered and there was no problem with that. And when I grew up I told myself that I’m going to teach a girl child that it’s not okay for them to be battered, abused or raped. It’s not supposed to be like that. I want them to know that you can come from poverty and still have so many achievements and many qualifications like I was able to. It is not for certain individuals but that even the girl from the settlements can get equal opportunities for them to be able to go to school, and be whatever they want. I want to teach the children out there the importance of education and I don’t want people to talk about success and leave education out or talk about success and forget about the empowerment of a girl child.

Berry Heart is also into fashion

Entrepreneurship and Motherhood

Your move towards business? And why fashion specifically?

A: When I finished school I started my corporate branding and events management company that is when I liked fashion and clothing. I used to go to award shows and I would show up in very amazing dresses that I made myself and the next day I’d feature in 10 pages of newspapers and I realized that it meant there’s business here. That is how Berry Heart Creations started. It is truly a gallery of national cultures. In showbiz, what sells most is how you look. And what carries more of the looks is what you are wearing. The fabric that speaks for you will determine the kind of clientele you’re going to have. You know even if you just wearing randomly people are attracted first to how you look before looking at your character. So for them to come to you, they look at what you are dressed in.

What has the journey been like? What has the reception been like in terms of business?

A: One of the challenges is that people think that Berry Heart Creations is a bit steep in prices and not necessarily appreciating the art and output behind the designs. We go around Africa to get the best materials like the Senegalese Kitenge, the South African Shweshwe, the Nigerian Ankara, and Ghanaian Kente so we can give our clients authentic custom made clothing. We are targeting the middle to higher upper class that understands the kind of fabrics and quality of the fabrics that we source from around African countries. It takes only a few to understand what it means by a handmade royal Ghanaian Kente which costs nothing less than 2000 Pula per metre.

Take us through your motherhood journey?

A: It has been so tough and quite beautiful as well because here’s this person that you brought to this earth. I had a child at an age where people would say is a bit old, having a child at 30-32 is considered quite old in the African culture but I didn’t want to have a child before I met the right partner or before I was ready. In my culture no one tells you what to expect even when you go to your check-up at the clinic, no one tells you what to expect. So I was there four days of labour up until I collapsed and had to be rushed into theatre.  I had baby Amari through C-section.

There was a time I was so weak and fighting Postpartum depression, had he left me I don’t know where I would be right now. I would be a serious mental case. I had been confined away from everything I knew. You can imagine somebody who is assertive and outgoing like me, having to stay in the same room, with no work or exercising. Just always in pain. And I nearly broke down, being in shape means a lot for my brand and when I looked at myself so out of shape with so many scars and stretch marks I couldn’t handle it emotionally.  Luckily, I have an amazing partner, Brian Sokesi and I got counseling.

The importance of creating a legacy for your son and involving him in the business?

A: When I got into this industry after leaving the settlement, I told myself that the generational curse of poverty in my family ends with me. I told myself I am going to break the cycle. And I did that with my son. I knew that baby Amari is not going to live like me or be underprivileged like I was growing up. He is going to be a multi-millionaire and is literally the youngest CEO, and now he is an ambassador for a beverage company. He is already paying for his school fees before he goes to school, I spoke about it and I manifested it. I talked to God about it, I made a prophecy about my life and it is truly happening the way I envisioned it.

Your message to females who want to step into their next level of greatness

A: Women think that there are certain things that they can do and things they cannot do, certain businesses they can’t venture into.  I do not want them [women] to get very soft, as soon as you present yourself as a positive and strong person no one can play with you. I’ve seen it with the Berry Heart brand, the way I’m conducting business with my male counterparts, I throw out of the window that I’m a woman, I sit there as a business partner – an equal and not as a woman. I want women to unlearn thinking that being a woman means being small; being less privileged, having fewer opportunities. We are as strong as men, we are as talented and business-minded as them. We should stop saying there are certain things that men can do that we can’t, if you feel like you can fix your door or paint the house, then do it. Don’t wait for a man to do it.

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