Sotho Sounds

This proposal took place and the Malealea band attended the WOMAD festivals in England in 2003 and Australia in 2004

Sotho Sounds from Lesotho

Proposal for a Music and Education Residency 2003
Project co-ordinators: Annie Menter (WOMAD Foundation) and Rachel Levay (Ingoma)
Suggested dates for 2003 – June 21 – July 28

The Group

‘Sotho Sounds’ is innovative, fresh and instantly engaging. They are six musicians and two dancers, who create their own music, embracing elements of Lesotho traditions, township jive and South African hip hop. Their ‘sound’ is distilled from the music they hear from South African radio stations. The instruments which include guitars, one-stringed fiddles, drum and percussion are made from found materials such as oil cans, oil drums, wood and a variety of strings. Originally making and playing their instruments, when they were young shepherds in the surrounding hills of Malealea, their music now brings together the individuality of each of their instruments. They are self taught musicians who have all expressed a desire to make a living from their music… they have composed and performed their own music for the past 5 years and are now at a point where they would without doubt benefit from connections with musicians and organisations outside of Lesotho who could offer a valuable input into their development. The Proposal In December 2002, we carried out a research visit to Malealea, where the band is based. In consultation with Risenga Makondo, a Venda musician from South Africa, we spent time meeting the musicians, documenting the music and devising a project. We felt that the quality, energy and direction of the music and the commitment and enthusiasm of the young musicians offered a very exciting and unique opportunity to develop a mutually beneficial and groundbreaking project to take place in the UK in 2003.

During the research visit we established contact with Lesotho Minister of Culture, Ntsema Khitsane, and British High Commissioner Frank Martin, both of whom expressed interest and offered support to the project. The Minister of Culture was particularly enthusiastic about a cultural link with UK, as none exists at present. We also negotiated a link with Mick and Di Jones who run Malealea Lodge, and who have agreed to liaise with the group. The chief of Malealea, Mkhauta Agnes Malealea, has also given her written permission for the musicians to travel to the UK to carry out the project, as have the parents and families of all the musicians. The ages of the members of the group are from 13 – 22 years old.

The Group consists of:

  • Tumelo Mpokoane – drums
  • Kajoane Chaka– one-string fiddle
  • Thseliso Hoko – one-string fiddle
  • Monaheng Mporoane – guitar
  • Tankiso Pita – guitar
  • Rameleke Rantho – bass
  • Paseka Mohale – dancer
  • Richard Mohale – dancer

Aims of the project

  • To devise a project which will celebrate the ingenuity and creativity of these young musicians
  • To offer opportunities for performing and developing their music
  • To offer opportunities for developing ongoing links with Lesotho through a collaborative project with young musicians in UK
  • To present the music and ‘tradition’ in an educational context
  • To bring together the ‘live’ music with music technology through an established community music project.
  • To link with design technology teachers to introduce instrument-making techniques using recycled and found objects.
  • To explore the idea of instruments as ‘art form’ with UK based artist, David Cox
  • To provide a recording opportunity for the group
  • To base the project in the South West of England and so benefit young musicians in the area who are involved in music making

Project Outline and Partners

The initial proposal is for a 5 week residency in UK. The group will have the opportunity to: Carry out educational work in schools, feeding into ongoing Bristol City Council arts development initiatives.

  • Work collaboratively with at least one group in the Bristol Youth Music Action Zone, creating new music through music technology.
  • Explore the idea of instruments as ‘art form’ with UK based artist, David Cox, in a school setting
  • Perform and give workshops at a number of selected venues and festivals
  • Perform and give workshops at WOMAD Festival, Rivermead (25 – 27 July 2003)

We are currently in discussion with the Guildhall School of Music, The Bath Guitar Festival, The Eden Project, Creative Partnerships and “Art at the Centre” (Reading Borough Council), and are in the process of scheduling performances and workshops for ‘ Sotho Sounds’ with each of these organisations. Funding at this stage is confirmed from: National Foundation for Youth Music (YMAZ). Creative Partnerships South West, Alternative Arts Festival London, The Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Africa Oyé, Community at Heart, The Broadway Theatre, Catford and the WOMAD Festival organisation. Risenga Makondo is based in the UK and will be available to facilitate the project throughout as musician and translator.

The WOMAD Foundation has extensive experience in devising inter-cultural initiatives and delivering education projects with international artists. ( see WOMAD Foundation leaflet) Ingoma is a Bristol based organisation specialising in African music and education projects.

If you are interested in supporting this educational initiative please contact:

Report of Sotho Sounds in the UK

By Annie Menter

Annie Menter gives the lowdown on the remarkable Sotho Sounds from Lesotho, who concoct the funkiest music from instruments made with oil cans, car parts, and bits of scrap metal.

Sotho Sounds, seven young musicians from the village of Malealea, high in the hills of Lesotho, make their musical instruments with whatever materials they can find and use them to compose their own tunes and melodies.

On the mountainous uplands of Lesotho, young herd boys looking after the family’s animals often make a stringed instrument called a ” katara” guitar from one of the many empty 5 litre oil cans that can be found on the village tip. The arms and tuning pegs are roughly carved out of any available wood and the strings are made from lengths of packaging twine, although the best sound comes from discarded fishing line that the boys find along the river banks.

Bows for the unique ” Mamakhorong Sekhankula”, a single stringed violin that has almost become a traditional instrument, are made from horsehair, plucked from the tails of the Basotho Horses, which provide the main form of local transport for local Basotho people.

As young herdboys, the members of Sotho Sounds spent hours alone with their flocks of sheep and cattle and they used the solitary time to pick out tunes on their makeshift instruments. They played for themselves, maybe a passing horseman, a tourist trekking in the hills or just the odd eagle or wildcat that might come into view. The instruments were traditionally played solo, but since they all came from the same village, they decided to pool their talents. Fired up by the music that they were hearing on the radio and from the odd cassette that turned up at Malealea, they came together to form a band. Their musical loves include hip hop, reggae, gospel, township jive and above all, Bob Marley.

Living and working near Malealea Lodge, a visitor’s centre for trekking and hiking, Sotho Sounds began to busk for visitors each evening and earn small amounts of money that they could contribute to families’ income. One day Risenga Makondo, a musician from South Africa, heard the band playing and was excited by their music, their truly individual style and their determination to become fully-fledged musicians. He suggested that the WOMAD Foundation might be able to open up some kind of opportunity for the band to develop and share what they had created so far with young people in the UK.

After a research trip to Lesotho, six months of fund-raising and a lot of planning, Sotho Sounds finally arrived in London, Heathrow on the 20th June, 2003 for a five week residency. With their distinctive Basotho Blankets and Conical Hats they were easy to spot as they emerged from Customs. This was their first trip out of Lesotho and for some of them the first time out of the village. How would they cope with the culture shock? Well so far so good.

Three weeks into the residency, Sotho Sounds have thrown themselves into making music with students in Bristol, Liverpool & Cornwall. They have performed at St. Paul’s Carnival Africa Oye Festival and the East Bristol Jazz Club, to name but a few events. And there’s more to come. They will be spending a day with the students at Guildhall School of Music and Dance, conducting workshops at the Eden Project, and both recording and performing here at WOMAD festival. Everyday there is something new. Every day they learn a few more words of English. Every day they are connecting with young people who play different instruments and different styles of music. They have tried accordions, bassoons, trumpets, saxophones, flutes, kit drums and more. They have learned how to run a workshop, teach their own brand of hip hop dance and share some pretty rare vocals.

Leave a Reply