MORENA LERABA: BLENDING OUR STORIES WITH MODERN SOUND
*For Morena Leraba, the interview was conducted in Sesotho by Sobukwe Mapefane (a writer and photographer based in Maseru, Lesotho), and later translated into English for BLACKNATION.
SM:How and when did you first become interested in music?
ML: When growing up, the village offered so much in terms of entertainment, and a song was the most interesting. Being a shepherd, sometimes, is a life of solitude and one needs to keep the mind occupied. In the village, playing is largely coupled with singing. Girls, when praying for rain during drought, would also have their particular games and singing. Small village choirs were also of interest to me, and we’d visit other villages during music competitions. I’m afraid that ignited my interest in music and singing.
SM: How long have you been doing music?
ML: I’d say my passion started earlier when I was young but I wasn’t really aware what it’s going to materialize into. I started recording professionally in Cape Town where I was working with a band named The Freerangers. It was in 2014. It’s merely two years.
SM: What are your musical influences?
ML: I’d figured my influences are from many Famo artists from my home district in Mafeteng. Sanko le Libatha. They were popular around 2000 onwards if I still remember well. I listened to Matsie, ‘Matsekonyane Ts’usi, Oa ‘Matsie Pheello and many others. However, when I started recording, it was a more western or modern sound. Carl McMillan, a friend I met in Lesotho, was more eager to hear a combination of my traditional lyrics and a modern sound; hence, I was introduced to a lot of artists.
I adore the sound of Kashaka, a Brooklyn-based producer I collaborated with. Again, I love DJ Spoko and Andre Geldenhuys from BeatLords. Spoek Mathambo, Manteiga, and Aero Manyelo from Batuk are my inspiration now. I’d also mention Nozinja here. In Lesotho, I met a French duo-Dj; Bazzek and they also shared some good music, which was also a blend of Electronic sound and African lyrics, similar to what I’m doing now. Moreover, digging into South African traditional music, I fell in love with the sound of Thokozani Langa, Phuzekhemisi, Omfaz’Omnyama, Bhekhumuzi Luthuli, Vukazithathe and many more.
SM: What kind of background did you grow up into?
ML: I grew up in a normal rural village in Mafeteng. When I was young, it wasn’t modern like today with electricity and mobile phones. The village has it’s own vibe with us boys herding sheep and cattle and girls going to school and being responsible for more domestic environments. There’re farming and harvest seasons and there’s a certain feel to all these. We all play our roles.
SM: How do you handle mistakes during a performance?
ML: Apart from our normal rehearsals with my friends here at home, I’ve performed in small gatherings in Cape Town. I was obviously nervous when I started as the music was somehow structured differently, however, Sesotho traditional poetry and music is not written down; hence, it’s easy to change or switch in others words while reciting or singing a similar song. One simply needs to bring out the right energy.
SM: Do you get nervous before a performance or a competition?
ML: Obviously. Yes. You wonder how you are going to capture those who are watching your performance.
SM: What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?
ML: Being nervous also gives you a certain push and you can also use it for your own advantage. To me, it means I shouldn’t take it easy and expect to automatically enchant the people, however, one needs to bring out that necessary energy when delivering the music. Be involved and go with the emotions. That’s what I can say.
SM: Do you attend sessions? What makes a good session?
ML: I attend sessions in the village normally in the afternoon or at night. We normally gather to express our music and poetry and it’s often nice when there’s someone playing the accordion. Also, I attend when I’m in Cape Town for my recording sessions. According to me, a good session is the one where the audience is engaged. I love when people are there for listening and really supporting the artists. Some people attend to have own conversations, eventually making noise and distracting the whole thing.
SM: How often and for how long do you practice?
ML: I practice and even come up with new songs when I’m alone herding the cattle. There’s solitude there and I can listen to myself singing. It’s easier to be inspired and I can do that for most of the day. It’s more intense when I know there is a session the following day and I want my friends to hear my new lyrics.
SM: Tell us about your collaboration with Blacknation Video Network?
ML: After my first single, Bojete, Kashaka from Brooklyn was interested and we eventually collaborated. When Okayafrica shared the Lesotho-Brooklyn collaboration, Blacknation from Johannesburg, South Africa was also interested in our story. Their communication with our management team initiated everything.
I remember Carl telling me they’re planning to come to the mountains when Kashaka was here in Lesotho and then cover our story from there. However, plans changed and they only came in July. On their arrival, they immediately fell in love with our environment and the uniqueness of rural life. We narrated our everyday endeavours as shepherds and our influences in music and poetry.
After filming the documentary, they promised to do a screening in Johannesburg where I’ll be invited to perform. This will be my first performance in Johannesburg and I’m looking forward to future collaborations. We’re releasing a song with DJ Spoko and Andre Geldenhuys, early this December and I’ll be glad if Blacknation will be responsible for the music video. I’m also looking forward to working with Mankind who is under their umbrella.
SM: What can we expect from you on the 29th during your performance?
ML: People will initially see our lifestyle here in the rural areas of Lesotho, and it’s going to be through photographs. Afterwards, people will then have a chance to watch the documentary in full. After the screening, I’ll then perform a few songs, mainly from my upcoming EP with Kashaka. Maybe people will realize something new. Blending traditional lyrics and music with a modern sound. Maybe people will hear a different way of telling stories.