Music: the language of the oppressed

Music: the language of the oppressed

Then is a time past, a clear mark or deep notch in the significant events in the lives of individuals on earth. Then is not just an ordinary term per se, it is a definitive adverb denoting events subsequent to a clearly marked point in time, that is, we refer to then when something significant or notable has occurred, something more significant than the breathing we reflexively do. We use the term when an occurrence of a magnitude a few or many leagues above or below the ordinary has occurred. The then guides the present and it comes in many forms, one of which is the tale of the individual that achieved notable successes in life: for the sake of not him or herself, but also the wider community and the world at large.

Last year around this time and season of the year, I met an old man who has had a significant influence on the way I view the world and the varied relationships I share with not only my peers but the whole of humanity. This man is Tseko Solomon Matšoele, a stalwart of the campaign by musicians and cultural practitioners to assert their place in the world and to be able to make a living from the fruits of their toil whilst entertaining the masses and spreading messages of hope, unity, and love.

His pursuit in life is guided by a simple philosophy, “to live as per my God-given gift and talent, and to honour God at all times by serving others to the best of my ability.” At 83 years of age, any man would think that one’s energy would have ebbed to the point where one is limited to musings in the sun, and tending to a rowdy crowd of his grandchildren.

He does not do this, but has chosen to rein in a whole tribe of grandchildren from different backgrounds in whose ranks are simple writers like me, businessmen, artists, adventurers, and other individuals of varied profession who meet every Sunday at Qoaling hill where he leads the now regular hike up the rocky paths and cliff tracks that lead right up to the top of the Qoaling Plateau. It is a journey one has come to cherish, for not only its varied activities but having the opportunity to view the expanse of Maseru City from the South, and to share moments of wisdom as lectured by Matšoele. Watching him walk up the hill is a notable event, a then those that have had the opportunity to drink from his deep well of life’s wisdoms cherish.

In a white suit most Sundays, the solitary figure leads the climb and the best one can say is: inner strength keeps one young and strong. It is the indomitable spirit that has kept this pioneer in focus of his dream for a long 60 years, and it is from this spirit that whoever gets the opportunity to walk in his presence knows he or she has to keep on keeping on despite the seemingly insurmountable odds that present themselves in the way. In his simple words, he has what he terms his ‘direction’ and it states: “My contribution to my nation and my country is to donate myself to my nation, and to my country. I want to die like a man who contributed something to my nation and to my country.”

It is a direction he followed from the age of 23 when he founded his first organisation for musicians with the establishment of Boithabiso le Boiketlo ka ‘Mino in 1958. The organisation arranged indoor concerts and music competitions for local musicians across four districts of Lesotho. A member, founder, organiser, and president of Lesotho Cultural and Musical Association (LCMA) founded in 1974, he has organised shows whose line-ups included music legends such as Spokes Mashiane, Mahlatini and the Mahotella Queens, Stimela, Phau Manyetse and Apollo Ntabanyane, Steve Kekana, Mpharanyane and the Cannibals, Brenda Fassie, Yvonne Chaka-Chaka, and other international artists.

Also, the founding member of Mantsopa Cultural Village founded in 1996, it is indeed wowing to be in the presence of this great old man who in his simple words was born on 23 April 1935. To have kept on for that long has had its challenges, but his fortitude is what has kept him on the path to his dream until this day. The tales he tells of his previous times give one a glimpse of a time when the sweet was really sweet to the old that are now re-telling the tale as they rightly should. It was a romantic time, with intense competition sessions by various bands on the stages of indoor and outdoor festivals he and his peers had organised.

The folk tale and oral tradition seem to have carried the bulk of our history and heritage until the written word came along, and it in itself lost power due to its nature. The written word largely covered the lives of only the prominent that could read and write the scribbles and prints about them in papers and books.

Music came along as the voice of those silenced by their illiteracy or circumstance, for singing could both capture the tales of the people the musician lived among or wished to live with. This art of using words and musical accompaniment provided the only avenue through which the masses of the largely oppressed could express their views and perspectives on the current status of the society they lived in. The words could only come to the ears of the audience through the commitment and effort of the so-called ‘promoters’ and Ntate Matšoele is such a figure who brought Basotho entertainment to lighten their moods in those dark days of apartheid.

From the early days promoting indoor musical and cultural entertainment sessions in Maputsoe, Maseru, Mafeteng and Mohale’s Hoek, the tale of this old man is one of commitment and diligence under pressure. History teaches us to honour only the totemic figures, to remember those who are remembered by many. This is not in any way wrong, but it does carry the disadvantage of skipping certain lines, missing out on the details of certain real events that truly shaped it. It is not wrong, but it is like viewing a wall and focusing only on the bricks and forgetting the mortar that keeps them together.

We should not focus only on the celebrity in this star-struck era of history, we should honour too the simple people that spread their music, drove them around and across lands on tour or in concert, and those who were there from their point of obscurity to their moment of glory on the stages where the famous celebrities strut their stuff. I look at Ntate Tseko and see a figure who worked really hard to get others to heights where celebrity status becomes the order of the day soon as one attains it. He therefore, in more ways than one stands to be honoured right up there with the others who have toiled hard to keep the spirits of the nation, country, and continent up in times of trial.

Now is the focus of the present times, and often, the misfortune is that the past principles and ideals that got us to where we are ‘Now’ are often overlooked in the hasty world of today. The way I see it, the recounting of the past tells the story of the founding fathers and mothers of the nation who are in actual fact the first bricklayers of the foundation of the nation we see in the now. We only have to understand fully how they laid those foundations to better face and to comprehend problems prevalent in the present (the now).

The many challenges we face both as a country and nation could well have their answer in the vast oral renditions of the older citizens in the country. They have obviously been here longer and naturally have more to offer in terms of practical knowledge and gathered experience. And so, the sharing of certain days in the week under their tutelage could well prove to be the ultimate answer to solving current problems in the systems that keep the state in smooth running mode. The older citizens of the state know where it all began, and even if they do not know or remember clearly, their knowledge however vague is far clearer than ours (standing a lot of notches below them are we on the tree of time), and this necessitates the need to bother to understand the messages they heard from the tales they were told about their own past.

Of interest is to walk in the paths of the ancients and to understand how a nation ended up erasing its own memories at a rate thus far unsurpassed. Situations and circumstances the people find themselves in are usually the result of the previously done that had an impact on the lives of others or on the person in question. For the weak, the instinct is to run as far as one can, the strong stand their ground and never leave the field until the battle is done. I see this in the old man, a man so tough that he came from the edges to occupying centre stage at a certain point in time. Matšoele has stood his ground and is now mentoring a current crop of the generation, in that act ensuring that there is continuity and that his ideas shall not be left to perish alone.

It is only after listening to the tales of people that we can begin to understand clearly what it is they really need. It is only if we take advice from those that have stood long in one course that we shall begin to clearly understand the gift of the present. We have the potential to bring about needed change, but that sense or feeling cannot just be approached, it needs the mentoring guide willing to part with the knowledge they have gained over the passage of the years. It is an honour to be in the presence of the wise, for they know and understand the world they have seen teething and crawling and growing right in front of their eyes more than the younger citizens do.

The essence of presence lies in the amount of gain in terms of knowledge and experience, and by encountering the older citizen on a regular basis one soon learns to be calm, for there is the clear lesson from the older citizens that one should “take time”. In our pride of youth, the lure sometimes is that we can achieve it all in the space of one day or episode. Rome was not built in a day, so is the other constant piece of advice from the old man that mentors many.

The coming and hoped for rely on faith, and hope and faith are what our wishes and dreams are sustained by before their full fruition. Upon asking him the secret to his success in life, he notes that deep-set belief in self and others is what has seen him achieve what he reached in life. He insists that Basotho were a good people in the days when the power of their unity had its foundations in selflessness and they believed in each other. Now that such a spirit is in its waning years, he feels the need to recapture it by having the regular mentoring sessions with the younger generation. In essence passing the baton on, the meetings at the mountain offer one the opportunity to not only realise the fact that all we see was once somebody’s dream, but they also prove to one the power of united effort in the pursuit of a dream.

The visions in people’s mind end up as great achievements if they are given adequate guidance and an appropriate platform for their expression. What this old man has done is to establish an avenue of expression for artists and musicians who were in obscurity before they were granted platforms by his organisations. A meeting with an old man has turned out to be what clarifies the relationship between the then of the past, the now of the present, and the promise of what is coming in the future. The past needs to be understood, the present needs to be embraced, before one can think of what to do in the future, he says.

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