In search of one’s roots

In search of one’s roots

MASERU – For someone so eager to reconnect with her Sesotho identity it is rather odd that the only way she can best articulate that zeal to embrace her heritage is through English, another people’s tongue not her own.

But it might not seem such a strange thing once you realise that the ‘she’ being talked about is none other than Kelello Tekateka, aka Ms Kelle.
One of Lesotho’s most talented upcoming singer/songwriters, Ms Kelle – who prefers being called by her Sesotho name, Kelello, – is a proud Mosotho of the Koena clan that is part of Lesotho’s ruling establishment.

However, circumstances would conspire to suppress for a while the raw Sesotho spirit in her, a factor well illustrated by her lack of proficiency in the language of her people.
Instead, upbringing and socialisation groomed Kelello into the typical citizen of the global village whom you can’t quite fit into the rigid binary categories of black or white. It is factor she herself readily admits and to which her music also bears testimony with its appeal to audiences across the racial divide or geographical location.
“I’m too white to be black and I’m too black to be white,” she told thepost, adding that her music is meant for audiences across all continents and from all races.
But this is to get too far ahead of the story. The narrative begins in the Germany city of Bonn where in (****year) baby Kelello was born to the family of Mokheseng Tekateka, a Lesotho diplomat who spent years in the European country on assignment from his government.
The diplomat would on occasion bring his family back to Lesotho.

But the holiday breaks were neither that long nor that frequent enough such that her critical formative and early adult years were spent almost exclusively in the German city, exposed to a multiplicity of races, cultures and languages.

But, of course, that was without much exposure to the Sesotho culture or language except when at home.
The result was that where the little girl could have learnt Sesotho, she instead mastered English, which she speaks with a good American accent.
She also grew up to be more familiar with the culture and mores of the Deutschland than that of the land of her forefathers.
It is hard to say what sort of effect this alienation from one’s people and culture would have had on someone who has such a yearning for her roots and heritage.
When it was pointed out to Kelello during the interview that her English is superb and yet she can hardly string together a sentence in Sesotho, she simply looked up, closed her eyes as if in contemplation before uttering this shortest of answers: “I attended English school.”

But something also happened while she was growing up in Germany. Something that by the look of it played no small part in shaping up the Kelello we know today.
At a very young age she joined the school choir and through that avenue Kelello was introduced to German folk music.
However, she is quick to point out that while they taught her folk music, she grew up liking and listening to jazz and pop music. It is something she puts down to her exposure to American music which she came into contact with at school.

“I enjoyed heavy metal music,” she says. “It is at school where I learnt to sing in harmony with others.”
But when did the urge to reclaim her Sesotho heritage start? At what point did the desire to rekindle her ties with her people and to rediscover her culture begin?
One might conclude that perhaps that bug bit her following the release of her debut album titled Brazen Souls or after success began to promise as she shared the stage with famous singers during tours of several European countries and South Africa.
But no, that’s not when it happened.

The idea that Germany was not home, that she belonged elsewhere was first planted in her head when she was still very young, way back in the 80s when the acclaimed Afro-jazz guru, Tšepo Tšola, visited Kelello’s family in Germany.

Tšola and his band, who must have been in Germany for some shows called on Kelello’s family because the jazz great and Kelello’s father were friends. They both hail from Teya-Teyaneng, about 60 kilometres north of Maseru.

“I was very young, but I still remember how touched I was,” Kelello says.
Of course, she would soon forget about Tšola and his band’s visit and she would revert to her normal existence among many races and cultures as would be found in a metropolitan such as Bonn.
But the seed that encounter had planted in her head remained stuck there ready to flourish one day.

However, in the meanwhile Kelello carried on with her schooling during which time she also continued to learn and get coaching from professional musicians in that great city.
“I love learning (because) learning is power,” she says. “I read so many books because I wanted to learn the business of music.”

“I’m still trying to learn more because I’m still a baby in the music industry,” adds Kelello, who bemoaned the lack of learning and training opportunities in the local music industry.
And as if to prove a point, the benefit from the skills and knowledge acquired in Germany is quite evident in how she has so far successfully navigated the music industry – which can be a dangerous jungle where only the fittest survive.

Under the name Ms Kelle, Kelello independently released the album ‘Brazen Soul’ which saw the single ‘Mr Mean’ listed on Kaya FM Top 40.
She also received radio playlisting on prominent radio stations in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland, while she has also successfully staged live shows in those countries.
Kelello has shared the stage with some of the biggest names in the music business such as Tšola, while she also collaborated with Lesotho-based jazz collective ‘Friends’ to open for Grammy nominated artist Nneenna Freelon at the 50th birthday celebration of King Letsie III.

But what brought her back to Africa, to Lesotho, her beloved home country which is, however, a much poorer music market compared to what she could get in Bonn or elsewhere in Europe?
She says the desire to touch lives and to reclaim her long-lost identity are the reasons she came back home. Or to put in her own words: “I want to realise my identity. I am a crocodile (totem of her Koena clan).”

According to Kelello, the journey back home started in 2009 when she was working with Gender Links, a non-governmental organisation that works to promote gender equality in the sub-Saharan Africa region.

Working with the organisation provided a window through which she was able to see what it means to be a woman in Africa where patriarchy remains firm and dominant in many societies.
She says she was touched by what she witnessed, and she felt that through her music she could do her bit to help restore the souls of Africa’s disadvantaged women.
On the other hand, as all this was happening memories of that encounter with Tšola those many moons ago when she was first reminded of where she comes from were quietly playing at the back of her mind.

And from then on it was a matter of time before she packed her bags for Africa for good, which she eventually did in 2015.
A non-practising Catholic, Kelello says she believes the kind of experience she had in living in Europe and Africa has equipped her to produce music she believes has the means to console troubled souls.

“I live to inspire, and I do that through music,” she says.
Without doubt there are many here in Lesotho and beyond that have had a taste of Kelello’s music who will nod in agreement to that statement.

Caswell Tlali

Previous Old age pensioners not paid since April
Next Is Shi pulling a fast-one on farmers?

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /home/thepostc/public_html/wp-content/themes/trendyblog-theme/includes/single/post-tags-categories.php on line 7

About author

You might also like

Local News

LNDC boss pleads for funding

BUTHA-BUTHE – LESOTHO National Development Corporation (LNDC) Chief Executive Officer, Mohato Seleke, has pleaded for a massive cash injection from the government to “rescue” the Ha-Belo industrial estate. Seleke said

Local News

Mahao reads riots act

MASERU – THE deputy leader of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Professor Nqosa Mahao, yesterday told his rivals to accept the court judgment that confirmed his election into office or face

Local News

Hlaele fights expulsion

MASERU – The newly elected secretary general of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) party, Lebohang Hlaele, has filed an urgent application in the High Court seeking to block his expulsion from