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Keeping famo music alive

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QACHA’S NEK – FAMO music, known to have originated from Basotho migrant workers who used to sing it during their leisure time, has grown into a massive brand over the years.
The phenomenal growth has not stopped people from generally associating the genre with non-elites, uneducated people and folk of very strong rural backgrounds because of the music’s intrinsic connection to mine work

However, for 32-year-old Monamoli Mahlekele, a university graduate, “music is music as long as you like it and it knows no social boundaries”.
Mahlekele is a software engineer, having graduated from Limkokwing University of Creative Technology (LUCT).

Contrary to popular belief that famo music is for the uneducated, Mahlekele is among the elites in his mountainous Qacha’s Nek district.
He is a young entrepreneur who mentors and trains youths in Qacha’s Nek in entrepreneurship, IT and helps groom those that are interested in the arts and culture.

He has become an icon to be reckoned with in his district.
No one knew that a few men by the roadside singing famo music using a hand-made inner tube rubber skin drum with beer bottle caps as rattles, accordion and ‘Mamokhorong (string connected to a stick tightened enough to produce music) would brew the next intellectual famo star.
“I would stop and watch them sing, sometimes throw in money and just be there in admiration,” he says smiling.

One day he joined in with a stanza or two as the band was playing and he loved how he sounded.
“Funny enough people loved how I sounded too, their excitement was unbelievable.”

This was how Mahlekele was initiated into famo music and Milo, a name he was given by his admirers, was born.
“With or without sugar I am still sweet,” he says, referring to his slogan with laughter.
He had never thought of becoming a famo musician prior to his experience with famo musicians.
He starts singing his most recent famous song featuring Megarhezt and Malome Vector:

“…ha re shape li-thuso phala, re shaya le walk.
Ha re batle moilibano, re shaya le walk
Heee, le li vosho, re shaya le walk.
Bafwethu nayi le walk, sishaya na le walk…”.

The song was composed and written by Mahlekele but has become famous through Megarhetz who has been trending over a couple of months.
It is a happy song that loosely translates to mean “we are not dancing Thuso Phala but we dance Nayi lewalk. We don’t do Vosho’s but we dance Nayi lewalk”.

Thuso Phala, born in May 1986 in Soweto, Gauteng, is a South African football midfielder who plays for Premier Soccer League club Black Leopards.
He is the inventor of Thuso Phala dance moves that are becoming popular among South African dancers and soccer fans.

Rap and famo all-in-one is a growing music trend in Lesotho.
“With this song, I wanted to mark my niche market,” Mahlekele says, adding: “I am young . . . I am educated and very cultural, what better way to do it than to bring all of what I am together.”
He says to become successful in the music industry one should be creative and he thinks his craft is developing well.
Since the launch of the song, Mahlekele together with Megahertz are used in Econet jingles.

Mahlekele, aka Milo, did not enjoy an easy upbringing.
He is the second born of four children who, for the greater part of their lives, were raised by a single parent.
His traumatic life experience started in 1996 when his parents separated and his mother together with his siblings moved from Ha-’Masana in Maseru from Leropong in Qacha’s Nek, his mother’s maiden home.

When he completed his primary education, Mahlekele had to wait a year because his sister was writing Form E and his unemployed mother could not afford to pay school fees for both of them.
When he finally enrolled for high school, he would miss school for months during the quarter because funds were not enough to pay quarterly fees.

He did odd jobs at a wholesale company carrying buyers’ loads on a worn out wheelbarrow either to their homes or the taxi rank.
“I had to help my mother because it was evident that she was not having it easy.”
When he was in Form B, his mother, the only source of hope for him and his siblings died.

“My life was shattered. My hopes and dreams became blurred because she held the pieces of this family together.”
Mahlekele’s sister got married and he had to drop out of school.
A Good Samaritan working at Machabeng Hospital in Qacha’s Nek as a nurse knew of Mahlekele’s dire situation.

Her son, whom Mahlekele had protected from school bullies as a Form A student, told her of his protector’s problems.
“The lady decided to pay for my fees and when she transferred to Maseru she took me with her and enrolled me and her son in an Eastern Cape high school in South Africa.”

“My life was still painful and bitter at the time even though everything I needed was provided for,” he recalls.
“I still had siblings who needed financial assistance and I could not help them because I was still being helped.”

He enrolled at the LUCT to study software engineering and this is where he found his first step into financial freedom.
“This is where I knew that I had the freedom to support my siblings financially when I could and buy them what I wanted to without any hustles,” he says.

He was using part of his monthly stipend from the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) to help out at home.
He started selling potatoes to vendors who were preparing fresh chips near LUCT and the Lerotholi Polytechnic.

Every morning, Mahleke would deliver the potato bags to each one of his clients and collect his money later in the evening.
“I learned the importance of entrepreneurship as a subject and as a practical skill in poverty alleviation,” he says.
He was able to send his two siblings to school throughout high school.
During his internship he registered an IT company together with three other students.

The company’s journey looked promising.
They developed a registry system for the police that was meant to assist in the electronic safekeeping of dockets, biometric information of lawbreakers and most wanted people.

“This system had the highest security features that would trace stolen dockets back to the person who had access to them,” he says.
“It was the best there ever was in the country.”
They were given an office at the police headquarters as volunteers.
“We thought this was our breakthrough but it didn’t happen for us. Some of our workmates started finding jobs elsewhere and the office closed.”
He decided he would start his own company, Dozen Brains Information Technology.

Hustling to make ends meet, Mahlekele tried working as a pesticides and fumigation assistant walking to Maseru from Roma, some 35 kilometres journey, where he was now staying.
The money he generated was not enough for him to catch a taxi.
As time went by he started selling straw hats.

His grandmother in Qacha never stopped asking Mahlekele to return home but he stayed in Maseru, where dreams became a reality.
In 2013 he got married and life became harder. He finally took his grandmother’s advice and moved back home.
“Life had taught me a lot at this hour when I decided to return home with my wife and kids.”

He has established a youth organisation that works with poor youths, youth in correctional services and disabled ones.
He has released seven albums. Selota Sa Poho 1, 2, 3 and 4 Khanyapa 1, 2 and 3.
He says he prides himself in keeping famo music alive as a cultural memento.

“The famo music gang fights are not what famo is about and I don’t even want to be associated with such. I look up to people who have stood strong on what music is about.”
He mentions Apollo Ntabanyane, Puseletso Seema and Mantša who have never been associated with gang wars in the music genre.

Rose Moremoholo

 

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Lesotho’s own brandy

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ROMA-“Go, eat your food with rejoicing, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart, for already the true God has found pleasure in your works,” so says the Big Book.


Driven by that divine, Mohapi Pule has gone a step further – by coming up with a new type of brandy – to make you merry.
The brandy, Mountain Spels Brandy, will make the heart of the dying man rejoice.
“The healthy nutrients in fruits that make brandy, end up in you when you drink it,” he said.


Pule studied nutrition at the National University of Lesotho.
His brandy is made by fermenting fruits into wine. The wine is then distilled into a brandy. It carries the flavour and the aroma of the original fruits.


The story began when Pule was born in Quthing, Mphaki. He was born to a hardworking mother who brew traditional beer like no other.
“She brew beer well before I was born. She is still making it to this day,” he said.


His passion for brewing was probably “born” even before he was born. Mothers have a hidden way of passing not just their looks but their passions to their children.


As he grew up, he found that he was still intertwined with his mom’s brewing business in one way or another.
“Mostly, I am expected to fetch water for the brewing process. That, I still do to this day when I visit home,” he says.
Two decades later, Pule found himself in the Roma Valley, doing BSc in Nutrition.


“At some point, I found that I had lost purpose in life. There was not a thing that I could say, well, I was passionate about this thing or that thing.”
That situation, of course, threw him into some serious soul-searching.
It brought him back to his roots.


“During this period, I recalled that when I was younger, I used to imagine helping my mom do the packaging of the beer she was making and helping distribute it countrywide,” he said.

From a young age, the issue of subsistence business didn’t appeal to him. But that imagination came and passed. Now here he was, worried that he might not amount to anything in life.


Then, boom! An idea came!
What if he produced an alcoholic drink?

He could have thought about anything to do as a business but, lo and behold! He thought about his mother’s passion!


One of the things he loves about alcoholic beverages is that they are popular.

“I haven’t seen products as popular as alcoholic drinks,” he said.
He might be wrong or right but the reality is, the rest of the world has for generations found delight in alcoholic beverages – some to the extent of overdoing it to their injury!


“Mabele khunoana ralitlhaku thabisa lihoho. Mabele u tsoa kae e le khale re u batla re sa u thole? Ueeeena mabeeeele!” (Loosely translated beer brewed from sorghum make men happy. We’ve been looking for you from afar, you sorghum. In short, this is a praise poem for the Sesotho sorghum brew).
But then came the most difficult part. Which specific beverages should he focus on and how would he do it?


He decided that he would focus on ciders. He realised that not many people in Lesotho were making ciders.


He started experimenting at home and realized how difficult the process was. He just couldn’t get it right. To worsen matters, he also did not have the right equipment.

But like most successful innovators, he just knew that he had to start his business right away.


Pule says he then learnt about other forms of beverages: the spirits. Spirits are very high in alcohol content. Here we are talking the likes of whiskey, vodka and brandy.


He was particularly interested in vodka. He went into one NUL laboratory and, with necessary permission, began testing a number of spirits and doing a lot of research about them.


He began saving some of the money he earned from the National Manpower Development Secretariat in the form of student allowance so he could buy equipment. Saving was not easy. The subsistence money was already not that much. Having to share it with a business was asking a little too much.


But Pule was so determined that he did it, bought equipment that allowed him to develop what he thought was “vodka”.


However, after buying the equipment he immediately realised that the equipment was to make brandy not vodka.


“Now I was forced to get into brandy by chance,” he said.
It was a mistake that he has never regretted having realised that there are very few individuals who were making brandy in Lesotho.


Pule had to throw himself fully into experiments. He read books about brandy production. He even enrolled for an online course on distillation.
In the end, he began to see some light.

“I began to feel some difference in the taste of my produce,” he said. “When I shared my produce with my lecturers, they were over the moon!”
With that encouragement, Pule began packaging his brandy and is now selling it to family and friends.


“My small equipment means that I can’t produce much. However, If I were to get bigger equipment, things would be much better.”

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Ready-to-cook vegetables

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ROMA – ’MATUMANE Matela, a National University of Lesotho (NUL)-trained nutritionist, is an example of how a nutritionist should think and act.
Matela makes and sells ready-to-cook vegetables out of produce from her own farm or produce she preferably buys from local farms.
“When I make a dish, as a nutritionist, I make choices that ensure a typical package is packed with nutrition,” Matela said.

Today, we examine an interesting story of the lady who is determined to ensure that you eat healthy despite your busy schedule.
It started with her experiences in life.
She describes herself as an extremely busy woman.
She likes getting things done.
As the busy amongst us will say, the busier you become, the less you watch your diet.
She couldn’t escape the trap!

“My busy schedule meant that I ended up eating junk and I was gaining weight,” she said.
With time, she came to her senses.
As a nutritionist, she recalled that the best way to preach was to preach by example.
So, was she preaching what she practised?
Clearly, she wasn’t.
She had to find an option to maintain the busy schedule and eat healthy at the same time.

The beautiful thing about nutrition is that the healthiest foods are the closest to us: fruits and vegetables.
Some scientists even claim that our bodies seem to be designed to thrive on fruits and vegetables.
“Have you ever wondered why looking at a ripe raw peach on a tree is mouth-watering but looking at a fat cow isn’t?” asked one scientist.
Well, whether we were designed for fruits and vegetables or not, the truth is that they are good for our bodies.
That’s what good science tells us.

And we somehow “know it” too if you have heard about anything called intuition.
So one day she found herself increasingly eating fruits and vegetables.
It’s easier to change a religion than a diet, they say.
So it is commendable that she changed her diet at all.
“The idea was to chop as much vegetables as possible and put them in a fridge so that in future, I will just pull them out and cook.”
She wasn’t proposing something new.
Who amongst us doesn’t enjoy the convenience of just pulling up chopped frozen vegetables and cooking?

Little did she know that what she was doing was putting her on a path to a brilliant business.
It took a post on a social media to achieve just that.
“I took a pic of the chopped and packaged vegetables and posted them on my social media account. The reaction was swift. I began getting questions like, “how much?””
It immediately dawned on her that she could be sitting on a great business idea, after all.

So she gave it a try and started selling.
To her surprise, people started buying.
In fact, “I get orders for my products almost on a daily basis.”
That is how interested people really are.
This to an extent that her business now gets up to four irregular employees, she included, when the demand is high.
She said her training in Agriculture, Home Economics and Nutrition has helped her to give a thought into what she was doing.

For instance, where possible, she grows her own crops and sells them as first preference.
She has grown spinach, butternut, green pepper, onion, herbs and beans.
She is also in the process of renting more fields to grow more vegetables.
Then she empowers Basotho producers by requesting them to supply.
Going for foreign produce is the last resort.
Look at her packages and you realise something.
The “7 colours” proverb comes alive.

Those seven colours (several colours actually) may have been designed to appeal to your eyes but that is just the tip of the iceberg.
The colours of vegetables mean a lot in terms of nutrition.
Each colour gives you something different.
So, the more colours in one meal, the merrier.
To drive this home, let’s go a scientific route for a second.
Red, Blue and Purple: These vegetables contain substances that are good at reducing the risk of stroke, cancer and memory problems.
White: The likes of onion or garlic may help lower your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer and heart disease.

Orange and Yellow: Carrots immediately come to mind.
These vegetables contain substances called carotenoids which may help improve your immune system and help to improve the health of your eyes.
Basotho, it would appear, have long known a thing or two about the relationship between carrots and eyes.
Hence the famous saying, “o jele lihoete” (they ate carrots), often applied to good sportsmen or women with symbolically “good eyesight”.

Green: Green is life. Green vegetables come packed with chlorophyll, a chemical that scientists believe can boost your immune system, eliminate fungus in your body, clean your blood, lead to healthy intestines and give you boundless energy.
As a bonus, her Home Economics background is such that she is armed with a host of recipes for each of the packages she sells.
She has great dreams for the future.
“I want to see my products decorating the shelves of big supermarkets,” she said.
It’s time!

Own Correspondent

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A new, co-operative chain store

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ROMA – ’MAKUENA Lesiea is spearheading the creation of a cooperative chain store that will sell Lesotho products only.
The store is being developed under the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Innovation Hub and it will be incubated by the Hub.
“Have you seen it? Basotho are producing like never before,” Lesiea said.
“However, their products are hard to see in the markets. We want to change all that.”

The store, she said, will open branches in all districts of Lesotho, starting from Maseru.
Visit any supermarket in Lesotho and check the products on the shelves.
You will be shocked to realise that, in general, just one percent of them are made in Lesotho.
The other 99 percent comes from elsewhere.
Is it because Basotho are not producing or can’t produce at all?
Nope!

“Having worked directly with the NUL Innovation Hub and the Tsa Mahlale TV programme under the Hub, I have travelled the depth and breadth of Lesotho and I was amazed at the amount of work Basotho are doing,” she said.
What is the problem?
Basotho products are not given sufficient platforms to prove themselves.
“Credit where it is due, some shops are beginning to accept and sell Basotho products,” she said.

“However, they are barely making a dent because Basotho products, being at their infancy, cannot receive full attention unless by a store that is designed to give them full attention.”
Such a store doesn’t exist.

She said the idea is not to compete with any of the existing stores because “we are getting into a new territory altogether, we are addressing a different market”.
So listen to Lesiea as she presents some features of the store that will surely persuade you to join the bandwagon:

  1. Customer and producer confidence: The store, she said, will achieve two things.
    First, when they see masses of Lesotho-made products in one place, Basotho customers will slowly grow confidence in them.
    The confidence will shoot to the roof when the customers experience that many of the products made in Lesotho are already way ahead of foreign competitors in terms of quality.
    Secondly, the store will give Basotho producers an assurance that their products have, at least, one store that is willing to take them, dark or blue.
    More production will come from such assurance.
  2. Selling “everything”: The store will sell everything from fruits and vegetables to processed foodstuffs to clothing and building materials (if Thabure car will be in production by then, it will be on the shelves too).
    “Suppose what we want to sell is not locally made, we will never cross the border, any border, to find its equivalence. We will encourage Basotho to produce it until they do.”
  3. We mean business: whereas Basotho are beginning to produce, their products are still all over the place.
    You bump across them in some few willing stores, in expos and trade shows, or as being sold by individual resellers. Those are good efforts, but they are not enough. In fact, many in Lesotho have come to see producing and selling as being more of an art, a hobby, a therapy or a hustling than a business, “so we are seriously moving away from such a casual approach, we mean business this time around.”
  4. Ownership: So when you enter this store, you could be purchasing a product made by you in a store owned by you. What a difference!
  5. Reasonable standards: the store will only demand reasonable standards. As a struggling Mosotho, try taking your products to some of the local shops and you are, at worst, turned away without reason or, at best, given a long list of standards you must meet before they can take your product.
    “In our case, as long as your products are reasonably of good quality, you are in. NUL Innovation Hub is already testing many Basotho products. We won’t ignore quality, but we won’t use it as a way to prevent Basotho products from growing either.”
  6. A cooperative chainstore: From contributing as little as M50 per month, members will use a continuous financing model to ensure that the store doesn’t just end in Maseru but reaches the ten districts of Lesotho.
    Each branch will start at a medium scale in order to grow along with Basotho products. We won’t ask for investors to come from anywhere, “we will be investors ourselves.”
  7. An export launch pad. “We are often told to export our produce. The obvious question is, if you haven’t convinced your own people to consume your own products, how can you convince people in other lands to do so? Why should they take you seriously?”
    However, the store is not meant to be a local store forever.
    It will be a means by which we export our products to other countries in the future.
    When we export the store to Soweto, we export it along with products from Lesotho.
    Don’t say no because we have seen Chinese shops and Indian shops and, of course, South African shops, filled to the brim with Chinese products and Indian products and South African products in many countries.
    “If they can do it,” Lesiea ended, “so can we.”
    “Because if it is there in some of us, it is there in all of us.”

Own Correspondent

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