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Saving the Lesiba



MASERU – DO cows respond to music? That sounds like an inane question until you ask children who will swear those four-legged beasts can dance to a beat.
Persist on foisting them on your adult knowledge and they will point you to the numerous cartoon shows in which cows dance.
Take Barnyard, the hilarious 2006 animation movie in which Otis, the main character, spends his time dancing and singing.

Right there is your evidence that cows can hear and respond to music, according to the little souls.
But if you think children live in their own imaginary world where animals are capable of human actions then you can ask the herd boys in Lesotho.
Like children, they too will swear that cows can hear music.
It’s only that in the world of a herd boy cows only have ears for lesiba, a traditional musical instrument played by shepherds in the veldt. For centuries cattle herders in Lesotho have been known to play the lesiba as they tend their flocks.

Lesiba songs are called linong (birds) and the players say the birds are singing for the flocks.
Herd boys believe that their cattle respond to the linong.
They say the cattle follow them loyally as if they feel soothed by the melodious sounds of lesiba.
A lesiba player has a specific song for each activity with his cattle.
When he takes them to the mokhoabong (wet place or marsh) he plays a song called mokhoabong.
He plays mokebe (a water snake believed to be following cows because it eats their fresh dung) when he leads the flock to the pastures.
When he is in a hurry he plays mokholelo to make them trot.
When they leave the kraal in the morning he plays maholosiane (cattle egrets) – the birds that follow cows wherever they go because they feed on ticks which are usually found stuck on their skin.

There are other linong such as phakoe (hawk) which the herders just play for amusement.
In his book, An Introduction to the Music of the Basotho, Dr Robin Wells says “the linong are conceptualized as a type of a bird-song – many lesiba players say they imitate the songs of birds with their instrument”.
The lesiba itself strongly identified with birds through the quill.
The lesiba is one of the truly authentic Basotho instruments yet it’s highly possible that in the not so distant future its sound might never be heard.
It has gradually muffled over the last decades.
Unlike in the past when nearly every Mosotho herd boy tending cattle could play lesiba (feather), today a lot of boys have not even seen it or, let alone, enjoyed its melodies.
The reason: fewer and fewer people are playing lesiba and those who should be promoting it seem to have lost interest.
Those who know how to play it are even fewer.

Part of the reason is that it has never entered the mainstream music like other instruments.
While other instruments have found use in what can be called modern music, the lesiba has remained on the fringes. Rarely is it heard on radio. Finding it in commercial recording form is rare.
You don’t walk into a music shop looking for a lesiba record unless you have real interest in it.
Unable to break into the commercial recording industry, the lesiba has been consigned to the pastures among herd boys who play it for their animals.
That, of course, doesn’t mean that the lesiba makes songs for animals alone. It’s a melodious instrument good for the soul like any other.

Skilfully played, it can sound like a piano and give a rich rhythm to a song.
In fact, your correspondents’ stroll survey among colleagues who heard it revealed that most think it’s a piano.
For herd boys the veldt is a lonely place. By day the silence is broken only by the sound of birds and by night it is the crickets’ turn to punctuate the quietness.
Away from ‘civilization’, the herd boys use anything to keep themselves amused.
The lesiba used to do that and still does in some circumstances.

“If there’s any object in human experience that’s a precedent for what a computer should be like, it’s a musical instrument: a device where you can explore a huge range of possibilities through an interface that connects your mind and your body, allowing you to be emotionally authentic and expressive,” said Jaron Lanier, an American computer philosophy writer and classical music composer.
That is what lesiba is to herd boys who cannot afford a radio or phone and cannot read.
But the value of the lesiba goes beyond just keeping boredom at bay and helping the shepherds to be “emotionally authentic and expressive”, as Lanier says.

Out in the remote pastures a lesiba player is like an artiste performing to a gallery.
Only in this case the gallery is full of cows, not people. Herd boys will tell you, without flinching, that they have a deep and emotional, if not spiritual, connection with the cattle. There is an understanding, they say, that those who have never spent months with animals would not fully comprehend.
In the pastures the lesiba is what a radio is to most people.
That it’s dying should astound all who value the role of music in our culture.
To let it die would be to allow a part of Basotho culture to die.

It matters as much as initiation schools, the rituals when burying the dead and how we celebrate our marriages.
It’s not just an instrument but an important part of Lesotho’s tradition.
To preserve it some have started pushing the lesiba into the mainstream music industry, although the market remains largely aloof.

Mpho Molikeng is a traditional music artiste who recently launched a lesiba CD.
He says the CD titled Lesiba “is meant to redirect Basotho’s attention to the music of their forefathers and its meaning in instilling the spirit of nationalism in young minds”.
“It is worrying that lesiba is not played in any celebrations marking our historical achievements”.
“This part of our culture is dying,” said Molikeng to thepost at a launch whose poor attendance is a reflection of the attitude towards the instrument.
thepost was the only media house that attended the event.
But the sound of lesiba should not be very far from Basotho’s ears.
Seven times a day its sound of lesiba that introduces the news time on the state-owned Radio Lesotho. It has been like that for decades.
Still, most people don’t know the instrument.

Molikeng’s album, recorded in 2017, consists of 24 tracks. Molikeng recorded the tracks with three other artists: Molahlehi Matima, Sootho Sello and Molefi Khoele.
“Maybe when people hear the tracks they will be interested in playing this instrument,” Molikeng said.
“Our country has more than two million people but only a few can play this instrument.”
He said he fell in love with the instrument when he was only seven years old, after seeing his grandfather playing it.
He said he only mastered it when he was 26 years old, which was 10 years ago.
Molikeng said before he learned how to play Lesiba, he was already making a living out of traditional drums of the West Africa called Majembe.

“So I thought it was fair to learn how to play Lesotho instruments. Now I can play over 100 traditional instruments from across the continent.”
Molikeng is unlike your typical lesiba player: that is to say he doesn’t fit the mold that society had cast for lesiba players. He is well educated and immaculately groomed.

The stereotype is that lesiba is played by illiterate herd boys.
Molahlehi Matima, one of his collaborators on the album, can neither read nor write. He doesn’t know when he was born.
Matima, who is from Mafeteng, said he learned to play the instrument in 1975 when he was a herd boy for a cattle farmer.

Matima said he did not always live with his parents because he was looking after livestock of other people as a domestic worker.
“I did not even get the opportunity to go to school like other children,” he said.
He said when he was ill-treated by the families he worked for he would find solace in playing lesiba.
Matima said sometimes he would start tearing while playing lesiba “because I will be playing songs that reminded me of the difficult situations I faced”.

Matima said apart from playing lesiba in the veldt sometimes he played it in the village for older people.
“They always gathered and listened to my music,” Matima said.
Matima said he lost passion for the instrument in 2006 when a white man from Holland tricked local lesiba artistes into believing that he was going to make money for them.
He said the man announced on Radio Lesotho that he was looking for people who play lesiba and 17 of them responded to his call.

Matima said after recording the man said he would be back 2007 when the album would be released.
Matima said they did not get a cent from that but heard that the album was being sold in Holland.
“Most lesiba artists are uneducated so people take advantage of that and use them for free,” he said.
“I decided not to help anyone for free at all.”
Matima played lesiba in different schools in an attempt to introduce it to children.
He is worried that as he gets older he will not be able to play lesiba because he is losing teeth.
“I am planning to buy false teeth so that I can continue playing lesiba.”
Molefi Khoele, who contributed to some songs on the album, said he learned to play lesiba at 14.
He said he fell in love with the instrument when he heard it on Radio Lesotho. Khoele said they would play it while herding animals.

Dr Lehlohonolo Phafoli, a National University of Lesotho (NUL) lecturer in the faculty of humanities who is also the author of The Evolution of Sotho Accordion Music in Lesotho, said what separates lesiba from other musical instruments is that “its string is not plucked, bowed or struck in any way, but rather resonated by the player’s mouth”.

“The player holds his hands around the quill and inhales or exhales against it, the string vibrates against the wood and creates the instrument’s distinctive sound,” Phafoli said.
Phafoli said in order to prevent this instrument from dying, its music competitions needs to be held.
He said this will promote the spirit of competition so many people will want to learn to play lesiba.

Caswell Tlali & Makhotso Rakotsoane


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Lesotho’s own brandy



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.”

Own Correspondent

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Ready-to-cook vegetables



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



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?

“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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