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The dying art of choral music



ROMA – THE culture of acapella communal singing is fading away in villages, churches and other settings where the harmony of voices often brought communities together. In its place, music bands such as orchestral jazz outfits associated with big cities are taking over.

Nowadays, choral music is mainly associated with primary and secondary schools and mainstream churches such as the Catholic Church, Anglican Church and Presbyterian Church.  As for many other churches, especially Pentecostal ones, orchestral jazz is the in thing.

But one man is keen to keep the fire burning for acapella. Liteboho Letsie says she is working hard to bring back village-based community singing. Letsie is a National University of Lesotho (NUL) student and the reigning president of the university’s choir, the NUL Choir.

When Liteboho began singing choral music, she was not even sure whether her voice was good enough. She was lured to join the choir in her early teen years at St Emile Catholic Church in Khubetsoana where she grew up.

The Lesotho Catholic Youth Movement (LCYM) members at the St Emile conducted mass in a presentable manner. Besides their wonderful singing, their dress code also stood out.

For the love of glitz and glamour, she found herself having to join the choir because she fancied being part of the ladies in formal dresses and high-heels at church.

“When I joined the LYCM in 2011, I was not even sure what singing entailed and which singing voice I was capable of executing, although I have always loved singing,” Letsie said.

“I just wanted to be part of the broader group of girls in high heels at church. I wasn’t even aware that there were recreational activities outside church that the LCYM was involved in,” she said.

Initially, Letsie experienced jittery moments during rehearsal sessions. While singing at church, she would clumsily move from one note to the next and at some point she would just be humming even though the song would not be requiring her to do so.

On some songs, she would only engage on the chorus.

“I would sing at the highest pitch of my voice,” she laughed, adding she was forced to come to terms with the reality that being a member of a choir had to do more with singing than the glamorous appearance.

“It was not easy at the beginning as I did not have any idea whether I could sing alto or soprano, I would just be dangling in between,” she said.

It was only until she attended back-to-back rehearsals that she learned what it entailed to be in the choir.

“We began by learning how to read the notes and everything about singing,” she said.

It did not take long for her to find the right footing as she settled and adapted in the choir. Letsie emerged as a chorister who could now perfectly and comfortably sing first soprano, one which sings the highest notes.  She can, however, still sing alto and second soprano well.

“The first competition I enrolled in as a chorister was the CMFL competition and I was very nervous on the day because of stage fright,” she recalled. “Nonetheless, I was able to give my best performance.”

Letsie began to reveal her prowess in singing in many different notes. At St Catherine High School, where she did her secondary education, Letsie said she was entrusted with “everything associated with choral music”.

She was put in charge to prepare for the masses and also guide the school choir. Since Letsie started singing in church, most of the choral music songs she is attached to are church-related.

“Choral music is not only about hymns sung at church. There are many societal songs out there but the songs I love most are the ones sung during the Liturgy of Eucharist at mass,” she said.
The hymn closest to her heart is Jesu, Jesu ea monate (sweet Jesus)!

“Coming to societal songs, choral music can be used as a tool to address contemporary issues affecting communities. We convey different messages by singing against things which bring harm to the world,” she said.

She refers to a song about slavery, which she says is an eye-opening account of slavery.

“There is also this lovely song composed by “Lehlomela Tente,” “Ke tla u rorisa,’’ the message of which slaps so hard that it can change the way we perceive the world around us,” she said.

Letsie attributes the growth and development of choral music to schools and churches in the country as this is where most choristers began their journey.

“I want to acknowledge the contribution that the churches are making in producing the talented choristers we have in the country. This is where most of us began,” she said.

Although choral music can be sung by anyone at any time, the best time to learn to sing choral music is at a young age, she said.

“In my encounter with different choristers, I have learned that those who are actually good are those who began singing choral music at adolescent stage on average,” she said. “It’s rare to find good choristers who began during their adulthood stage.”

Choral music can also be used as an instrument to instill morals and discipline among choristers, especially young ones.

“The time spent rehearsing songs spare youths from engaging in bad practices such as drugs and alcohol abuse,” she opined.

Letsie says discipline is a fundamental character for choristers.

“Firstly, it begins with obeying the conductor, respect for fellow choir members and one has to honour and treasure the audience.”

“In choral music everything is done in collaboration and unison with other choristers, this in essence bridges differences in characters and personalities of the singers as they have to produce one solid product, which is a melodious song,” said Letsie.

“We have different characters and personalities among choristers. Some are clowns and some are shy but when they have to focus on a song, all personalities become one and the objective takes centre stage.

If, for instance, one is a shy person and they are meant to sing solo, the shyness has to go to the background at the time of the task as all eyes will be on them. Choral music teaches us to conquer our negative personalities,” she said.

Patience, she said, is another key element.

“Sometimes we have to repeat a song over and over again during rehearsals until it is perfect. It is a draining experience, it needs endurance. Being in a choir takes a lot of courage and understanding,” she said.

Research led by psychologist Nick Stewart of Bath University indicates that people who participate in a choir enjoy a greater feeling of togetherness and being part of a collective endeavour than others involved in different social activities.

The study says communal singing builds feelings of social cohesion and closeness, and has been shown to bond people faster than other activities.

“This sense of connection isn’t just emotional, but physiological too: the hearts of people who sing together beat in unison,” according to the research.

There has been a shift in the choral music presentation over the years, with the art evolving from just singing to including other elements.

“Choral music is drifting slowly from traditional acapella premise, at the moment we have like a pianist, flautist and actors who make the songs even more authentic. There are categories in which a person can feature as part of the choir without singing,” she said.

Again with notes, gender does not matter for one to sing a particular note, she says. What matters the most is an individual’s range of voice whether they can suitably sing in a certain note.

“It is now not surprising for a male to sing alto or a female to sing tenor,” she said.

Letsie has grown in the profession since becoming part of the NUL Choir and serving in different portfolios

“A lot of people out there are making a living through choral music in different ways. Some are ordinary choristers, conductors, composers and a lot more,” she said.

A choral music group, Serumula Performing Arts Academy, is one such choir that has participated in competitions outside the country, impressively winning several accolades and cash prizes.

Letsie said choral music is a musical genre in its own right that also influences other genres in terms of music composition. In the music fraternity, choral music is seen as a feeder to other genres, sometimes as innovative remixes.

For example, they can be applied to house music or adopted into football anthems. Letsie is at the moment concerned with the success of the NUL Choir and wants to see it achieve great things under her tutelage. Recently, the NUL Choir successfully hosted the Roma Music Festival.

“People came in large numbers for this event and were served with good music, which soothed their souls. They went back home appeased. We intend to make it an annual event,” gushed Letsie.

Letsie says the NUL Choir is also looking forward to music competitions that involve tertiary education institutions in the country. Lerotholi Polytechnic, Botho University, Limkokwing University and Agric College are set to feature in such competitions.

“We want to dish out an excellent performance,” she said.

Calvin Motekase

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Lawyer in trouble



A local lawyer, Advocate Molefi Makase, is in soup after he flew into a rage, insulting his wife and smashing her phone at a police station.

It was not possible to establish why Adv Makase was so mad at his wife. He is now expected to appear before the Tšifa-li-Mali Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.

Earlier on Tuesday, he was released from custody on free bail on condition that he attends remands.

Magistrate Mpotla Koaesa granted Advocate Makase bail after his lawyer, Advocate Kefuoe Machaile, pleaded that he had to appear for his clients in the Court of Appeal.

Advocate Makase is facing two charges of breaching peace and malicious damage to property.

According to the charge sheet, on October 5, 2023, within the precincts of the Leribe Police Station, Advocate Makase allegedly used obscene, threatening, or insulting language or behaviour, or acted with an intent to incite a breach of the peace.

The prosecution alleges that the lawyer shouted at his wife, ’Mamahao Makase, and damaged her Huawei Y5P cell phone “with an intention to cause harm” right at police station.

During his initial appearance before Magistrate Koaesa, Advocate Makase expressed remorse for his actions and sought the court’s leniency, pleading for bail due to an impending appearance in the Court of Appeal.

His lawyer, Advocate Machaile, informed the court that an arrangement had been made with the police to secure his release the following day, as he had spent a night in detention.

Advocate Machaile recounted his efforts to persuade the police to release him on the day of his arrest.

He noted that the police had assured them of his release the following day, which indeed came to fruition.

Following his release, he was instructed to present himself before the court, which he dutifully complied with.

Advocate Machaile underscored Advocate Makase’s standing as a recognised legal practitioner in the court.

Notably, he was scheduled to appear in the Court of Appeal but had to reschedule his commitment later in the day to accommodate his court appearance.

Advocate Machaile asserted that Advocate Makase presented no flight risk, as he resides in Hlotse with his family and has no motive to evade his legal obligations.

He respectfully petitioned the court for his release on bail, emphasising that he had demonstrated his ability to adhere to the court’s conditions.

The Crown Counsel, Advocate Taelo Sello, expressed no objection to the bail application, acknowledging that the accused had a forthcoming matter in the Court of Appeal.

Consequently, the court granted Advocate Makase bail without any financial conditions, with the stipulation that he must not tamper with state witnesses and must fully participate in the trial process until its conclusion.

’Malimpho Majoro

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Trio in court for killing ‘witches’



THREE elderly women were all stabbed to death with a spear during a deadly night after they were accused of being witches.

Three suspects, all from Ha-Kholoko village in Roma, appeared in the High Court this week facing a charge of murder.
They are Jakobo Mofolo, Oele Poto, and Pakiso Lehoko.

They accused the elderly women of bewitching one of Poto’s relative who had died.

The stunning details of the murder was unravelled in court this week, thanks to Tlhaba Bochabela, 32, who is the crown witness.

Bochabela told High Court judge, Justice ’Mabatšoeneng Hlaele, last week that he had been invited to become part of the murder group but chickened out at the last minute.

Bochabela said in March 2020, he was invited by Rethabile Poto to come to his house in the evening.

He said when he went there, he found Mofolo, Poto, and Lehoko already at the house. There were two other men who he did not identify.

“I was told that the very same night we were going to do some task, we were going to kill some people,” Bochabela told Justice Hlaele.

He said he asked which people were going to be killed and was told that they were ’Malekhooa Maeka, ’Mathlokomelo Poto, ’Mampolokeng Masasa.

They said the three women had successfully bewitched Rethabile Poto’s uncle leading to his death.

Bochabela said after he was told of this plot, he agreed to implement it but requested that he be allowed to go to his house to fetch his weapon.

He said Lehoko was however suspicious that he was withdrawing from the plot and mockingly said “let this woman go and sleep, we can see that he is afraid and is running away”.

Bochabela said the only person he told the truth to, that he was indeed going to his home to sleep instead of going to murder the three elderly women was Mofolo who also told him that he was leaving too.

He said he told Mofolo that he felt uncomfortable with the murder plan.

Bochabela said he left and when he arrived at his place he told his wife all about the meeting and the plot to kill the women.

He said his wife commended him for his decision to pull out.

“I told my wife to lock the door and not respond to anyone that would come knocking looking for me,” Bochabela said.

He said later in the night, Rethabile Poto arrived at his place and called him out but they did not respond until he left.

Bochabela said in the morning they discovered that indeed the men had carried out their mission.

The village chief of Ha-Kholoko, Chief Thabang Lehoko, told Justice Hlaele that it was between 11 pm and 12 midnight when he received a phone call from one Pakiso Maseka who is a neighbour to one of the murdered women.

Chief Lehoko said Maseka told him to rush to ’Mampolokeng Masasa’s place to see what evil had been done to her.

“I rushed to Masasa’s place and on arrival I found Pakiso in the company of Moitheri Masasa,” Chief Lehoko said.

He said he found the old lady on the bed, naked with her legs spread wide.

“I was embarrassed by the sight of the old lady in that state, naked and covered in blood,” the chief said.

He said he went out and asked Maseka what had happened but Maseka referred him to Moitheri Masasa.

Chief Lehoko said Masasa told him that there were people with spears who had threatened to kill him if he came out of the house.

He said Maseka said he knew that Masasa’s neighbour, ’Malekhooa Maeka, was a light sleeper and she could have heard something.

The chief then sent one Patrick Lehoko to Maeka’s house to check if she had heard anything but Patrick came back saying Maeka was not at her house.

“I immediately stood up and went to ’Malekhooa’s place,” Chief Lehoko said.

He said when he arrived, he knocked at her door but there was no response so he kicked the door open, went in and called out ’Malekhooa Maeka by name.

Chief Lehoko said he then lit his phone and saw her lying in bed covered in blankets.

He said he then went closer to her and shook her but she was heavy.

Chief Lehoko said he tried to shake her again one last time while still calling her out but he touched blood.

He said he immediately left and went back to tell others that Maeka seemed to be dead too.

“I decided to go and buy airtime from the nearest shop which I had passed through near ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s home.”

He said on his way he met one Sebata Poto who asked him who he was.

Chief Lehoko said he only replied by telling him that the two women, Masasa and Maeka, had been murdered.

He said Sebata Poto told him that “’Matlhokomelo has been stabbed with a spear too”.

Chief Lehoko said he rushed to ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s house where he found her seated in the middle of the house supported by her children with blood oozing from her chest, gasping for air.

“I stepped out and went to get airtime, but I found her dead when I returned from the shop,” the chief said.

The case continues.

Tholoana Lesenya

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Opposition fights back



THE opposition is launching a nasty fightback after Prime Minister Sam Matekane defanged their no-confidence motion by roping in new partners to firm up his government.

Matekane’s surprise deal with the Basotho Action Party (BAP) has trimmed the opposition’s support in parliament and thrown their motion into doubt.

But the opposition has now filed another motion that seeks to get Matekane and his MPs disqualified from parliament on account that they were elected when they had business interests with the government.

The motion is based on section 59 of the constitution which disqualifies a person from being sworn-in as an MP if they have “any such interest in any such government contract as may be so prescribed”.

Section 59 (6) describes a government contract as “any contract made with the Government of Lesotho or with a department of that Government or with an officer of that Government contracting as such”.

Prime Minister Matekane’s Matekane Group of Companies (MGC) has a history of winning road construction tenders. Other Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) MPs, most of whom were in business, had had business dealings with the government.

It is however not clear if the MPs were still doing business with the government at the time of their swearing-in.
Matekane’s MGC Park is housing the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which is a government institution established by the constitution, getting its funds from the consolidated funds.

The motion was brought by the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader Lekhetho Rakuoane who is a key figure in the opposition’s bid to topple Matekane.

The motion appears to be a long shot but should be taken in the context of a political game that has become nasty.
Advocate Rakuoane said the IEC’s tenancy at the MGC is one of their targets.

“The IEC is one of the government departments,” Rakuoane said.

“It is currently unethical that it has hired the prime minister’s building.”

“But after the motion, he will have to cut ties with the IEC or he will be kicked out of parliament.”

The Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, said although the IEC is an independent body, it can still be regarded as part of the government because it gets its funding from the consolidated fund.

The Basotho Covenant Movement (BCM)’s Reverend Tšepo Lipholo, who seconded the motion, said the Matekane-led government “is dominated by tenderpreneurs who have been doing business with the government since a long time ago”.

“Now they have joined politics, they must not do business with the government,” Lipholo said.

He said some of the MPs in the ruling parties are still doing business with the government despite their promises before the election to stop doing that.

“Those who will not abide by the law should be disqualified as MPs,” Lipholo said.

“Basotho’s small businesses are collapsing day-by-day, yet people who are in power continue to take tenders for themselves.”

He applauded the Abia constituency MP Thuso Makhalanyane, who was recently expelled from Matekane’s RFP for rebellion because he withdrew his car from government engagement after he was sworn in as an MP.

“He set a good example by withdrawing his vehicle where it was hired by the government,” Lipholo said.

Rakuoane said during the past 30 years after Lesotho’s return to democratic rule, section 59 of the constitution has not been attended to even when it was clear that some MPs had business dealings with the government.

“This section stops you from entering parliament when doing business with the government. Those who are already members will have to leave,” he said.

Rakuoane said they are waiting for Speaker Tlohang Sekhamane to sign the motion so that the parliament business committee can set a date for its debate.

“The law will also serve to assist ordinary Basotho businesses as they will not compete with the executive,” he said.

“There are many Basotho businesses in business these MPs are in. They must get those tenders instead.”

The new motion comes barely a week after a court application aimed at disqualifying Mokhothu.

The government-sponsored application sought the Constitutional Court to declare Mokhothu unfit to be prime minister because he was convicted of fraud in 2007.

Mokhothu has been suggested as Matekane’s replacement should the motion of no confidence pass in parliament.

Nkheli Liphoto

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