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You Need To Hear This Sonic Journey Through Lesotho's Spiritual Traditions

Lesotho rapper Morena Leraba and Brooklyn-based producer Kashaka collaborate on new single, "Lithebera"

Morena Leraba. Photo: Hlompho Letsielo. Courtesy of the artist.
Morena Leraba is an artist grounded in simplicity, reticence and impeccable neatness, qualities that are the status quo where he’s from. Born and raised in Mafeteng, a flatland district in the southern part of Lesotho, the 31-year-old rapper’s worldview is informed by a raw rural experience and the solitude that village life has provided him.

Leraba’s steadily sparking interest from artists locally and internationally, including Enchufada’s own, Kashaka. After coming across Leraba’s music on Soundcloud, Kashaka, 25, reached out to the rapper about collaborating. The two clicked. And today they’re releasing their first single together. The artists also have plans to meet in real life for the first time when Kashaka visits Lesotho at the start of April.


Okayafrica caught up with the collaborators to hear the story behind their “Lithebera” which we’re excited to premiere below. Leraba’s interview was conducted in Sesotho and transcribed into English. Kashaka’s interview was done over email.

Lineo Segoete for Okayafrica: How did Morena Leraba go from being an enigma cradled in the mountains of Lesotho to being featured by Cape Town-based musicians such as The Freerangers and Dorin Shane Braun?

Morena Leraba: Carl McMillan, a filmmaker raised in Lesotho, went to study in Cape Town and while there he would constantly tell his friends about the Mountain Kingdom. These friends included The Freerangers–Jonas Stark, Fritz Hölscher and Craig Ross–who initially composed a melody as a tribute to Lesotho and thereafter sojourned here to experience it firsthand. While here, the Ministry of Tourism Environment and Culture in Lesotho heard and liked the song and Carl, whom I’d met here at home, then suggested that it would be perfect if it featured a Mosotho artist and he thought of me. The musical chemistry between me and the guys during rehearsal and recording was uncanny and so our relationship took off. Since then I’ve taken several trips to Cape Town to record projects, including a single produced by Fritz.

Walk us through your collaboration with Kashaka… What is your concept for the song?

Morena Leraba: This first single we worked on is called “Lithebera” [a concoction of traditional healing herbs]. In it I am a traditional healer who meets Kashaka after summoning him through a divination ritual. I tell my initiates about Kashaka, who is a mystical diviner from faraway lands, and predict his arrival in our midst. Once present, I announce his presence to the initiates and tell him to greet them using a foreign phrase for peace. I tell him to use the phrase As-salaam alaykum (peace be upon you), which happens to be a greeting the initiates are familiar with. Mine and Kashaka’s motivation behind this approach is to show that music is a unifying agent without barriers, which is synonymous across all languages.

Being that you are based in Lesotho and Kashaka in Brooklyn, how was the whole project recorded?

Morena Leraba: Kashaka sent over a beat he thought would suit me and I did indeed fall in love with it. I then recorded vocals over it at the studio of a producer Stylus (Thabo Mathaba) based in Maseru who proceeded to help in arranging and sending my recordings back to Kashaka for fine-tuning and mastering.

What message are you trying to pass to the people who hear your music?

Morena Leraba: I want to display the potency of Sesotho language and spirituality; hence, its practice as inspired by our deep-rooted faith as a people. I want to demonstrate an understanding of nature through the usage of herbs as healing devices, as well as the sense of social protection and security one gathers from communion.

Image: Art By Krigga
What in particular struck you about Morena Leraba's sound and made you want to collaborate with him?

Kashaka: What struck me was his strong sense of melody and timing as well as his conversational tone. I felt like I was listening to a story, despite having no idea what he was saying since it was in Sesotho. Music is a language, and his performance spoke to me, so I sent him some beats to continue the conversion. I was really happy with how he replied.

How does Morena’s sound fit with the direction you wish to take your music?

Kashaka: His sound fits perfectly into what I'm trying to accomplish with my music. I strive to make music that plays off the diversity of the world and its history, a pluralistic sound that incorporates styles from all over; one that references the past but also fits into the present and future. My goal is to show how connected we all are through this universal language of music. To have someone singing in Sesotho, taking a traditional approach with melody, rhythm and storytelling that also fits perfectly with a contemporary electronic instrumental, is a perfect example of that connectivity and universality.

How was the music received when you played it at the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival?

Kashaka: I was opening for the legend Afrika Bambaataa, a person who also uses music as a tool to unite people with different views. I played a variety of genres from hip hop to R&B to Detroit house to Kuduro and Afropop, while sprinkling in some of my tunes and remixes as well. Towards the end of the night I dropped our song “Lithebera” and people really responded favourably to it –especially the turnaround at the end, which came unexpectedly for the crowd.

The single is to form part of a larger compilation. What is the concept behind the project and what do you wish to accomplish through it?

Kashaka: The larger compilation is my first Kashaka project. In the past I've released a song with Zebra Katz, a collaborative EP with Brooklyn rapper Wati Heru, a song featuring Brazilian MCs Rôa & Mannolipe, DJ mixes, original tunes and remixes. But this is the first time I'll be releasing a full length project. The intention is similar to my general intention with music, which is to create a diverse, pluralistic sound that learns from the past and looks toward the future, with a goal of creating connectivity amongst a diverse group of listeners. The album will feature collabs with vocalists and producers from around the world because I want the music to represent my own personal experiences as well as others' experiences. I'm aiming to finish this project by the end of the year.

Lineo Segoete is the co-director of Ba re e ne re literary arts in Lesotho and a freelance writer and wanderer governed by creativity. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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Cover of Isha Sesay's 'Beneath the Tamarind Tree'

'Beneath the Tamarind Tree'—an Excerpt From Isha Sesay's Book About Remembering the Chibok Girls

Read an exclusive excerpt from the Sierra Leonean reporter's new book, which offers firsthand accounts of what happened to the girls while in Boko Haram captivity in an attempt to make the world remember.

Below is an excerpt from the seventh chapter in Sierra-Leonean journalist and author Isha Sesay's new book, "Beneath the Tamarind Tree," the "first definitive account" of what took place on the ground following the abduction of 276 schoolgirls by Boko Haram in 2014.

Continue on to read more, and revisit our interview with the reporter about why it's important for the world to remember the girls' stories, here.

***

"We should burn these girls!"

"No, let's take them with us!"

"Why not leave them here?"

The men were still arguing, dozens of them trading verbal blows while Saa and the other horrified girls looked on. None of the men seemed particularly troubled by the fact that the lives of almost three hundred schoolgirls hung in the balance. Amid all the yelling, the girls had been divided into groups. Each batch would burn in a different room in the school buildings that were aflame just a few feet away. Tensions were escalating when a slim man with outsize eyes suddenly appeared. Saa had never seen him before. Like many of the insurgents, he too looked young and was just as scruffy. But when he spoke, tempers seemed to cool for a moment.

"Ah! What are you trying to do?"

"We wanted to burn them!"

"Why not take them with us, since we have an empty vehicle?"

His suggestion triggered a fresh round of quarreling. The same positions were expressed, and the newcomer continued to calmly repeat his idea of taking the girls with them, till he finally got his way. The girls later discovered his name was Mallam Abba. He was a commander.

"Follow us!" the men shouted.

None of it made any sense to Saa. Why? To where? As the insurgents shuffled her out of the compound, she felt as if her whole life were on fire. All Saa could see was the ominous orange glow of flames consuming every one of her school buildings. With every step, the fears within her grew. She struggled to make sense of the competing thoughts throbbing in her head. This isn't supposed to be happening. The insurgents had asked about the boys and the brick-making machine; they'd systematically emptied the school store, carrying bag after bag of foodstuffs and loading all of it into the huge waiting truck. With everything now packed away, Saa had thought the insurgents would simply let the girls go home. After all, that's what had happened during their previous attacks on schools—they'd always let the schoolgirls go, after handing out a warning to abandon their education and strict instructions to get married. Saa had simply expected the same thing to happen once more, not this.

She scanned the crowd of faces surrounding her; the creased brows and startled expressions of the others made it clear that everyone was equally confused. Whatever the turmoil they were feeling, they kept it to themselves. No one said a word. Saa fell into a sort of orderly scrum with the men corralling and motioning her forward with their guns, each weapon held high and pointed straight at the girls.

Saa and Blessing moved in unison, along with the hundreds of others, snaking along in the dark through the open compound gate, past the small guard post usually occupied by Mr. Jida, which now sat empty. Yelling came from nearby Chibok town. Saa could smell burning, then heard the sound of gunshots and people running. It was bedlam.

Just beyond the compound walls sat a crowd of bushes. As she and the men moved out into the open, Saa felt their thorns spring forward, eager to pull at her clothing and scratch and pierce her body. Careful not to yell out in pain, she tried to keep her clothes beyond the reach of the grasping thicket with no time to pause and examine what might be broken skin.

Saa retreated into herself and turned to the faith that had anchored her entire life. Lord, am I going to die tonight, or will I survive? Desperate to live, unspoken prayers filled her mind and she pleaded, repeatedly, God save me.

She was still praying as they walked down the dirt path away from the flaming school. The shabby-looking men with their wild eyes gave no explanation or directions. They simply motioned with their heads and the sweep of their rifles, making it clear to keep moving. As the reality began to sink in, Saa felt her chest tightening. Her heart was going to beat its way out of her body. But she couldn't allow herself to cry or make any sound. Any kind of display would make her a target, and who knew what these men might do?

The insurgents walked alongside, behind, and in front of her; they were everywhere. Every time Saa looked around, their menacing forms filled her view. Initially, all the girls were steered away from the main road and onto a rambling path overgrown with bushes; the detour was likely made in an attempt to avoid detection.

Parents lining up for reunion with daughters (c) Adam Dobby


***

This excerpt was published with permission from the author. 'Beneath the Tamarind Tree' is available now.

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