Radio Lesotho’s news broadcast begins with a distinctive vibrating sound. It sounds almost like a large bird making it. The lesiba is a musical bow. Before radios and cell phones took over as the national musical instrument, the lesiba was use by both boys and men to herd cattle.
Today, it seems that there is not much concern about maintaining the interest in the Lesiba at school or at any other level in Lesotho. The distinctive sound of the instrument, once an evocative of rural life, seems to lost in the disembody world of radio.
People who still play Lesotho’s traditional instruments, such as musicians, instrument builders, and innovators of their art are rarely recognize or reward.
South African College Sound
A collaboration between the South African College of Music and the University of Cape Town aims to bring attention to Lesotho’s musical heritage. This collaboration includes filming musicians and displaying related artworks. We record four musicians playing four instruments, which also shown in clay figurines by Samuele Makoanyane (1909-1944).
In collaboration with Dijondesign, the Lesotho National Museum and Art Gallery heritage consultants, Iziko South African Museum has created a virtual exhibit of these delicate figurines.
Photogrammetry, which is the recording, measuring and mapping of light, was use to create 3D digital models. These digital models measure between 8cm to 18cm in height. These digital models allow for interactive and detailed exploration. Iziko South African Museum will exhibit the figurines. They will be display at the official opening of the new Lesotho National Museum and Art Gallery in 2022.
To create the film, we also collaborated with the Morija Museum and Archive and the Morija Art Centre. It is call Music in the Mountain Kingdom and documents Lesotho’s musical culture. It also accompanies the figurine exhibition. We had planned to have live performances from the musicians at the exhibitions before the pandemic lockdown.
Makoanyane Figurines Sound
Makoanyane made the seven rare clay figurines featured in this exhibition in the 1930s. These figurines were order by Professor Percival Kirby, a musicologist at the University of the Witwatersrand to document Lesotho musicians. They are made in the old tradition of low-temperature pit firing and are very fragile. They are currently being taken care of at the South African College of Music’s Kirby Collection of Musical Instruments.
Makoanyane lived mainly in Koalabata in the Teyateyaneng district. This is approximately 89 km north of Maseru, Lesotho’s capital. He used pictures from Kirby’s 1934 book, The Musical Instruments of the Native Races of South Africa, to make the figurines.
These figurines can found in the University of Cape Town’s Humanities Digital Collection. They are call thomo, setolotolo, seketari (guitar), lesiba, lekolilo, moropa, and pipe.
The Morija Museum and Archive in Lesotho also houses 33 Makoanyane clay figures. It was instrumental in locating living musicians who could play four of the depicted instruments.
Five musicians were record for the virtual exhibition. Matlali Kheoana (an older woman) plays the lekope, an unbraced, mouth-resonated musical instrument, and the sekebeku, a jaws harp. Although technically the sekebeku is not include in the collection, it is a modern manufacture instrument that is similar to the setolotolo.
Leabua Mokhele (an older man) and Molahlehi Mattima (a younger man) both play the lesiba. Two younger men, Malefetsane Paul Mabotsane, and Petar Mohai play the segankhulu, a single-stringed bowed instrument with an oil can resonator.
Despite having two instruments, the performers performed very differently. The segankhulu was an exception. They even built their instruments differently. Lesiba and Segankhulu still seem to attract young, innovative players. The lekope is especially at risk, and Matlali Kheoana may be one of the few remaining performers.
The musicians could have performed live at the exhibition, which would have given them exposure and potential earnings. Workshops and demonstrations could also have been possible at universities or through museum programs.
We are still creating teaching and learning materials to teach Lesotho music. We hope that Basotho will be reenergize by the film and exhibition of the music and instruments, and will continue to pursue a sustainable music culture.