Live music in Lesotho

By Malefetsane Soai

To a casual observer, the Lesotho music industry is nonexistent given the limitless airtime that South African and American artists receive on almost all of the country’s 18 radio stations. Many leading artists in Lesotho record their music in neighbouring South Africa for better quality and better marketing opportunities. But despite a dawdling recording industry, Lesotho’s live music industry is on the rapid rise. This text provides an overview of Lesotho’s live music scene.

Traditional musicians from Lesotho.
Traditional musicians from Lesotho.

Historical overview

In its crudest form, the Lesotho music scene was dominated by village choirs with the most common music being monyanyako. Many famous musicians in Lesotho attribute their music prowess to the harsh and unregulated choral music industry. Choirs would visit neighbouring villages on a rotational basis and the visiting choir would collect door takings. The music was popular from the 1970s until its popularity dwindled in the early 2000s.

The founding fathers of famo music in Lesotho – Apollo Ntabanyane, Tamoshete and Phakane – also played a role in igniting the Lesotho live music scene. However, their performances were almost always undermined by poor logistics: despite being the most popular musician in Lesotho in the early 1990s, Phakane would hire a simple plastic tent with revelers paying at the entrance. In addition, the sound quality was always poor. Despite all these challenges, famo artists continued holding concerts even though the attendance was often poor.

At the height of apartheid in South Africa during the 1970s and 1980s, Lesotho was a safe haven for famous South African artists to host live concerts. The likes of Steve Kekana, Johnny Mokgadi and many other South African musicians were frequent visitors to Lesotho and played alongside local artists who included the legendary Sankomota. Thousands of Basotho would attend these concerts to listen to the latest hits. In the early 1990s, however, the Lesotho live music scene took a heavy knock when the apartheid regime was dismantled and many South African musicians, who were initially restricted to hold concerts in their own country, all of sudden had a locally conducive environment to perform in.

Popular music festivals and events

In the early 2000s, the Lesotho music scene slowly regained its former glory when Tuku Talana Promotions organised a jazz concert that saw the likes of Oliver Mtukudzi, Letta Mbulu, Tshepo Tshola and Caiphus Semenya mesmerise thousands of fans at Setsoto Stadium in Maseru. The concert was the precursor of a similar music festival that followed – Lesotho Tourism Festival. Founded in 2004, the festival is now the premier jazz event in the country and attracts artists and festivalgoers from all over the world. The concert is held at the Thaba Bosiu Cultural Village, which is located less than 20km from the capital Maseru. Morija Cultural Festival is another premier event that completely changed the Lesotho live music scene with its inaugural event in 1999. However, the festival was last held in 2015. In 2016 it coincided with Lesotho’s 50th independence celebrations and was put on hold with the government, as the main sponsor, citing financial constraints as the reason for the festival’s cancellation.

Vodacom Summa Feva is another popular music festival in Lesotho and has been held in Maseru since 2007. The festival has been growing in popularity with each passing year. Last year, the line-up included AKA, Major League, Heavy-K, A-Reece, Emtee, Tshepzadj, Juvy, Boxfr3sh, AfroDJ, L-Tore, Mapanaki as well as Vodacom Superstars DJ Thizozo, Reezy Ray, Eunice and the Step Up dance crew. Other popular hot spots of Lesotho’s fast-growing hip hop scene – known as Sotho hop – and R&B are Ba.One, Club 4Fordy, Victoria Hotel, Cuban Link and Maseru Club, which host live events on a weekly basis. All the venues are within a 10km radius from the Maseru CBD. Rappers like Mega Hertz have become overnight superstars due to the vibrant live music culture that has taken roots in recent years. There are other new babies on the block – Maseru Easter Festival and RTC Summer Festival, which are held in Maseru and Teyateyaneng (40km from the capital) respectively.