Morena Leraba

The Shepherd of Lesotho Electronic Music

Over the past eight years, Morena Leraba has become a globally acclaimed flagbearer of a remodelled Lesotho sound, manifested through a series of live performances, numerous high-wattage collaborations and, due out in 2022, a debut EP recorded in Johannesburg.

Titled Fela sa Ha Mojela (“song or poem of Ha Mojela”) the much anticipated recording captures Morena Leraba’s ability to fuse traditional Famo-inspired vocals with electronic music, dub and echoes of hip hop, all part of creating an evolving sound that is psychedelic,  entrancing and future-facing.

Like earlier singles, including “Mpuli”, and “Impepho”, Fela sa Ha Mojela solidifies the dynamism in the sound created – since 2014 – by the shepherd Famo musician from Lesotho, born Teboho Mochaoa. To the listener, the recorded music and Morena Leraba’s live shows present a transporting and elevating experience that uses the vocal template of Famo to anchor electronic music that draws as instinctively on the warm, low notes of the marimba as dub’s stretched out rhythms – and much more.

A sub-genre of Sesotho traditional music or poetry, Famo is famous in Morena Leraba’s home district of Mafeteng (south of Lesotho capital’s Maseru). “I understand Famo,” says Morena Leraba. “However, because we also have influences from elsewhere musically, I’ve always re-imagined Famo. I’ve always re-imagined Sesotho traditional music. So, coming to Johannesburg and meeting all the musicians that contributed to our journey so far, was the manifestation, perhaps, of that re-imagination.”

The musicians who’ve helped Morena Leraba create Fela sa Ha Mojela and take his sound to the world are Molefi Makananise (BLK JKS bass player), Steve Hogg (alias Vox Portent; founding member of Seru), Johannesburg-based electronic music producer, Thamsanqa Ngwenya (marimba), and Bronwen Clacherty (percussions).

Together they offer up a celebration of the shepherd charisma through stories that touch on the village but that also reflect Morena Leraba’s more recent experiences – both (and especially) his time in Johannesburg, and his travels abroad. The stories told on Fela sa Ha Mojela are nourished by accounts of other Basotho migrant workers that Morena Leraba normally commutes with. “These are stories of migration. Labour in the informal sector. Johannesburg and its hardships. Hope. Finding strength and courage. Spiritual calling. Death and having to live with the memory of loved ones.” 

In recent months, Morena Leraba has played a slate of live dates including a successful 2021 European tour which took in Paris, Berlin and Vienna, among other cities, and a number of shows during the 2022 Investec Cape Town Art Fair and another five in Cape Town and Stellenbosch in March this year. Up next is a series of European shows, starting with DAWN 2022 in Salzburg, Austria on June 24th.

These live shows add to a host of acclaimed performances over the years, including at the Commonwealth Games Festival (Australia), Endless Daze in Cape Town, Festival Rituel and Trans Musicales in Rennes, France, Bushfire Festival in e’Swatini (formerly Swaziland), Sentebale AUDI Concert in London, Oslo World Festival in Norway and AFROPUNK in Johannesburg.

Since surfacing, Morena Leraba has also been an in-demand collaborator with a recent highlight being Major Lazer’s 2021 album Music is the Weapon (Reloaded) where he was featured on the fired-up, club-ready track “Hands Up” alongside Moonchild Sanelly. Paris-based collective Mawimbi sought out Morena Leraba for the track “Free Up” – featuring Syntax and Spoek Mathambo – off the 2020 album We No Be Machine and his voice also provides the spiritual roots for “Johannesburg”, which was the first single off Africa Express’s 2019 record, EGOLI – a song that features Sibot, Radio 123, and Gruff Rhys (Super Furry Animals). A standout collaboration has been with South Africa’s BLK JKS on their late 2019 single “Harare” where, in a display of his musical gifts, Leraba contributed both vocals and lyrics to the track. The lyrics came naturally,” says Leraba of the song. “The whole migration thing, people tell you what they go through working in South Africa without proper documentation. It is a big topic in the famo scene.” 

Much of the mystique surrounding Leraba stems from his roots in Lesotho, a mountainous country that is enclaved within South Africa. Like most of his countrymen, he spent much of his youth working as a shepherd (in the village of Ha Nchela), taking inspiration from the solitude that tending animals brings. “If you’re from Lesotho, being a shepherd is a common thing,” he says. “Growing up I was a shepherd, but I also went to school and then university.” Still, the experience remains pivotal. “Being alone in the mountains you create your own stories every day, and I developed an awesome communication with nature and animals.” For Leraba, retaining deeply-sunk roots in Lesotho is more than sentimentality: it’s the stuff of his creative life. “These are memories of old and here lies our strange truths – stories from our grandmothers, of underworld waters, villages and other-worldly beings – and you have seen this before (arcane ways of our people). Our futurism – old riddles have become new.”

Leraba made his first appearance on the international scene in 2014 when he was featured on the song “Do You Know Know Lesotho” by a Cape Town/German band, The Freerangers. The single “Bojete” followed which earned the attention of Brooklyn-based producer, Kashaka, leading to a collaboration on the song “Lithebera.” Alongside BLK JKS (who have also featured him as a guest during live performances over the past few years), Spoek Mathambo has also championed Leraba’s talent and, in 2017, he played Banlieues Bleues Jazz Festival – Paris as Mathambo’s guest artist. 

Since then Morena Leraba has proved to be in possession of one of the most exciting and expansive artistic visions of recent years, driven, says the remarkable artist, by the need to reflect in music nothing less than “… our other-worldly journeys—our spiritual transcendence”.

APPEARANCES

  1. Banlieues Bleues Jazz Festival – Paris (as Spoek Mathambo’s guest artist) | Paris, France – 2017
  2. AFROPUNK Joburg (as Thandiswa Mazwai and BLK JKS guest artist) | Johannesburg, South Africa – 2017
  3. South African Human Rights Festival | Johannesburg, South Africa – 2018
  4. Festival 2018 (Commonwealth Games) | Queensland, Australia – 2018
  5. Fête de la musique Joburg | Johannesburg, South Africa – 2018
  6. Oppikopie Festival (as BLK JKS guest artist) | northern South Africa – 2018
  7. Endless Daze Festival | Cape Town, South Africa – 2018
  8. Festival Rituel 2 | Rennes, France – 2018
  9. Les Rencontres Trans Musicales (40èmes) | Rennes, France – 2018
  10. Eurosonic Noorderslag – Festival Groningen 2019 | Groningen, Netherlands (as ONIPA guest artist) – 2019
  11. Design Indaba 2019: Nightscape – The Creative Village | Cape Town, South Africa – 2019
  12. Cape Town Electronic Music Festival (CTEMF) | Cape Town, South Africa – 2019
  13. Waltham Forest Borough of London 2019: The Africa Express | London, United Kingdom – 2019
  14. MTN Bushfire Festival | Mbabane, e-Swatini (formerly Swaziland) – 2019
  15. Sentebale AUDI Concert 2019 (Hampton Court Palace) | London, United Kingdom – 2019
  16. Oslo World Festival 2019 | Oslo, Norway – 2019
  17. BIZARRE Music Festival 2021 | Berlin | Germany
  18. DAWN 2022 | Rockhouse, Salzburg | Austria
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