Over the past six years, Morena Leraba has emerged as the flagbearer of a remodelled Lesotho sound through a brace of collaborations, live performances and singles. Now, in 2020, Leraba is poised to take that sound to an even wider global audience, with a full-length solo record in the works that will provide a showcase for his singular sound.
As heard on songs like “Mpuli”, and “Impepho”, Leraba’s music mixes homegrown, traditional Famo-inspired vocals with electronic music, dub and echoes of hip hop, to create a psychedelic and entrancing sound that is still evolving.
Writing in 2017, journalist Kwanele Sosibo said Leraba “has the air of a musical nomad in search of a new identity but with the vaults of history to mine from”. Those vaults of history include Famo – a sub-genre of traditional Sesotho music based on the accordion and originating from Lesothoʼs long-standing encounter with South Africa’s migrant labour system.
In an affirmation of his continued impact on the international stage, Leraba has several key live performances coming up this year. Among these is showcasing – with nine other African artists – at the SXSW Festival 2020 in Austin, Texas in March, as well playing at Philharmonie de Paris “Afro-Futurisme” in Paris this coming June.
In creating his solo work, Leraba will be building off the stellar contributions he made to recent recordings. One of these was with 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. “The whole migration thing, people tell you what they go through working in South Africa without proper documentation. It’s a big topic in the famo scene.” His voice also provides the spiritual roots for “Johannesburg”, the first single off Africa Express’s 2019 record, EGOLI – a song that also features Sibot, Radio 123, and Gruff Rhys (Super Furry Animals).
Until now, 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. Other high-profile solo performances have included AFROPUNK Joburg (2017 and 2019), MTN Bushfire Festiva (2019) and Oslo World Festival (2019).
Leraba is currently working with a live band that includes Thamsanqa Ngwenya (marimba and vocals)m Bronwen Clacherty (percussions and vocals), Molaoa Resholofetse Mosola (drums), Molefi Makananise (bass), Lebogang Edgar Dichabe (guitar) and Steven Hogg (synthesizers). As he moves into a bigger creative plane and prepares to record his debut record, this remarkable artist is driven by a need to reflect, in music, “…our other-worldly journeys – our spiritual transcendence”.