Morena Leraba: Masotho Shepherd, Electronic Musician

Macy Lethco
Mar 19, 2019 · 4 min read

Morena Leraba grew up in the rural village of Mafetang in western Lesotho and has worked for much of his life as a shepherd. Spending considerable time alone, surrounded only by sheep, cattle, and the natural landscape, Leraba filled his mind with music, and began writing and practicing his songs.

This pastime would materialize into more public work as he became more connected to both local and global music scenes. He met a number of people in Lesotho and South Africa, including the filmmaker Carl McMillan, who connected Leraba with The FreeRangers, who recorded a song, “Do You Know Lesotho,” praising the local way of life and featuring Leraba rapping in one of the verses. He had told McMillan the he wanted to fuse modern and traditional music, and since his first feature in 2014, has been doing just that. The various works Leraba has lent his talents to sound distinct from each other, due in large part to the styles of contributing artists and producers. His voice shines through each lens, seeming to belong as much in a ballad as in trance and hip hop. He’s worked with German producer Fritz Holscher on the track “Bojete”; “Impepho” with Brazilian artists Trap & Alivio and South African musician Mankind; with Dorin Shane Braun from South Africa for the song “Oa Mpona”; and with Kashaka for this week’s featured track, “Lithebera.”

Kashaka is a Brooklyn based producer and part of the Portuguese label Enchufada. He came across Leraba’s work on soundcloud and sought him out for a joint musical effort. He, like Leraba, wants “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.” (That also sounds like the goal of this blog)

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Photo by Sobukwe Mapefane.

With “Lithebera,” the international collaboration is meant to signal that music crosses boundaries. Leraba sings in Sethoso, the language of the pastoralists that settled in what is now South Africa, many centuries before the modern country of Lesotho was formed. The song references many cultural traditions, from poetry to spiritual practices, and bridges elements of the past and present, reflective of Leraba’s life, which inhabits similar realms.

His music taste and contacts have expanded internationally in recent years, but Leraba still cites his inspiration as coming from his beloved country. “Lesotho is my muse,” he told IndieChannel. “Its rural landscapes, our history as Bantu-speaking people, our traditional music — this influences my sound and lyrics. I’m motivated by people who use their own indigenous languages and traditions in their music.”

Leraba’s lifestyle, which is pastoral and rural, in contrast to technology-driven and urban, is quite different from other musicians whose artistic styles are similar to his, in addition to the millions of people, within Africa and without, who reside in cities and work in industry.

Leraba still works as a shepherd, balancing his time between the distant music world and his village, and avidly seeking to connect the two. He sees his own work in music as an opportunity to develop the local scene and industry while showcasing Lesotho culture and landscape through music videos, like in “Impepho,” in the FreeRangers’ track, and in a short documentary by Black Nation Video Network, “Morena Leraba: Blending Our Stories with Modern Sound.”

In the documentary, Leraba talks a great deal about Lesotho and how life and culture have changed there over the past one hundred years. Compounded effects of economic crises, with lasting unemployment, have led many to leave the country and their traditional cultures in favor of work in factories or mines in South Africa, and others to join gangs and pursue crime as a means of living. Leraba discusses how these pressures have affected his village and his music; while he has a foot planted in the world outside Lesotho, outside of his work as a shepherd, he has another firmly in his village, believing migration and the other effects of poor economic and educational opportunities have robbed the country of its future, its workers and its leaders. His music, then, is an outlet for his talent, passion, and perspective rather than another job or an avenue for a different life; it gives him a space to speak the words that fill his mind when he is in solitude. Music inhabits a space, if not physical, then mental, both for Leraba and the kind of world he wants to live in — one that values deep connection, of people and cultures and past and present.

Originally published at www.theintersection.co.

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