Lesotho Hip Hop: From The Ground Up [Part II]by Tseliso Monaheng / 08.04.2014
Tello Leballo, or “Dallas T” to his listeners, is a radio deejay with over 10 years of broadcasting experience. He was the first to have a show on national radio campaigning for the active promotion of Lesotho rap music on the airwaves. It’s people like him who made it possible for audiences to gravitate towards hip-hop, a genre which was traditionally the reserve of outcasts and American wannabes.
“I took a different angle altogether and decided to embark on a talent search mission instead,” says Leballo of his previous job at Radio Lesotho, hosting the twice-a-week show Molikongoa Bacha. We’re at the Ultimate FM studios (Radio Lesotho’s sister radio station) during his drive-time radio show The Knock Off. He’s held the 3pm to 6pm slot since the radio station went on air in 2006.
Many of today’s well-known names – from Kommanda Obbs to Dunamis to Stlofa – got their first break on this very show or, in the case of the latter two, other shows on the same radio station.
The Radio Lesotho days witnessed a young and rebellious Leballo, religiously playing songs submitted by artists from across the country, despite most of the recording being of sub-standard broadcast quality; a Leballo who used to have a Public Enemy song as his jingle during family time listening – on weekends!
He carried this spirit of rooting for locally-produced music when he moved to his current home. “It was part of the radio synopsis [at Ultimate Fm]. I was actually one of the chief advocates; I had other presenters backing me up,” he reveals.
Leballo’s experience behind the control boards is unparalleled. Watching him preparing to go on air and then later fielding calls, cueing music; one gets an immediate sense of someone with an all-consuming passion for what they do. He continues to carve his own path despite any criticisms leveled against him, most of which come from artists not understanding the correct procedures involved in getting their song playlisted on the station.
His chart show every Thursday has become the unofficial barometer for how admired a song is among the rap audience.
Leballo is careful to acknowledge other radio figures that have been selfless in nurturing a very young, very niche movement – from Denver Queen to Miss P and many more. Miss P (real name Pearl Ocansey), passed away recently, leaving behind a massive void in the lives of all those whose careers she contributed to launching.
One of the country’s most in-demand producer/engineers is Thulo Monyake. As chief architect of Music In Progress, another independent imprint label based in Maseru, he oversees the production process behind most of the big rap songs on radio at the moment.
He’s indeed come a long way from kicking ciphers in front of the PC FM studios during the weekly Sprite Rap Activity Jam (a talent search competition); to having his face plastered on outdoor billboards advertising a cellphone network.
Monyake’s excited about the present, but even keener about future prospects.
“When I started, there was very minimal material that you could actually get your hands on or listen to. Access to it wasn’t as wide as it is now,” he laments.
Monyake, who also raps as Lemekoane, reckons that the current wave of interest in rap is being fueled by the change in the mindset of rappers, and suggests that a more heightened level of focus now exists, at least amongst “the guys that decided to stop being followers and more leaders and motivators. The likes of Duna [aka Dunamis], for example,” says Monyake.
Dunamis (Rets’elisitsoe Molefe) is the first Lesotho-based rapper to have a music video; ‘Mastered Seed’, directed, shot, and edited by Hymphatic Thabs and subsequently playlisted on continental television.
Dallas T reckons that the scene is largely driven by ego at the moment. He may be speaking in general, or of a particular incident in which Kommanda Obbs and his D2 amajoe clique threateningly asked the deejay to stop playing their music due to what they deemed “inappropriate requests” from said DJ to mention his name in a song of theirs (they later issued an apology for the manner in which they approached the matter).
“Right now, it’s at the point where it’s being overrated; people are assuming to be where they aren’t. This [moment] should be perceived to be the beginning of a joyful journey, as opposed to ‘I’m getting thousands!’… fuck thousands! You’re not gonna brag about getting thousands when you’re supposed to work on what you’re good at and be exposed internationally.”
The last round goes to Papa Zee whose Sesotho-only album entitled Psalm 23 was released to critical acclaim in 2010. Besides taking care of the artists on his label (he’s got three at the moment: Skebza D, Nde, and Young Tycoon), and running other businesses on the side, he’s working on his soon-to-be-released new album (“people who are expecting Psalm 23 part two will be disappointed,” he lets slip).
“The question is what level are we on in terms of new media? Where is it in relation to our people? I don’t think we’re there yet. I feel [that now] we have access to the Internet; the question is whether our immediate market, our niche, is that advanced to utilise the resources provided? I don’t think they are there yet.”
“You find that artists don’t have the facilities which would enable an Amazon.com (for example) to pay them because that facility is not supported in your country,” he concludes.
*Read part one here.
All Images ©Tseliso Monaheng