Frankly Romantic

It is by now an open secret that I am enamoured by Frank Leepa’s work. The emerging academic in me actually believes that his work must be regarded as his intellectual contribution. My dear friends can easily attest to how, depending on the quantity I have imbibed, I come (very berry) close to creating an impression that all of my research could hopelessly lead to his answers. (And, if one thinks about it, this is not an entirely a bad thing: for, any worthy research must yield Frank answers!)

This said, and tempted as I am, I shall not bore you with my half-baked sentiments on why I believe Frank’s work—from a point of view that rejects the white gaze—may add value to the academy. In this blog post, I just want to write about the man who could express his love—the romantic Frank.

Just to be clear, the romantic Frank remains one with the genius Frank. The genius who, for example, elaborately crafted the “make love and not war” message in Obe, a song with a spiritual dimension that celebrates J.P. Mohapeloa while offering social commentary: to effectively put the past and present in dialogue.

Undoubtedly, with his ability to put one to work to mine a message,the genius Frank is elegant. However, he is never quite direct as the romantic Frank. The romantic Frank, who admittedly is confined only to matters of the heart, simply and elegantly lays it down as it is. Oa lememela, ke metsi a foro!

To the ‘Mysterious One’, a true ‘wonder’ that captured his heart, he frankly declares that his ‘neck is on the line for an embrace’. He is certain this embrace, together with the love that comes with it, will ‘fill [his] world with a sense of dignity’. All he but requires is an opportunity to freely demonstrate his love by giving all he wants: his desire! A desire to fill his ‘sense of beauty’ in the world of the ‘physical’, ‘mystical’, ‘wonder’, that makes it near impossible for him to compose a fitting love song—which obviously is his idea of a love letter.

If this doesn’t leave you in awe or perhaps nostalgic for times when suitors were willing to wear their hearts on their sleeves, then I imagine you might not see the romantic side to Frank. In my imaginative life, a space where I also intimately engage him, I have concluded that this romantic side, in fact, explains why to love him is to be a little obsessed with him.

I am cautiously using the word ‘obsessed’ to vindicate those women who in the process of loving Frank Moki Leepa got misunderstood. Here I am talking about the women who could have easily loved him to the ends of the earth, as guitar man, monna oa likatara . (To those who may not be familiar with the turn of phrase “o tsamaile le monna oa likatara, o ntse a tlola meqomo Bekesetala” , there is significance to the reminder that Frank was a guitar man.)

I believe, as a “guitar man”, Frank got to understand deeply that love transcends the material and other people’s opinions. To (romantically) love is to honour the truth of your heart. Pelo e ja serati. To honour that truth is a question of choice: to see or not to see the beauty and tranquility in the storm that others may perceive.

In my humble opinion, this is the essence of the song Moonlover in Frankly Speaking, and the raison d’être for the line: ‘no more blue days/only choose days/I swear by the moon/I will fall for you’. Tying to the chorus, this particular line conveys a clear message, which can be liberally paraphrased as follows:

You, who makes my heart sing, I will choose you every day, even if others call you ‘trouble’ or an impeding ‘hurricane’—ke re uena, mabina-bina a pelo ea ka, hore na ba ka u bitsa setsokotsane sa meleko, ke ikhethela uena!

With such an assurance, how can one doubt that Frank was romantic? I mean…honestly…what could be more romantic than a person who understands love in terms of choice or their sense of agency; while believing, of course, that the shared intimacy must bring in humanising beauty and dignity?!

A Frank Dialogue on “Boloi”

Despite and in spite of the efforts by many people to do what is right and just, things are falling apart around us. On some level, because we are yet to make sense of boloi ba bokhooa in our efforts to decolonise ourselves.

As far as I can tell, Frank Leepa (my wise musical man) believed in having conversations around boloi we can spur ourselves into redemptive action. I surmise this from the fact that boloi was a firm theme in a number of his songs; listen to, for example, monoana, house on fire, lekhari-khari and dumela.

To Frank, boloi was more than witchcraft, as one might want to translate. Factually speculating, it was a manifestation of greed and the erasure of botho by whiteness. The song greed points us to this understanding, even though there is no explicit mention of boloi—just as there is no single use of the word greed in the song.

History is essential to cement the above understanding, which came from intricate exploration of meaning from the very first Sankomota album, in songs monoana and house on fire. The song greed, which appears in what I call his sunset album, merely crystallises why Frank knew by instinct the necessity of teaching our young in the song monoana to point at ‘witches’—supa, supa baloi!

The pointing line, in fact, is what makes monoana a memorable song. For the benefit of those who might not know, monoana is a siNtu (setho) counting song in as far as our counting is identity based first, before it is numerical. Perhaps to clarify, an illiterate man—in the Western sense of the word—does not need to know how to numerically count to determine that one of his cows may be missing: he verifies his herd through the identity and knowledge of each cow. Metaphorically, this is part of the reason that each finger (monoana) must be recognised as distinctively different from the other in teaching a child to count in siNtu.

To return back to the matter at hand, Frank in his teaching makes an effort—beyond making counting fun and memorable—to instill the agency to act against evil, boloi: at the very least, by pointing at the evil instead of pretending to not see it. Admittedly, this is not always an easy task. How do you, for instance, point at anything done under the cover of darkness? To an extend, this particular question ignited the creation of house on fire.

Although it is not easy to categorise Frank’s songs, I believe house on fire is an anti-apartheid protest song that is deeply rooted in the 9th December 1982 Maseru Massacre. This fact, however, is muted. In part, because Frank had the art of recognising the global in the particular, and as such, managed to communicate his message with some abstraction.

In my mind, one of the tells regarding the massacre lies in the tentative mokorotlo—grumblings for men to take up arms to fight the enemy—which dissipate into celebratory/prideful melody to mask the intention. Another definite tell lies in how boloi is crafted into the song: as a reminder that the killings were done during the mythical operating hours of witches i.e. from the dead of night to the early hours of the morning.

Without history and the ability to read through the silences, the above tells can, of course, be missed. And I think this was intentional: for, Frank was purported to be a perfectionist, which would mean he deliberately avoided locking the song in the particular. In my opinion, because the particular was also very close to home. His own father, Clement Leepa, was brutally killed under the cover of darkness in 1970 by forces, similar to the apartheid soldiers, that feared the existence of principled beings willing to challenge the status quo. Forces, lest we forget, that had a white man in the helm—a (cock)Roach—sanctioning the brutality.

By creating emotional distance, Frank acted to remind us that the South African questions were indeed African questions. His empathy for the families of those who lost their loved one in the massacre propelled him to point us to the evil apartheid regime, which sought to maintain its power by using soldiers that better qualified as baloi, as in: baloi ba bolaeang bana ba batho ka sehloho!

I cannot fully corroborate my sentiment, but baloi and boloi was a grammar of his expression because not only was Clement Leepa killed, standing his own ground, his corpse was apparently later shot at to convince the powers that be that he was truly dead. And the Judas of Clement Leepa, as the story goes, is alleged to have taken his liver post-mortem. If anyone understands liretlo or ritual killings, this is interesting in that body parts are deemed to have medicinal potency only if they are taken from a living body. So, the allegation itself speaks to either how much a warrior Clement Leepa was, for his liver (sebete) to have value post mortem, or speaks to how sinister Judas and the regime were to the Leepa family in purporting they returned a liver-less body for the burial—suggesting basically that they took measures to ensure in the after-life he will not be courageous, ha a na hoba le sebete. I am again undoubtedly on speculative ground here, but hopefully one can begin to appreciate the complexity of boloi as a concept, and perhaps, grasp why the song greed practically ends with a fading dialogue:

Itse ke ntse ke re ke etetse bophirima-tsatsi,
Ka be se ke utloa lioeleseng ka motho enoa hao,
Sekitiri sa motho!

Ke ne ke o joetse,
Maoba mona…
ka khalana le eena a ts’oere nama,
Nama ea sebete!

Having provided context, I really don’t feel moved to offer literal translation; I will therefore happily leave this for the reader as homework.

To finally come to an end, the take home message is that boloi is the antithesis of botho, a phenomenon erased largely by bokhooa (aka broad systems of whiteness). Thus, to regain botho, we will need to urgently have frank conversations that hopefully take us out of the paralysis of merely exclaiming, like Obierika in things fall apart, that:

The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.- Chinua Achebe

MaAfrika, it is now or never! Let’s us find the courage of the warrior Sankomota to recover what was severed by the knife wielded by the white man. Our humanity depends on it!

Sekunjalo—Time to be Frank

I have been in hibernation. Alas, I have not really rested.

A lot has happened and is continuing to happen. It would seem the time to be frank has arrived. There is a need to think and re-think matters if we, Blacks, are still invested in a change that affords us dignity. 

This need to (re)think matters has caused me to meditate deeply about Frank Leepa’s Sekunjalo.

As some have come to know, I am a serious fan of Frank’s work. Frank has entrenched a deep understanding in me that the South African questions are indeed Black/African questions. He gave me a firm understanding of intersectionality–long before I learnt such a term existed.

So, based on the events of this year alone, I am of the opinion that Sekunjalo qualifies as an intersectional #BlackLivesMatters song. It is a protest song, but also a prayer. This comes out very clearly to me when the youth represented in the song declares that his determination to bring about change is, in a sense, a reason for the loved ones to pray.

If we consider how the song begins, these loved ones are the women being left behind; the father, though not explicated, is probably in Marikana.

I know this sounds like a leap. However, if you take Frank as nuanced and intersectional, you know there is a reason the father needs to be informed about the son’s departure. In fact, based on his style of writing, one should intuitively get that the reason has been omitted deliberately. My thinking is: to possibly aid the amplification of the single short line of “pray it”!

In my opinion, this line is loaded with meaning. It is a reminder to think about the women and the struggle. A reminder that many are forced to pray, fend for themselves, and hold on to radical hope that the men and children will return home.

Interesting for me is also how the “pray it” line is preceded by humming and the line: “I want to hear you sing”. This reminds me of the value of song/singing.

When I attended the Highway Africa conference recently, it dawned on me how much song is not understood in the context of a struggle. This is what happened: the Black Student Movement (BSM) entered the conference singing; there was a slight mild panic; and it occurred to me that in the imagination of some, protest singing is strongly linked to violence (despite the body language of those singing speaking a contrary truth). 

This troubled me. I couldn’t really explain to myself, why? My Senkujalo meditations have shed some light. Singing and spirituality are linked in my mind, even in a protest context. For me, singing is a deep spiritual act for expressing unison—or solidarity if you wish. Above and beyond solidarity, I also believe singing serves to soothe; and for this reason, I find it hard to understand the possible associations with violence. I mean…if I am making efforts to soothe my pain, do I really hold the intent to be violent?

This is a very pertinent question for me. It makes me wonder how much we understand Black pain.

Just so we are clear, I do understand how sometimes this pain comes through as anger—anger that seems to stem from nowhere, except this would be a lie. The anger comes from an embodied knowledge that one’s own truth in some spaces can/will easily be denied and delegitimized. This is knowledge of being rendered invisible. (At a very personal level, this knowledge has often caused me to speak in angry tones—because as I have often explained to myself, my body goes into internal convulsion mode to give weight to the spoken word.)

I have digressed. The point really is that Sekunjalo, for whatever reason, paints for me a clear picture of the moment we are in. Basically, the song makes me appreciate that 40 years of the Soweto uprising will be about the youth declaring:

We are the leaders
[Elders, there is] no need to be afraid
Batho bana ba re tlolisa khati!

And, without bothering with the actual translation of the conveniently bolded line, it gets idiomatically understood that it will take a stick to deal with the anti-transformational human beings. For, the carrot has clearly failed.

From the youths vantage point, with this failure, the only prayer left is for the elders to prepare, if needs be,”to put out the fire”. For, “with defensive guts [and] determination”, they shall forge ahead to bring change and reclaim the throne for Black people. Senkujalo, beloved elders…sekunjalo!

Coveted — A Frank Biography

I am not much of a biography reader, but today I realised that I had been holding my breath to read one about Frank Leepa, as a birthday gift.

I had hoped that 2013, being the 10th year anniversary of his death, will be a good time to finally have his biography published, as once promised in the now non-functional Frank Leepa revival website. Actually, beyond being hopeful, I prayed about the matter to God the Almighty—Qhobosheane ea rona bakupi, Seokamela sa maholimo le lefats’e.

I was inspired into prayer, in part, because I tend to also suffer from the others-must-do-it-because-I-simply-have-no-time-or-some-other-resource-to-make-it-happen syndrome. Yes, I know this is a horrible syndrome; but assuming I could overcome it and convince myself that I am competent enough for the task, where would I even start?

I suppose I could start by making efforts to interview men like ntate Letele (aka G-man) who I hear played with Frank Leepa before the days of Uhuru in a band called Anti-antics. I remain unclear about why little is ever said about the Anti-antics. However, I do have an inkling why the name had to change.

Ntate Peete, a man with a flair for storytelling, tells this wonderful story where Frank was full of antics; he glided back and forth on stage–not in Michael Jackson style–and got very near to playing the guitar with his teeth, all in the interest of keeping the show going because one band member got too drunk to perform.

I can’t remember the year cited by ntate Peete, but it was certainly pre-80s. What I vividly remember is the passion conveyed about Frank Leepa’s love for music. For the love of music, he was willing to break a neck through some antics on stage in order to preserve the quality of each musical piece, while, of course, entertaining the audiences.

Now, back to my inkling. My working theory is that when Frank Leepa set or became part of a new band, it was with profound self-awareness. He understood that the lengths he was willing to go to in his performances would make it impossible for many to grasp that music was his weapon to fighting the shenanigans in our society–or rather, taking a stand against the antics of some members of our society.

I know I have just been grossly speculative, but what can a woman do? I have been waiting somewhat patiently for my most coveted biography. Waiting to confirm my anecdotes and to gain some insights that may allow me to fully understand Frank Leepa’s compositions—for in each, I believe he left a gem or two to be mined by listener’s own reflection.

I will not hold my breath, but wait I shall. Unabashedly, I will lustfully wait for a Frank biography!


A Shared Heritage Icon

sunflowerSeptember is the beginning of my favourite season: spring! It also happens to be heritage month in South Africa, where I currently reside. For me, the two add up to a month of musical appreciation—or at least, this is also why I believe the birds sing in spring time.

To join the birds in their singing, I think it is only fitting to show my appreciation by singing praises to my musical icon: Frank Mooki Leepa.

Frankly speaking, when it comes to heritage icons to be celebrated in South Africa—and indeed in Lesotho, but this goes without saying—Frank Leepa’s name should come up. This is an opinion, however, one that I hope to (continuously) defend with fervour.

My age says I more likely to have experienced in a tangible manner Bhudaza in his early days than I could have Frank Leepa. This being the case, perhaps a good place to begin my defence (in this blog piece) is to throw Bhudaza in the mix—for indeed, I experienced his blossoming into a celebrated musician from his days in Talima, a band with his late brother Mochoko, which also featured his late nephew Lekoane on bass guitar at a tender age of about ten, playing better than many adult guitarists.

The Talima days I remember very vividly. They were the prime days of my youth, beauty and free expression of my opinions about all and sundry. In those days, as a budding artist, Bhudaza was more recognisable by the soil that nurtured and allowed him to flourish. Here, I am referring directly to the influence of his brother Mochoko, who died in August 2001.

It took Google to get the year, but the month was etched in my mind. When the sad news reached many in Lesotho, I was actually with ‘mangoane Mpotla celebrating her birthday. The weather that evening was particularly nasty for mid August—it was cold, windy and sleeting—yet after our dining at Lancers Inn, we remained undeterred about ending our night at Victoria hotel with Bhudaza’s performance, alas…the night didn’t end as we planned!

That September, I called it the spring of Bhudaza’s career. He performed like I had never seen before. He was like a man possessed, a thorn bird even, playing each note to levels of unbelievable perfection. And we, the fans, loyal to the memory of Mochoko, allowed those notes to spring us to a level where spirits and beings commune with each other. We were mourning but also celebrating. And yes, while this may sound warped, it really was rooted in knowing Mochoko, who, for the record, I never did call ntate. A mere 10 minute conversation with Mochoko, when he talked music and/or the need for a music school for Basotho children, was to know him at some intimate level. A level that was inspiring and full of what some may refer to as ‘radical hope’ for the industry and the role it can play in transforming society. In a nutshell, you would understand why the show must always go on!

I have digressed; but not long the summer of Bhudaza’s career followed. He was in the studio recording his first album, which was super explosive.

Can we guess who was the man in the background assisting with production and arrangement of this album? It was none other than Frank Mooki Leepa. Sadly he died a few months before its release, but, in my opinion, his touch remained. For me, that touch was in how the spirit of Mochoko was infused into the album—I can’t really explain it, but I had this sense that the album had the same feel as one that Talima had hoped to record with the Germans, if life’s complexities and death had not gotten in the way.

Yes, life does suck and things never go according to plan, but again I digress. This post is about why I celebrate Frank Mooki Leepa and why I believe it is important to remember that his name deservedly should be counted among the heritage icons in South Africa during heritage month.

For me, it is worth mentioning that it is ultimately the words or lyrics that determine whether my connection to a song is superficial or not—unless, of course, we are talking about a pure instrumental. I can happily dance, for example, to Bhudaza’s song khera—a name for a potent Sesotho brew—but it doesn’t mean the song connects with my being. Contained in the broad message to caution us all of the dangers of alcohol (khera) is a gendered part that sits uneasily with me, captured by the following two lines:

Hey brother, life is yours, you better look after it.
Hey sister, come on let me change your life.

At first listen (or even read), the two lines can easily be dismissed, particularly because towards the end of the song, both sexes are called on with the same offer to be lead on to a path that will change their lives. Yeah … exalt to an end that recognises equality. But wait! What of the existence of the above seemingly innocent lines found in the beginning of the song? Surely they cannot be ignored. They perpetuate the notion that women lack their own agency: they need a man (like Bhudaza) to walk them to a path of redemption. In contrast, men simply need to be reminded of their own agency.

These two lines, without even getting into the politics of their positioning, sever any emotional connection I could have to the song. The idea that Bhudaza and Frank Leepa can be at the same conscience levels immediately becomes unimaginable to me. To just ward off the idea, my first urge is to listen to vukani— wake up. I am not talking about Sipho Hotstix Mabuse’s version, for his immediately turns the hot in his name to lukewarm. I am talking about Sankomota’s version with Frank Leepa leading the vocals (and, of course, involved in other background activities).

Vukani is a must listen to song for all who may have doubts about counting Frank Leepa among the heritage icons in South Africa. Every line in that song is conscience-raising and modelled around the necessity to end apartheid and all other forms of oppression.

My favourite lines, by far, are the ones that point out the contradictions of the struggle, which unfortunately, continue to exist to this day, almost 30 years of the recording of the song. We have people that talk about freedom yet have no problems killing their own brothers. Just as we have people ready to shout “right on” but later refuse to move on with the agenda of building a just society.

The one line that absolutely takes the cake for me, which I shall not dare paraphrase is:

you go around screaming equality, but you paddle your own sister and destroy morality….no no no no no no no … vukani madoda …

For me, a proud feminist, this enhances by leaps and bounds Frank Leepa’s call for intersectionality. A call to recognise all forms of oppression. There is no denying or sweeping under the carpet the problem of patriarchal violence. A direct question is posed to the men fighting for a supposed life of dignity: how do you fight for freedom and equality when you see nothing wrong with beating or oppressing your women?

This question, I imagine, is asked in the spirit of “monna o tentsoa ts’ea ke bang”, a man is helped into his loin garment by other men. As such, I believe the intention was to actively initiate a dialogue that reminds and will continue to remind the men that equality is not a one narrow dimensional concept—otherwise why, for example, were the women willing to pledge their solidarity and support in the “struggle”?

For me, there is no doubt, therefore, that vukani embodies the kind of activism/politics that we should all align ourselves to. Singing or performing this song in the 80s was an obvious punishable political act. More so, because it was inevitably accompanied by a repertoire that included songs like woza, uhuru and house on fire.

Let’s pause for a moment. Can you possibly see why ordinary people would want to spring into action to bring about (positive) change in their lives from such a repertoire? If you can, then I hope you can also see why Frank Leepa qualifies as a musical heritage icon. With music as his medium, he made an effort to inspire people to blossom into being extraordinary: his lyrics encouraged them to act and deal with the contradictions that exist in their everyday struggles so that ours can begin to be a better world.

What is more, beyond the grave his work continues to inspire. It springs one from the doldrums when winter makes a sudden appearance in the emotional side of life. Or, at least, it does for me. Hence, my willingness to spring in celebration of his memory, heritage and the vukani or awakening season itself, where singing comes all so naturally to creation!

Tea or Sugar?!

I have said it before and I am willing to say it again: I am in total awe of Frank Mooki Leepa! His compositions just have a way of sugaring me up. Unexpectedly, I seem to find (his) humour in songs that some would regard as serious.

Ramasela, a favourite of mine and many others, is, in may opinion, peppered with unbelievable humour; yet this is a fundamentally serious song of migration–a song of how parents lose out on some of the tender moments of their children’s lives because of the need to work.

One part that really stands out in the chorus of Ramasela is “mots’elle tee” (pour tea for him/her) which is followed by what I regard as a very loaded response “there’s no sugar”!

To perhaps let one judge how loaded the response is, it might be worthwhile to briefly explore what drives the “tea culture” within our society.

Tea in the world of whiteness (aka privilege) is regarded as very calming and soothing. It has magical properties that can even help to avert wars. This pretty much means for all of life’s problems you can consider having tea because:

If you are cold, tea will warm you; if you are too heated, it will cool you; if you are depressed, it will cheer you; if you are excited, it will calm you.- William Gladstone, 1809-1898

In the world of blackness (oppression or marginalisation) tea is but regarded as the medium for comfort. The sugar that goes in the tea is the real deal. In fact, this why some individuals who are awake to the realities of the world in general have observed a correlation between social class and the quantity of sugar that one may have in their tea. In Lesotho, for example, it is hardly the “bourgeoisie” who will ask for more sugar and follow the request with a disclaimer in the neighbourhood of a retort: “I didn’t grow up in Natal’s sugar farms”!

So, getting back to the tea and sugar matter in Ramasela, Frank Leepa is essentially asking: what good is tea to a child bitten by a lizard (khalimoletsoana) when there’s no sugar nor parents to lovingly do the comforting?

Without doubt, the question is very serious, though, admittedly, I do find some humour in it—partly because of the “sugar farm” phrased disclaimers/retorts. For me, the seriousness of the question largely stems from engaging with the curious question of “why a bite on the (rear) cheeks by khalimoletsoana“?

I have found an answer that satisfies me. But I had to make peace with the idea that I possess a mind of a contortionist. In my mind, what I did was to connect “khali” to the concept of “khang-khali”, enticement. And this eventually lead me to see a picture of greed, which bites us all (in the arse) including the innocent members of our society. Since I have no intentions of revealing how warped my brain or thinking really is, I shall skip the details in the formation of this picture.

Instead, to end on a slightly humorous note, I shall digress. I take a bit of a historical detour to remind everyone that if it weren’t for sugar, Mokhachane, ntat’a Moshoeshoe, would have died a bitter man. It is purported that according to Mokhachane, the only redeeming thing about the missionaries that his son Moshoeshoe invited was the sugar the came with. Ha e se ka ts’oekere, ruri baruti ba Moshoeshoe mahlong a Mokhachane ba ka be ba sa le bona! –Without the sugar, well … let’s just say there would have definitely been no loving at all!

All in all, one take home message from Ramasela or even Mokhachane’s tale is that sugar or sweetness is what we all need to have just an ounce of love and/or caring.

2013 — A year of tribute

I awake from my slumber. Awaken by an article in the entertainment section of the last edition of City Press. A well deserved tribute paid to one of “Lesotho’s finest music export”, Tsepo Tshola.

The tribute in the traditional paper version starts with the “quintessence of Tsepo Tshola” captured through the lens of the photographer – a very gifted photographer, may I add. So gifted that I really had to pause and immerse myself in the sectional cover before I could proceed to page 6 and 7 for the written tribute by Lesley Mofokeng.

For the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed the tribute. The only thing that actually didn’t sit well with me was having Frank Leepa parenthesised. My reaction was: “really Lesley? You are that guy?!” (The guy who puts in parenthesis Frank Mooki Leepa – the man who has written some of the most beautiful lyrics that speak to the core of my being.)

But I have digressed, so let me quickly get to the point I truly want to make. In paying tribute to Tsepo Mobu Tsola — a tribute he rightfully deserves — Lesley allowed me to think deeply (or differently) about 2013.

For me, 2013 was but going to be a do-or-die year. And in terms of what to do, all I could do is work, work and work at finishing my thesis. But what’s work without taking a little time to pay tribute to people, things, and ideas that are dear?

I mean, how could I have allowed myself to have such narrow view of 2013? The year in which a movie that pays tribute to King Moshoeshoe I will be premiered. The year of celebrating 50 years of the coming together of African states (under OAU) and the birth of His Majesty King Letsie III. The year which, as I see it, provides an opportunity to celebrate both death and life – and other binaries that may exist — for if, say, you look through the prism of Sankomota, this is the year that marks 10 years of the passing of Frank and 60 years of living for Tsepo. How profound is that? Again, I ask: how could I have possibly had such a narrow view of 2013, when it clearly seems to be a year of tribute?!

Race Matter in Disposable Hero

Not so long ago I wrote a post on Disposable Hero. However, in reviewing the song, I avoided entering the ‘race dimension’. On the one hand, even though I love the song so much, it really does a number on me emotionally. On the other hand, because articulating the ‘thinking’ employed by Frank Leepa in crafting this dimension is not necessarily an easy task.

Notwithstanding the above, I shall dare myself into entering this dimension. But before I start, perhaps I should mention that a play by David Mamet titled Race is to ‘blame’ for this self-daring exercise. Race was one of those productions that I recommended to all (and sundry) during the past Grahamstown National Arts Festival. It is an intricate piece that deals intelligently with prejudice and bigotry that stem (in as far as the storyline is concerned) from a potentially racially-charged criminal case: a rape of a black woman — possibly involved in the trick turning business — by a rich white married man.

In my opinion, both the play and the song carry the message: ‘race matters are not simple matters’ and/or ‘race is a nest of prejudice’. The only difference, again in my opinion, is that David Mamet in his writing was overt while Frank Leepa was subtle to the point that one may be forgiven for assuming that his composition lacks the message. In fact, I would argue that the only clue to the existence of this message lies with how Tšepo Tšola sings the line “they must be mad”: he is deep, emphatic and very purposeful in his delivery. (You really get a sense that he wants you, the listener, to appreciate that his powerful voice is a mere instrument or medium that shouldn’t distract one from engaging with what is being communicated.)

Basically, as Tšepo Tšola sings that line, curiosity builds up about the identity of the mad men. But as something to expect from Frank Leepa’s compositions, the ‘riddle’ is left for the listener to decode. My decoding led me to the conclusion that Frank Leepa was referring to a category of people that deserve the label racist. This deduction was made by tracking back to the part:

On the morning news, on television;
The big shots down split — split down in the middle.
[The Messiah-healer …]
So, who is going to be first on the plane?
They must be mad!

Aside, of course, from making note of the fact that television was still a novelty, I realised that a few things can be said in unpacking the above quoted lyrics. Fundamentally, we are reminded that we cannot make sweeping statements about a group of people. There was a split: the big shots — who happened to be all white men — didn’t all agree with the idea that, after fighting as brothers with black men, it was fair for them to be transported last. These few good men understood deeply what made the war, which had just ended, respectable. They understood that domination, of any kind, of one being by another is not fair or morally acceptable.

Unfortunately, because the good men in the big shots league were few, the outcome of the split favoured the wishes of the majority. Frank Leepa makes no direct mention of this fact; but very skillfully, he does put into perspective why an honourable man, a disposable hero (like his father), was disillusioned by the outcome. Disillusioned by the blindness of the majority to see injustice when it is directed to others. After a bloody war, how could they possibly fail to see the inherent injustice perpetuated by their ‘vote‘?!