Frankly in Awe

When I desire a downtime with some hint of enjoyable intellectual stimulation I listen to Sankomota. I started this ritual not so long ago while feeling a bit homesick. And I continue with it because I am on a very private quest to truly appreciate and/or understand Frank Leepa.

Baholoane (elders) have always declared that he was a (musical) genius, but the ‘ageist’ in me took the declaration with a pinch of salt. I believed he was good but thought the use of genius was a stretch; precisely because baholoane, true to their nature, weren’t keen to explain/justify/defend their declaration.

Now, here I am; ready to read from the same page as baholoane – or rather, sing the same tune with them! How and when did I get to this place? This is rhetorical; destiny has beckoned me to where I am. The question is: can I differentiate myself from baholoane and provide an explanation, however flawed, of why I think Frank Leepa is a genius?

For me, his genius lies in how he imbues latent messages into his (or more accurately Sankomota’s) songs. I think it is absolutely awe-inspiring. Listening to a song like Obe you find melody and lyrical depth encapsulated by humour, wit, sarcasm, irony and whatever else you can think of. Of course, this all depends on interpretation!

Obe: Ode of note

Obe for those who may not know is based partly on J.P. Mohapeloa’s literary works. Obe is a beast that a girl meets for the first time after entering married life. The first part of the song is about describing this beast from the girl’s perspective. It is also about her reaction and the response of the knowing adults. The second part of the song is a plea to humanity, requesting a change for the better. This plea is very powerful, in part because of the wonderfully heavy voice making it: Tšepo Tšola’s voice!

Distinguishing the parts is trivial: the first part is in Sesotho while the second is in English. The triviality, in a small way, contributes to Frank’s genius. What spells it for me (in a big way) is how he fused the two parts together. I personally give him credit on two main counts:

  1. For the instrumentals that transition the listener from one part to the next. For me, these instrumentals create an exceptional bridge that allows me to pause and soak in the sounds from different musical instruments, float with each note, but still remain grounded in the harmony of sounds created in concert of each other.
  2. For the crafting of the overall message, which can simply and elegantly be reduced to: “Make love not war”! Once you understand what each part is about, the clue for making the reduction (or rather deduction) lies in the second part of the song. Specifically, it is embedded in the following words (or at least based on my interpretation): “You are robbing each other. You are killing each other. […]. There must be some way to bring this change. Why don’t you reach out and touch somebody’s hand?

Malala Pipe: Dream of hope

In Obe, Frank is a force in the background. To appreciate his genius/talent both in the background and foreground, I believe no song does it better than Malala Pipe. Beyond writing and working on the arrangement of the song, in its performance he leads in every sense of the word. The guitar, his instrument of choice, dominates and he, not Tšepo Tšola, leads the vocals.

What makes Malala Pipe an absolute work of art is its simplicity. The message of the song is simple yet profound. Hearing the unmistakable voice of Tšepo trail behind gently and powerfully in the background enhances the message even further. Conviction as a word and emotion get personified through Frank’s voice. In my mind, this allows one to see Frank Mooki Leepa in a whole new light that also cements his calling in life.

Apart from getting to enjoy the authentic voice of Frank in Malala Pipe, there is a layer of depth for those of us who expect a little hidden treasure from his songs. For me, the treasure is buried in the chorus: “Umalala, Malala pipe; Umalala, Malala pipe no more”. This roughly translates to “you sleep in the trenches; you sleep in the trenches no more”. An in-context translation yields an interpretation suitable to satisfy two kinds of people: those whose luck has run out entirely and those with lady luck still on their side but have not yet self-actualised.

I certainly admit that for those in the latter group, to get an appropriate interpretation, the chorus may need to be unpacked a bit. Mainly in that every individual has to be connected to a pipe laid down as a conduit to channel God’s love and purpose for each one of us. But unlike ordinary pipes, we need to self-actualise, hence the statement “Malala Pipe no more“. I could attempt to justify how I got to this interpretation, but I think the lyrics of the song say it all – and perhaps, in a small way, also reflect why I am frankly in awe of the late Frank Mooki Leepa:

I believe
you were born for greatness
the light in your eyes
is a spark of God
I believe oh, oh,
a child is born with a heart of gold

Umalala, Malala pipe
Umalala, Malala pipe no more

I believe
man was born for greatness
and the light in his eye is a spark of God
I believe oh, oh,
Oh oh, a child is born,
with a heart,
a heart of gold

Umalala, Malala pipe
Umalala, Malala pipe no more



8 thoughts on “Frankly in Awe

  1. This is a beautifully written piece. I am listening to Obe as I type this. Inspired to listen to the song on a deeper level by your words.

    • Hi I’m from south Africa and I would like to come in touch with my family in lesotho I no my grandmas family but I don’t no one of my grandpa side and he is from lesotho. Mabe the speling is wrong the sername is Sipolela. My farther came to south africa and change it to Austin

      • Hi,
        I am sorry I don’t think I can be of much help. The surname is unfamiliar to me! I suspect you would have to ask many more questions from your elders to piece together where in Lesotho your father originated from.

  2. Some truly beautiful gems you find that you actually have been listening to “unconsciously” and then, on just one day for almost no reason at all it captivates you from the inside. However, for people like me who are ‘seSotho challenged’ are left somewhat in despair because we have no translation of the lyrics, despite the (for lack of a better, deeper word) awe brought on by the arrangements & the few words that i do make out (s.a. “nkang marumo…” which paints a very powerful picture of picking up spears to kill whatever beast!).

    I would truly appreciate such word-for-word or phrase-for-phrase translation for the first part of the song OBE. Any suggestions of where i can find such?

    Beautiful writing you penned V.K.

    • Thanks for appreciating my writing and taking time to comment.

      In my humble opinion, a composition like OBE is complex. As such, I think understanding the context of interpretation is far more important than word-for-word or phrase-for-phrase translation. For example, when you mention “nkang marumo” (i.e. take your spears), I am reminded that the impact of that translation I got it in appreciating the ordering of “House on fire” and “Obe” in the “very best of Sankomota” album. That ordering for me is yet another reason for being and remaining in awe of Frank, but in this instance, he is wearing the hat of a producer.

      To move you a bit into the context of my interpretation, I shall zero in on one omission in one of the mentioned songs that caused a shift in my translation. Again, in my opinion, I believe this omission was intentional and, dare I say, very …(no I shan’t say it ;-))

      In house on fire, we take spears as well as shields in preparation for battle. The inclusion of shields speaks to the fact that the subject of discourse is very serious: it’s not fun and games. However, in Obe we make no mention of shields: it is just the spears because here it is all about performance for the children who we don’t want to expose to sex matters–the fun and games of adulthood. This you discern directly from “nkang marumo, tlosang bana, re eo e bolaea” (take your spears, remove the children so that we may go to kill it). And of course by “it” you have to truly understand Obe in the context of ntate Mohapeloa’s work. Whatever it is, “it” is causing some woman to scream!

      I think I have now provided all context to my interpretation. And hopefully should you find anyone interested in word-for-word translation you might make more sense of the song. Personally, while I could possibly do the translation, I am really not up to the task 🙁

  3. Pingback: Malala Pipe in Pictures - Mathe V. K.'s Blog

  4. I must say this sort of ‘annotation’ is very eye opening, makes me realize how ignorant I was. From now on, its going to be hard to listen to Obe in the same way I did before.

    The one song that has always intrigued me the most however is ‘tough talk’. In modern music jargon, it could be termed a beef song. ‘tough talk, I wonder what makes you feel so self assured’. I listen to this song everyday and I can’t help but wonder, who is it that hand landed themselves on the wrong side of the ‘Pedi Warrior’. Ke kopa u nthuse ho fumana hore na pina, who was this missile of a song targeted to and what had inspired the hostilities.

    • Ao ngoaneso, at this stage I can but answer you in brief. If we consider Frank Leepa to be a social commentator then the song is directed to all drug users, particularly to those who believe they can still achieve their goals despite their “using”. To get to this interpretation, the key lies in understanding that “lipompong tsa manyesemane” refers to drugs; you get this … lo and behold you will also wonder why a drug user (evidently and without doubt on a self-destructive path) can be so self-assured in telling the world over the media about their intentions to build a formidable business empire. Is it arrogance or genuine naivety that drugs destroy life–not just of users but even those who may believe in them and their dreams?

      The above said, I will one day attempt to find who, as you put it, the “missile of a song” was targeted to 😉

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