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

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