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?!

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