Music

It is impossible to give more than a few pointers here. As a repertoire, this music is the product of one African choral composer and written over a fifty-year time span. It has characteristics that identify it as Sotho, chiefly its reliance on Sesotho texts, its constant references to Basotho culture and history, and its modal lyricism. This places it firmly within the ambit of southern Africa but not necessarily Lesotho itself, for the Basotho diaspora covers large parts of South Africa as well, especially in the Free State and Gauteng. As music, it has taken on different characteristics at different points in his life although all of it was written for entertainment. Some of it has a moral or educational aspect and a fair proportion is religious or spiritual.

Some early works are strongly mission-influenced, but then again, the Pesaleme, composed a few years before his death, are hymns pure and simple. The folksong influence in the 1935 collection became a more consciously nationalistic style by the time of the 1976 volume. Mohapeloa saw all his music as ‘African’. It uses an indigenous language, is written for African people and their musical lifestyle, draws on African styles of folk music, mission song and jazz, and expresses the social and political aspirations of a colonised and (then) independent African nation. Non-Africans rarely hear it as ‘African’, however; its African-ness lies in codes and symbols that have to be deciphered, which are partly textual (in the music) and partly para-textual (embedded in society or Mohapeloa’s personal life).

Despite or perhaps because of his experiences living in Lesotho, the Eastern Cape of South Africa, and Gauteng, the stylistic and formal procedures his music draws upon gradually established quite a formidable template for African choral composition, on which his contemporaries and successors built on. He became master of the ‘competition song’ in ternary or sectional form where a story or description is sketched through a strongly harmonic texture in which each voice has something interesting to sing and where the Bass is particularly lively. In comparison with his great contemporaries, his idiom can be said to be less jazzy than Caluza’s and less chromatic than Moerane’s. He was adept at writing in the genre of African choral song in the mid twentieth century, and as far as we know he wrote no other kind of music. Even the ‘incidental music’ he wrote for radio plays comprises songs. He was master of form, master of the inter-relationship of music and text, and all his songs are mimetic, meaning that the music reflects and enhances the meaning of a text that is of equal importance to the music. (See also African Choral Music: Music and Mohapeloa: Biography.)