With sore shoulders and tired legs, completely weighed down by our gear and equipment, we ambled into Maseru like pack mules. It is still difficult to catch my breath and decipher my thoughts and feelings about this place. As an outsider with a callow amount of international experience, the warmth and camaraderie is present enough to bask in. Impoverished or not, the people here remain highly optimistic, but not credulous or unaware. There’s a certain glimmer in their eyes that indicates familiarity with their situation, as well as a tenacity to live their lives peacefully and with gratitude, something that is all too rare back home in the states. The culture shock is intense, yet gratifying. I am coming to realize this is exactly what I have prepared for, and now understand how important these last few months of hard work and planning have been.
To soften the arrival, we touched base with an American friend, Adam, who lives here year-round with his family. It was comforting to connect with people who have seen life from both sides and fully assimilated into the African culture. We caught up for a few hours, and then luckily remembered that we needed to figure out a place to stay for the night. As fate might have it, Alex got in touch with his friend Ntate Tau, alerting him of our presence in the city and asking for a place to crash. Without hesitation, he invited us to join him at his home, which interestingly used to be a Russian Embassy building, and now has been converted into a makeshift recording studio/office space for local people and businesses. Here, everyone seems to come and go as they please, including us, but in such a way that it feels normal, not threatening. Integration is key to our project so we followed intuition and set up our living and work space here for the next few days. After getting somewhat organized, we headed into town to pick up a few essentials. It’s a small city, but brims with life and emanates a sense of western city living through the presence of a shopping district. The traffic reminded me of the gridlocked roads back in the states. Luckily, here, the motorists are a bit more forgiving to pedestrians. Although, due to my lack of direction in these parts and the flipped road patterns, I still feel the need to keep my head on a swivel. Once we picked up everything that we needed, we hustled back home to chill out and get our groove on.
While stumbling back into HQ, it was hard to ignore the raw beats and musical tones vibrating from one of the other rooms. We had to check it out and, just as we thought, we were lucky enough to find some fellow musicians who were also staying in the building. I guess we caught a second or third, or maybe even fourth wind, and over the next few hours, we listened and jammed to some new, very unique tunes. The talent here is extremely natural and inescapable. It seems like everyone can sing and play, giving us all-day, endless access to amazing material. Following the local songs, we ripped through some Bill Withers, Clapton, and even Daft Punk. Since the night was still young, on African time, we decided to make our way back to Adam’s nearby home to share dinner with him and his family. His children were emphatic and energetic, and easily kept us awake and entertained despite our energies drifting due to intense jet lag. They even donated their 57 rand, an equivalent of 4 US dollars, to the cause. We scarfed down some tasty grub, and then Adam introduced us to his home studio. It was decked out with anything a musician could ever need – a drum set, hand drums, guitar, bass, MOOG synthesizers; this place was a dream. We shared a few drinks, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to jam on the wide array of instruments to our heart’s content. This was truly a welcoming party that I will never forget. As the night came to a close, we were taken back to our place and fell right into bed.
Still adjusting to the time change, both Alex and I hibernated for 12 hours straight and woke in the late afternoon. We hadn’t felt this amount of sleep in months, it was much needed and well deserved. In order to jump start our systems and assimilate ourselves into the culture a bit more, we decided to take a stroll around town and get a better feel for our surroundings. We checked out a few local digs, and then circled back to the music mansion, where we were pleasantly surprised to see our friend, and local chef, Dougie. He offered to fill our bellies with blue cheese bacon burgers, so without the slightest bit of hesitation we took a seat. Interestingly enough, the first gentleman we ran into upon arriving here at Ntate Tau’s was none other than Dougie himself. Unfortunately, since Alex was last here, Dougies grub hut down the road shut down business. Now he lives here in the ex-embassy, and runs his own operation out of the kitchen. The man is well known and his food highly praised, for good reason. We will definitely enjoy his efforts again in the near future.
Following the meal, we journeyed downstairs into the recording studio to hang out with a group of musicians, called Lekhalong Music, who play a popular style in Lesotho called Famo. It is almost always accompanied by an accordion, and sounds unlike anything I have ever really heard. With a style similar to folk music, it is then modernized a bit by usually incorporating rap verses. For the next couple of hours, we watched them practice their verses, while the accordion and bassist played their respective parts. The melodies and rhythms they were producing were jagged and difficult to pinpoint, but not unstructured. The bass playing is literally all over the neck, with virtually no repeated parts. We let them do their thing and made our way back upstairs to be greeted by Tau and others who had been out at a gig earlier in the night. We all decided to top the night off by grabbing some street beers and jamming in the rehearsal room. For a good 3 hours or so, we all played along to some familiar songs like Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” as well as some off the cuff arrangements. It was a night I won’t soon forget.
The next few days consisted of general exploration in the early daytime, experiencing the street food and checking out local shops. The street food is one aspect, amongst many, that I will never get enough of. My first taste was from a local woman who sets up shop out of the back of her car, it certainly was the first trunk I have ever seen stuffed with buckets full of meats and sides. The grilled pork, rice, slaw, sweet potato mash, and sweet peas were tastefully reminiscent of the soul-food one would see back in the southern United States. We ate until our bellies were full, almost too stuffed, and then made the walk back to our dwelling. After digesting and kicking back for a few hours, Tau let us know that Tsepo Tshola, a local musical legend, was on his way through town and wanted to stop by and chat with us about Conservation Music. Everyone here knows Tsepo’s music, and to have his involvement was a prospect that we were ecstatic about. At around 11pm, the man himself made an entrance into the main dining room in a way that only he could. Theatrically sincere and boisterously wise, Tsepo talked passionately for hours, running through a gamut of subjects as naturally as they come. As we centered the conversation around collaborating with each other, his excitement and willingness to help was a relieving extension of trust and brotherhood, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to have him on board. After another late night, or shall I say morning since the sun was rising, it was time to pack it in and get some rest.
The entire week continued to overflow with serendipity as musicians kept walking through the door to connect and collaborate. Morena Leraba and Pitso Ra Makhula, who have both worked with Conservation Music in the past, were just two of the many faces that we are excited to see mixed in the bunch. Bhudaza, another highly regarded musician within the surrounding areas, also stopped by. He is generally soft spoken, but confidently expressed his interest to stay in touch and collaborate on some music together in the future. Things really seemed to be falling into our laps at the best possible time, and we were riding that wave of fate as long as possible. Unfortunately, with spirits high, my hard drive took a dive and crashed as we were finishing up some work on the local hotel’s wi-fi. Panicking, and unable to find an adequate replacement drive, I was unable to get any real work done for the rest of the week. My fears quickly faded away as we gave into the adventures and opportunities that were constantly presenting themselves.
On Thursday, we finally secured a car. The beast is a 99’ moss green Nissan Xtrail, so we aptly named him Liam Nissan. Even as a godsend, it was not without its flaws. The wheels were horribly misaligned, causing the steering wheel to oscillate while driving. One tire was flat, so we changed it out with the spare, which now needs to be replaced. Two out of three of the A/C control knobs were completely jammed. An attempt to rectify the problem caused one of them to snap off completely. All that said, we couldn’t be happier with Liam, as he’s made our lives infinitely more mobile. For our first trip, we decided to drive down to the Maseru Market, where the hustle of the city gathered en masse, rendering mobility without bumper to bumper contact nearly impossible. Within mere minutes after arrival, the sites, smells, and sounds all coalesced into a sensory overload. Our main purpose was to find me a replacement hard drive, but we unfortunately still had no luck. Regardless, we deemed the trip a success as we were able to experience a sort of urban liveliness, which was further enhanced by an unexpected downpour of rain. As the sun began to peek out of the clouds, and the rain showers moved on, we continued to make our way through the remaining vendors in order to investigate and admire the diverse crafts. One booth that caught my eye, and satisfied my curiosity, was what seemed to be some kind of dark holistic medicine display, adorned with myriad elixirs, animal skins, and garments that might be seen on a mage or shaman. We could have stayed here all day and perused through the endless choices, but we were apprehensive to purchase anything and left the market with not much more than a handmade wallet and an empty 25L jug that we plan to use for water reserves. After spending time in a nearby hotel, we ventured out to a nearby club called the Cuban Linx. We met some new friends, had a couple drinks, and then were later invited to another club down the road called 4Forty. This place was a little bit more happening and kept the vibes high with a DJ set outside, allowing people to shake off their week to some good music. This was our opportunity as well, so we joined in.
Despite sore legs from a night full of twisting and turning, the next morning we woke up early to make our way down to the Roma Trading Post Lodge located in Roma, Lesotho. Here, renowned mountain bikers who are associated with The Lesotho Sky bike race event, teamed up with Velosolutions, a track building and marketing company, to put together a Pump for Peace event for the track’s opening. It was complete with music from very talented artists from all over the region, who performed on a stone stage facing the glorious view of basalt mountains. We arrived at the tail end of a set by Bam Bam Brown, a singer/guitarist from Cape Town, and we became instant fans. The next act happened to be none other than Morena Leraba, who’s blend of modern hip hop beats and lyrics, with a traditional rural wardrobe, made for a truly unique performance. As the music pressed on, adults and children alike weaved and bobbed through the newly installed pump track. This, paired with the overflowing music, drinks, and food, all proved to be more than a spectacular setting for a newcomer like me. We continued to meet some new and interesting artists, while also catching up with some friends of Alex’s from his previous stay.
As we continued to make new connections, and rekindle old ones, the next group up was a reggae band called Tidal Waves. Also out of South Africa, this extremely talented group completely stole the show with their tightly knit dynamics and amazing production. Their own version of Wish You Were Here deeply resonated within my heart. As the sun set and the crowd began to disperse, we set up a moonlight jam session with some of the artists who had performed just hours earlier. Switching off between instruments and musicians, we jammed out renditions of songs by Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, and even some originals. The lights of the stage coupled with the night sky made for a once in a lifetime visual and auditory experience. All of us then made our way to the main building for some homemade, catered Indian cuisine. We ate and continued to meet more people before migrating to the fire pit outside. The musical collaborations and connections resumed late into the night until we laid down in our respective areas of slumber. The next morning we woke up early, with scratchy lungs due to breathing in smoke from the fire, and made our way back to Maseru to use the day as a much needed resting period. The nap naturally extended past our alarms, and sunset, so we forced ourselves out of bed for a few hours of cooking, eating, and catching up on a few small tasks. After a few hours, we ended up crashing as the weight of the previous week dissolved into our dreams.
With the week coming to a close, we are extremely happy with the progress that we have made so far. The hard work has really paid off, and we are scheduled to conduct follow-up meetings with many of the artists that we have met. Our plan is to solidify collaborations with them and talk about how we can move forward together. Aside from that, it is hard to ignore that we will be traveling to Swaziland in just another week for the Bushfire Festival. There, we will be part of their Legacy Project, in which we will be writing and performing music with different artists, as well as conducting workshops with anyone interested in learning an instrument, or simply yearning to play along. From everything that I have heard, I am sure this festival will be a beautiful and life-changing experience. Other than that, we will keep enjoying the opportunities that present themselves in a most positively disruptive way. As a skeptic of coincidence, the amount of linked events that happen almost daily here are more than enough reassurance that we are on the right path. I am truly excited for what the universe has in store for us from here on out. Stay tuned to hear about it in our next field update!
RT if you feel that music can foster a sustainable world! Together with the village band Sotho Sounds, #African celebrity Tsepo Tshola, and many more, CM is creating that reality in #Lesotho.
This post was written by Christopher Volosevich and edited by Charlie Ross for Conservation Music.
About Conservation Music
Our Musical Nonprofit For Conservation
of Conservation Music
Conservation Music is on a mission to produce and promote musical media that educates listeners and viewers in conservation and sustainability, with an emphasis on rural developing communities, and to serve as a platform for similar efforts. Currently, the organization primarily collaborates with musicians throughout Southern Africa, catalyzing songs in local genres and local languages regarding local conservation issues in countries like Lesotho, Botswana, Angola, and more.
About the Editor
After years of soul-searching and months in the African wilderness with the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project, musician and geographer Alex Paullin combined his foremost passions and founded Conservation Music, a non-profit aiming to foster a global culture of sustainability using music as the messenger. Throughout his life he aims to expand the Conservation Music movement globally, in hopes that his lifetime will see and hear songs of conservation being sung throughout the world.