Conservation Music (CM) kicked off leg two of Expedition #K2K with a 12-hour drive from Cape Town, South Africa to Maseru, Lesotho. A few weeks prior to our arrival, Lesotho’s climate swung from harsh droughts to historic rain and hail storms, highlighting exactly why we are here. Our focus for the month resided in the rural village of Tlokoeng, where our music theme was set to raise awareness on “Rural Water Challenges,” a project in partnership with Conservation Music Lesotho and Professor Tsepo Mokuku from the National University of Lesotho (NUL). Take a visual leap into CM’s fieldwork by checking out our Web series video below.
Upon arriving to Tlokoeng, we began our mission with a quest for musicians to assist in the creation of our eco-song, Metsi A Rona (Our Water). The search naturally led us to the home of Ntate Motolinyane, the principle mamokhorong player in the village. We later learned that he is also the man in charge of maintaining the water pumps that supply the community taps.
“I’ve noticed a change in the rain, the patterns of the rain. While I was still young, rain was always there but it was never a type of rain that would bring floods. Everything was there, the land was green, there was a lot of maize. Rain was always coming, but nowadays what we get is no rain at all but when it comes, it comes with a heavy pour and it messes things up.“ ~Motolinyane | Tlokoeng, Lesotho
We ventured on to the closest mountain, a common place for local artists to convene around sunset. As we approached, local eyes raised and revealed a familiar musical nature. It’s incredible how musicians from any combination of cultures can somehow identify one another through a common wavelength. Our group of artists continued to expand and range from experienced elders to younger vocalists, all eager to be a part of a movement bigger than themselves. This amalgam of the old and the new is exactly the kind of collaborative effort we strive to capture.
The crew continued to ignite conversation regarding the effect that climate change has had on the locals and their village, and how we can work together to better the issues at hand. An initial focus group discussion allowed us to better understand the existing local knowledge of water conservation, and to make note of true stories relating to drought and harsh storms in the village. Together, we identified four key points to be depicted through the storytelling of the verses, while the chorus reinforced the general message. We finalized the verses together with the vocalists and then began rehearsals. Meanwhile, we sat down with locals Limakatso, Motolinyane, and Mokotjo Marake, as well as our own local team member, Rebel Sol, for some brief documentary interviews. Check out more of CM’s stories and videos on National Geographic’s OpenExplorer platform.
CM’s Diverse Crew Sings Loudly
As the songs composition solidified, we headed into week two and began recording in the nearby thatched-roof rondavel. The track developed further with a variety of vocals, the mamokhorong, moropa drum, guitar, bass, jaw harp, tsoelia whistling, and ululations. Woven between the core song and video production were interviews and testimonials with both artists and locals of the village. They weighed in on not only music’s role as an activator for change, but each individual’s role in the community, and the world at large.
With a diverse and unique track recorded, we trekked deeper into the mountains to begin filming for the song’s video. Up the steep slopes, we found giant caves that once served as homes for the Batlokoa people, and later King Moshoeshoe. Currently, these caves are essential for balisana (shepherds) to use as kraals (corrals) to keep their animals from overgrazing the lands. From the caverns to the mountain’s ridgeline, the immersion into this cultural and historical space was a surreal experience and a perfect shooting location to display visuals coherent with our song’s message. The following day we spent time in the valley surrounded by sorghum, maize, rivers, and dongas to wrap up the shoot. With remote shooting locations such as these, it’s important that we have a proper sound system to play back recordings to ensure proper vocal dubbing while editing. We are not only grateful for the help from our volunteers, but also to DreamWave South Africa for supplying us with their Elemental Bluetooth speaker, which has 30 watts of power to maximize our sessions no matter where we are. This tool benefits the mission daily and allows us to continue spreading environmental knowledge through our eco-song and music video creations.
Tlokoeng Gathers for a Community Screening of Metsi A Rona
The second leg of Expedition #K2K concluded in Tlokoeng with a brief impact evaluation and a community screening of their very own music video. Following the screening, we conducted a series of surveys to compare against the preliminary results, which will allow our team to evaluate the production’s educational impact amongst the villagers. Our final days were filled with unity as we all gathered to celebrate a successful song and music video, one that the Tlokoeng community can be proud to share with generations to come. We are so grateful to have spent such quality time in Tlokoeng, and are eager to return as soon as possible to continue our collaboration with the community! Next stop, eSwatini.
Expedition #K2K is our third iteration of long-term field work, and it is by far the most exciting. To learn more about CM, and to stay connected throughout the mission, please subscribe to our Newsletter below, check out our blogon National Geographic, and follow us on Facebook,Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. For live updates from the field, be sure to check out our page on National Geographic’s newest digital journaling platform, OpenExplorer. If you would like to contribute to Expedition #K2K, please visit our Patreonpage, where you can schedule monthly donations of any amount.
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.
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.
Okavango, Okavango, Okavango… The Conservation Music Project glided into August aboard a mokoro, a week after launching from its birthplace of Seronga with the Cross Okavango Delta Expedition (CODE) on July 25th. It was a scramble to reset and repack in Johannesburg after arriving from Zambia July 21st! (The Zambia project, Tushange Isamu, was done alongside Greenpop, a Cape Town-based environmental education and tree planting group. More on that in another post!)
The Creative Crossing
CODE 2016 marked the first official “Creative Crossing” of the Okavango Delta, in hopes of supplementing research efforts to understand and conserve the place with poetic and musical messages to bring more Batswana (people of Botswana) on board, as well as to inspire a global audience. As many of you know, the Conservation Music movement was crystalized in Angola, en route to the Delta, aboard a mokoro in 2015 with Dr. Steve Boyes’ Okavango Wilderness Project (OWP). At the time of this writing, the OWP crew is pulling their boats through the deep, muddy wilderness as the water that carried our crossing continues to drop during theirs. You can follow along with live updates at www.intotheokavango.org.
The CODE 2016 crossing was quite special… a group of 15 Batswana was joined by just a single foreign member, Conservation Music founder Alex. In general, the Delta is visited and run by either foreigners or white Botswana nationals, and one intention of CODE is to inspire more Batswana to visit and invest in this incredible national heritage site. Needless to say, it was an honor to be made the exception and join the team of creative celebrities, media professionals, and polers from Botswana to produce a song and music video throughout the two-week crossing.
The song is entitled, “Okavango Oa Moxa,” which means “Okavango You Are Beautiful” in seYei, the mother tongue of famous four-string guitarist Stiger Sola, who was born into the lineage of the baYei, also known as the “Watshara,” or “The River People.” This tribe is said to have been the first to break into the Delta long ago, bringing 6-meter long wooden mekoro (mokoros) to enter the deep, wild paradise that the land-based KhoiSan bushmen in the region left alone.
Indeed, Stiger Sola himself was born inside that very wilderness… his aunt assisting his young mother to deliver him on an island, as his uncle waited aboard the mokoro, long ngashe pole in hand. They were still far from the village of Sharobe, the place where he was meant to be delivered, which would soon become his home. Thus a legend of Botswana was born in the heart of the same inspiration that our expedition was seeking…. We brought him back into the wild with a guitar.
The other musical celebrity on board was HT Tautona, a Maun-born rapper who grew up on the cattle post but made his claim to fame in Gaborone, Botswana’s capitol. For HT this trip was like returning home, but finally seeing the Delta he grew on the edge of the right way… by mokoro, in the depth of its wilderness. His lyrics describe the overflow of emotions upon returning to this place “like a pen without ink” and being filled with inspiration to write. HT was a major team player and was easy to find helping in the kitchen.
Last but not least, as a surprise addition to the music team, multi-talented poet Leshie Lovesong spoke up during a fireside brainstorming jam session with a poem she had written, which now serves as a deeply emotional opening to the song. Once she was brought aboard the music team, she also lent her voice to the chorus, responding to Stiger’s calls of “Okavango, Okavango, Okavango” with Stiger’s own declarations to his mother, the Delta, of her lovable, everlasting, beautiful nature, and her role in his existence as “a way of life.” Leshie’s own way of life took quite a shock in the wilderness… prior the expedition she had never even been camping.
Conservation Music is extremely excited to be part of Botswana’s 50th anniversary celebrations. As we speak, the new song “Okavango O Moxa” is being registered with the Copyright Society of Botswana (COSBOTS) so that the artists involved can earn their royalties and protect their rights when this song hits the radio in September. The music video shot in the Delta is soon to follow, and will we broadcast on Botswana Television (BTV) and on Youtube and Vimeo. The song and video will also be made available on iTunes and Google Play soon!
Overall the Cross Okavango song project has been a resounding success. The tune is set to be a hit, the video will be made up of some incredible moments with people and wildlife out in the deep wilderness, and new opportunities are coming up rapidly as this project gains attention. We cannot wait to release this song and video, and hopefully do it all over again next year.
What’s Next On the Horizon?
In the meantime, lots of other things are happening too! For example:
Conservation Music Presents Sotho Sounds @ Rocking the Daisies
For instance, Conservation Music is preparing to bring our old friends the Sotho Sounds from Lesotho down to Cape Town for the massive Rocking the Daisies* music festival! The festival runs from the 7th-9th of October, and we’ll be rocking the Hemp Stage in the Green Village area on Saturday from 2-2:45pm. The Sotho Sounds are a group of rural musicians with enormous heart and talent, and we are extremely excited to give them the chance to perform for such an audience, and hopefully to sell some of their handcrafted merchandise!
FYI, preceding the festival opportunity, we are discussing a collaboration in Lesotho with an American celebrity musician. More on that soon!
Zambian Tree Song “Tushange Isamu” Release with Greenpop
Quite close to the release date for “Okavango O Moxa” in Botswana, we look forward to releasing the tree planting song and music video recorded in Livingstone, Zambia alongside Greenpop. In July, the song was composed and performed by the Mosi Oa Tunya band, alongside members of the Golden Leaf band as well as Conservation Music’s own Alex Paullin. September is Arbor Month, so this release is very relevant!
Return to Angola with The Okavango Wilderness Project
Conservation Music looks forward to returning to Angola in October, following Rocking the Daisies festival in Cape Town. The Okavango Wilderness Project (OWP) is bringing several research teams to survey the Angolan catchments of the Okavango watershed. We are grateful for their continued enthusiasm regarding the power of music to foster conservation ethics in the minds of the people living in the region, where decades of aggression have scarred both the people and the landscape. The beauty and importance of the landscape there are something to be proud of, and we look forward to encouraging that pride alongside OWP and National Geographic.