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Monday 26 February 2024

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 27 - Lesotho

We're back on the road again, and had I bothered to get on the road when I was in Johannesburg recently I could have visited this country in person not just virtually. Lesotho is about a four hour drive south from there.

Lesotho is located up in the Maloti mountains, which partly explains why it has been able to survive as a country in its own right even though it is entirely surrounded by South Africa. The country's greatest leader, King Moshoeshoe I, spent most of his 50 year reign fighting wars with first the Zulus and then the Boers to protect his territory. He signed a deal with Britain to provide military support which ultimately led to it becoming a British colony on his death in 1870.

The political scene has been pretty lively since independence in 1966 as well, with any number of attempted and successful coups and, in 2020, a prime minister who faced trial charged with murdering his ex-wife (he got off when a key witness mysteriously disappeared).   

Lesotho has also managed to maintain a distinct musical identity, with the local accordion-based famo music being very popular. Sadly it has become embroiled in gang wars in recent years, as this article with the unlikely headline 'The Deadly Accordion Wars of Lesotho' explains. But when done right the famo sound is a joyous thing.

One of the musicians interviewed for that article was Puseletso Seema, who with over 30 albums to her name is rightly known as the Queen of Famo. Today's track comes from her album "Khoro Li Majoe" and it is dedicated to England's own Queen of the Squeezebox, C of Sun Dried Sparrows fame.

Our other famo pioneers are Tau Ea Matsekha, who started out back in the 1970s and whose accordion player Forere Motloheloa co-wrote and played on "The Boy In The Bubble" on Paul Simon's "Graceland" album. Over to Bandcamp you can find "Mohlape Oa Litau", a compilation of their work from the 1980s and early 1990s. That is where I found this track.

We will round off our famo selection with something more up to date. Sefako Sa Menoaneng released the album "Lenyora La Metsi, Vol. 14" last year. The group is basically just Lebohang Letohla who has been recording with others and in his own right for around 30 years now (so not really all that up to date). Here is an article in which he introduces himself.

We are heading back to the 1980s next to feature what I think is the only band from Lesotho ever to have any degree of international recognition - Sankomota. I dimly recall seeing them play in London towards the end of that decade, although that may be my memory playing tricks on me. 

Their best known album was 1987's "Dreams Do Come True", but today's selection comes from their 1983 self-titled debut which is available on Bandcamp. You can also find it on the Shifty Records compilation that I featured in my previous post.

As always we conclude with some Mandatory African Reggae. This time it comes from one Sensi Rankin (or David Mongake to his mum) who rather audaciously claims to be the Afro Ragamuffin King. Judging by this track from last year I think those claims may be overstated. 

"Ngoetsi" - Puseletso Seema

"Maseru B.A." - Tau Ea Matsekha

"Ha Mantilatilane" - Sefako Sa Menoaneng

"Uhuru" - Sankomota

"Anebella" - Sensi Rankin


  1. Well, thank you and I rather enjoyed those - Maseru BA in particular. Really sad to read about the "deadly accordion wars" (although, on first seeing that title, I couldn't help imagining how surreal a deadly accordion would be).
    To say I have limited ability on the concertina would be a massive overstatement but Queen of The Squeezebox would certainly be something to aspire to...

  2. Another fine selection. I especially liked the Sankomota tune.