Morena Leraba is a shepherd from Lesotho but he’s not just any shepherd. He’s a shepherd that is shifting the sound of Africa. He’s got a sound that speaks to the soul of the continent but includes electronic beats to communicate the feeling behind his message. He represents the future of electronic Afro-Soul, combining traditional songs from Lesotho that have been sung through the generations, with modern electronics beats. His uniquely African sound has been strongly recognized globally by top class artists but now he’s onto building the future sound of Africa.
An act that very few Capetonians had heard of, Morena Leraba blew the metaphorical roof off the joint at the recent Endless Daze music festival near Cape Town. He turned people’s heads straight from his first song, stopping people in their tracks to ask: “Woah. Wait. What is this?” The crowd grew bigger as Morena Leraba jumped and jived all over the stage in a traditional tribal blanket and Basotho hat. The audience quickly absorbed his energy and soon the crowd was moving together like a blanket in the wind. This is what Morena Leraba is all about, communicating traditional stories of the past so that the world can finally wake up to the power of Africa.
Morena Leraba, known off-stage as Teboho, hasn’t always been the sensation he is today. He grew up learning the ways of being a shepherd and the culture behind it. He has no shame being called a shepherd saying: “In Lesotho, everybody has been a shepherd. Even prime ministers have been shepherds. It’s how most families survive.” He explains how his first lucky break was coming across his grandfather’s book collection which he regularly got into. He describes his connection with books as living in his own fairy tale world, explaining “I think it contributed somehow in terms of creativity, in writing. You know, creating music.”
Teboho (Morena Leraba) first got involved in music in Lesotho when he sang mountain songs with his friends, much to the dislike of his teachers. He feels that Famo music has always been engrained in him. “Famo music is in your subconscious, at bus stops and at homes, everyone is Lesotho is listening to Famo music,” he says. Famo music emerged in the 1920s when migrant workers from Lesotho went to work in the mines near Soweto. When these mineworkers returned from the mines at night, they’d meet in shebeens with oil drums, guitars, accordions and whatever other instruments they could find. They’d drink and play music through the night, leading whoever was present in the shebeen to the order of jump and jive. Then South African apartheid government regulations in 1963 led to the repatriation of tens of thousands of migrant workers. Among them were thousands of Famo performers who returned back to Lesotho, dramatically growing the once shebeen sound into a national sensation.
Moreno Leraba says he has always been incredibly moved by Famo music, saying he feels it’s engrained in him. Describing Famo music, he says: “You find that everything is there and even beyond. The imagery, the way it describes things. I always joke with one of my friends that if Sesotho could be translated to English, some of the stuff would be better than Shakespeare.”
Teboho describes his alter ego and stage presence, Morena Leraba as, “Me without western education…. without university.” He says “Morena Leraba is from the village but his experiences influence him when he travels.” He speaks a lot about the relationship Lesotho has with the mines in Johannesburg and the migrant workers who come from other African countries. One of the songs he produced with The Black Jacks is called ‘Harare’ and is a story about a guy who goes to work illegally in South Africa but ends up in jail for not having the right permits. “People don’t just come to South Africa for fun. People come to make a living,” says Morena Leraba. He describes the message of his music as “something you can interpret, something you can use with other perspectives. But the narrator is from the village, telling beautiful, painful stories.”
When he started performing, he knew he wanted to go international. Moreno Leraba says he’d been inspired by people from West Africa like Salif Keita and Ali Farka Toure who sang in their own languages and toured the world. “It’s not about the language, it’s about that thing in the music, the message that transcends, regardless of whether you understand the words or not.”
Since hitting the stage in 2013 and giving music a full time go, Morena Leraba has transcended through cultures. He’s travelled and toured Europe, Australia and South Africa. He’s collaborated with numerous artists such as Vox Portent, Jumping Back Slash and S.Fidelity who have millions of views on YouTube. In 2017, he was featured on the front cover of the Mail & Guardian while a 20-minute documentary has been made about him in conjunction with Black Nation Video Network.
Morena Leraba still feels like he needs to produce more of his own music. He’s done plenty of collaborations but now wants to produce something of his own, something he has full control over. He’s currently working on an EP with Kashaka, a Brooklyn based producer, and Jumping Back Slash, an artist based in South Africa. “It’s taken time, it’s been a hustle. But it’s getting there. It’s almost done.” The EP will be released sometime in 2019, which will be the first original work by Morena Leraba.
Morena Leraba at the heart is a shepherd with an inspiring story to tell. When I asked him how he was so humble and down to earth, his response moved me. “It’s the shepherd thing. Shepherds are so smart bra, but also very down to earth. Shepherds can’t really brag about things. It’s more like a community thing.” he says.
This down to earth shepherd turned performer is quickly on his way to becoming the best in the business. He’s still generating his sound, but his message is strong. It’s about collaboration, about understanding each other and of course about expressing yourself. He’s on his way up, bringing his African rural culture with him and putting it centre-stage.
Writer: Sebastian Daniels
Morena Leraba will be performing in Cape Town on Friday the 14th of December at Mercury live. Find more details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/872057733168409/