FAMO music has been synonymous with violence and killings over the years as the factions wage war against each other.
However, amid all the fighting and gory killings, some artistes have remained true to their call to entertain Basotho and preserve the country’s heritage through the genre whose trademarks are the accordion and the vivid orations.
One such artiste is Lephoi Elias Mohale (LM), who is well known as Mantša. He is behind the album Mantša # 16 released in 2017 and carries the track Mosali oa Moafrica. The highly popular album also carried the track Selekeleke.
Mantša was born the sixth of 10 children in Mafeteng Tajane Ha-Seqobela where he grew up toiling in the pastures herding cattle to help his mother fend for the family after his father deserted the family.
Below are excerpts from an interview where Mantša chats with Xpress People (XP) reporter Nthatuoa Koeshe.
XP: When and why did you choose famo instead of other genres?
LM: Growing up, I never really liked famo because I was raised by a God fearing family. We were always told that famo was satanic music and that made me hate it even more.
I started music back when I was still in primary school but at the time, my heart was not with famo. I loved what we used to call seqathamia which is sang by Ladysmith and Black Mambazo.
My mother used to tell me that people who follow famo were eventually going to hell. In fact, were always told that the road to hell was loud with famo music and that made me hate it.
This however, changed while I was herding cattle with my friends when we saw some men playing an accordion and singing along.
This captured me and I was eager to learn. I later self-taught myself how to play it and since then, I never looked back.
XP: How did you get the name Mantša?
LM: The name was given to me by one man from my village called Machain, who helped me nature my talent while I was still starting off. It was in 1987 after I had released my first album La hlaha lekanyane, which did not do so well; I guess because it was my first attempt in a studio.
Machain said this name meant that I would change the way people viewed music in the country and I would release songs which people would love.
XP: What challenges did you face when you ventured into the industry? Do artistes still face the same problems today?
LM: Back then, there was a group of Basotho who called themselves Marashea, who stayed in South Africa. They were known for kidnapping famo artistes and have them perform for them for free. This brought fear to many famo artistes so much that some fled from home in fear that these people would come for them. At the time, that was one of the biggest challenges in being a famo artiste.
Another challenge was that at the time, people did not understand famo music. The so-called sophisticated and educated men and women did not consider famo as the type of music they could listen to because they said it was rowdy type of music. To them, the only music they could listen to was gospel and other genres from other countries.
Apart from that, there were people pirating our music even though it was not as dominant as it is now because at the time, we used to record on vinyl and cassettes.
Even now, we still face challenges of piracy although some of the problems no longer exist. However, I am happy that despite the problems that are obtaining in the genre, the following has actually grown.
XP: Mosali oa Moafrika is one of the most beautiful songs you have ever produced, what is the story behind it?
LM: From my 2011 album Mantša #14 was the track titled Airport which took people by storm. Everyone loved it. As an artiste after releasing such a big song, you are challenged to meet or surpass that same standard with the next project to ensure you please your followers.
It took me time to come up with Mosali oa Moafrika but after hearing about the say of an African woman, I decided to come up with a track more similar to Airport with comparable instruments.
That is how Mosali oa Moafrika came about and fortunately.
XP: You performed on one of the episodes of South African soapie – Rhythm City – last year. How did you score that gig and what contribution did it make to your career?
LM: I realised that my music has given me a lot of popularity that I myself cannot believe. I was called by the Rhythm City production team to come perform for one of their episodes.
They contacted me through Tseko, a Mosotho actor who also was working with Rhythm City at the time. It was a great honour because there after, people who did not know me became more aware of me and started buying my music.
XP: You are considered as one of the calm artistes whom upcoming Famo singers look up to. How do you manage to stay true to yourself and focus only on your talent and entertainment instead of the violence rocking the genre?
LM: I work hard and I know what I am doing. After releasing an album, I never rest and say I am done. I record more songs for the next album. I am always working to ensure that my work is perfect and given enough attention.
I also don’t forget where I come from and my approach to people is very respectful because it is the same people who support and make me who I am.
I always tell the artistes I work with that they have to know and respect people and that will help them grow as artistes. Interacting with the people helps one grow as they will tell you where to improve and give you ideas for the next project.
XP: What has influenced your decision to stay out of the famo killings which have ravaged the country and cause untold suffering for many families?
LM: This is a difficult issue. Famo artistes, who get into these killings like being feared but instead, I like being loved. I am not a fighter and because I love famo music, I do it with love. If I start fighting and killing people, that will affect my music and the messages I preach through my music.
Among the 10 commandments there is one that says “thou shall not kill” and I always base myself on it because I don’t like being involved in violent activities.
XP: What do you think is the impact of the famo killings to the music industry?
LM: Like I said; when I started famo music, there were people called Marashea, who loved to be feared and later on famo artistes started following the trend because they liked being feared.
I will not say much about these things because they might cause problems but I do not like these killings and I am not happy when artistes kill each other.
XP: What do you think could be the solution to famo related killings?
LM: I wish for the day when they will stop fighting and come together to find a better solution to their differences because these killings affect our sales and support. The consumers of music generally believe that famo goes hand in hand with killings.