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Everyone got up and danced

By Sarah Scarlett Williams
04 July 2003 1115 BST

1 July 2003
East Bristol Jazz Club, Seymour's Family Club Barton Vale, St. Philips, Bristol.
Learning to play and making up songs helps pass the long hours up in the hills
:: This story

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Sotho Sounds are seven young guys from the landlocked Kingdom of Lesotho in Southern Africa.

Over the last five years, they've been making their own instruments and developing their musical skills with a passion and dedication that caught the attention of the WOMAD Foundation.

Their immediate faith in the boys' talent got them busy raising the money to bring them to the UK on a month long residency to work with schools and other community music projects and ending their tour with a performance at this years WOMAD festival.

All of their instruments are made from 'found materials'.

Wood and wire make fiddles and guitars whilst recycled oil cans and scrap metal make a surprisingly excellent drum and percussion outfit.

Astonishing range

The tradition of making their own instruments stems from their roles as herd boys.

Learning to play and making up songs helps pass the long hours up in the hills.

Inspiration comes from a variety of sources; gospel, township jive, hip hop and reggae as well as traditional stories and local events.

What isn't customary is forming a group and Sotho Sounds have brought together their individualism, their instruments and astonishing vocal range to create and perform their own material.

Until now, their only audience has been the visitors lodge in high hills of Malealea where tourists have provided encouragement as well as valuable contributions to the boy's income which often goes towards school fees and clothing.

Working with Risenga Makondo, a Venda musician from South Africa, Ingoma, and the WOMAD Foundation, Sotho Sounds have travelled to the UK on a unique educational project that stretches from Lesotho to Liverpool, South Africa to the South West.

In the first cultural exchange between the two countries, the WOMAD Foundation, a registered charity dedicated to a wide range of educational projects both here and abroad, have worked hard to make this tour a success.

Common language

Annie Menter of the Foundation was only able to confirm their flights a month ago after they finally got their passports.

The delay not due to an overloaded Government department, but the long process of proving kinship, most family's passports having been destroyed during apartheid and obtaining permission from the chief to leave the village.

Annie's eagerness about the project is well founded, on their recent visits to Speedwell School; Sotho Sounds have been well received.

The mixed workshops working well with the young people explaining each other's instruments and how to play them, using music as a common language through which to communicate.

While Sotho Sounds have enjoyed improvising on drum kits and keyboards, the Speedwell music students have gained confidence from working with such keen performers and channelling their energies through dance.

Workshops have also included Samba sessions and a DJ workshop demonstrating mixing and scratching techniques.

As for the guys themselves and how they're feeling…?

Translator Tello Moeketse explains their excitement about the whole project and how the guys are determined to make the most of their trip despite the inevitable cultural shock.

Huge grins

After the wide open, rural lands of Lesotho, the density of buildings, traffic and people have been a surprise.

Apart from finding out more about musical instruments and technology on this tour, the WOMAD Foundation will be helping Sotho Sounds to record a demo CD.

They will use it for promotions once back home and secure more gigs, no doubt accompanied with a stack of new material inspired by their experiences on this tour.

Review Their gig on the 1st July with East Bristol Jazz Club at the Seymour's Family Club, St. Philips was introduced by manager and mentor, Risenga Makondo.

Sotho Sounds stepped onto stage to rapturous applause.

Resplendent in their costumes, the boys projected an infectious sense of fun from the moment they appeared.

With huge grins the band burst into song, whistling, clapping along to an earthy rhythm as the two young dancers performed their cheeky moves.

In stark contrast the performance dropped away to just two vocalists, one boy playing the one-stringed fiddle.

Enthusiastic audience

It's quite bizarre to watch this being played, a bow being used to manipulate the string in a cyclical motion as their voices wound around each other.

With Risenga calling stage directions from the side, they launched into another hectic track full of fast melodies, chanting vocals, high pitched whistles and rhythmic percussion.

It's hard to believe an oil drum could sound so good and it's testament to their creativity that it does.

The next number relied purely on vocal harmonies, where a strong choir influence is heard.

Clapping along, the boys were accompanied by an enthusiastic audience, warmed by the wonderfully friendly atmosphere of the night.

For the last two tracks the boys requested the audience get up and dance.

And unrestrained by the usual reticence, the floor was filled in seconds.

Was this really an English audience?

The performance finished with the two dancers leading a Lesotho version of the Congo; containing young and old, black and white, English and African, proving that good music really can unite us across language, culture and generations.

Sotho Sounds are: Kojoane Josepha Chaka - One Stringed Fiddle Tumelo Michael Mporaone - Drum & Percussion Tankiso Joseph Pita - Guitar Ramaleke David Rantho - Bass Guitar Tseliso Rantho - Guitar & One Stringed Fiddle Richard & Paseka Mohale Dancers

Ffi: Annie Menter of the WOMAD Foundation. T: 01225 743188 E:

"With huge grins the band burst into song, whistling, clapping along to an earthy rhythm as the two young dancers performed their cheeky moves,"

Sarah Scarlett Williams.

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