The Need for Research & Documentation
Research and Documentation are essential to cultural work; these are not needless luxuries! Despite the efforts of various organisations and institutions over the past few decades, little meaningful progress has been made to address the increasingly endangered status of indigenous cultural practices (musical instruments and storytelling in particular).
Previous efforts have been hampered by the lack of adequate policy frameworks/ implementation schedules/ resources to preserve these endangered practices in the face of accelerated cultural change brought about by modernisation and the information revolution. Add to this the lack of readily available educational resource materials that teachers/learners can utilise to fulfil the objectives of the recently-introduced and commendable Arts & Entrepreneurship Curriculum in terms of traditional musical instruments, it is clear that a more holistic approach is required, including research and documentation.
It is as a result of this context and background that the current Sound Connects Project has invested significant time and resources in Research & Documentation, such that these materials can now also be made available through the internet as digital products that are locally available and promote pride in and greater understanding of our cultural heritage.
It is expected that through new partnerships forged or strengthened as a result of the Sound Connects Project, further detailed studies on Lesotho's indigenous music, instruments, and folklore will take place such that scholars and artists can draw from these in their academic and creative work.
Progress in Research & Documentation
During the first half of 2022, the research department made some significant strides in identifying resource persons that know how to make and play six of the seven endangered instruments: Lekope, Lesiba, ‘Mamokhorong, Mokhope, Sekebeku, and Thomo. Sadly, none could be found for setolo-tolo, but efforts in this regard continue.
The resource persons come from the districts of Maseru, Leribe, Berea, Mokhotlong, and Quthing. Given the limited timeframe for the Research and Documentation Component, whose work has to be completed in 2022, it was necessary to visit some of the instrumentalists at their homes because they were unable to travel due to old age and infirmity. That in itself reflects how endangered the lekope, thomo, and mokhope are within our society as the use of these and setolo-tolo have not been passed on to younger generations.
Efforts were made where possible to document a variety of different players for each instrument according to the regions of the country as this allows us to understand the underlying cultural nuances in different approaches to traditional Basotho instrumental music. This method provides insight as there are often regional styles of playing these instruments, based on ethnicity and other factors.
Thorough documentation of these instrumentalists is supplemented by material from historic collections of such music, especially the Kirby Collection in Cape Town and that of the International Library of African Music (ILAM) in Grahamstown.
A few key findings of the research include the following:
String instruments all originated from the simple hunting bow, which served both functions for many millennia. Thereafter, the gourd or calabash was added to give it greater resonance, after which other adaptations were made.
Simple string instruments like the lekope and thomo must at one time have been played by peoples across the planet, as even today they can be found, for example, among the indigenous peoples of Taiwan and Southeast Asia.
The 6 chordophones that form the core of our study are not exclusive to Basotho, but were played by many other peoples in southern Africa including the Bushmen (Baroa), Khoi, other Sotho-Tswana and the Nguni, though each often had a unique name for the various instruments. As in Lesotho, these instruments are also endangered though efforts are being made to revive their usage, and bring adaptation and innovation such that these can be utilized in new performance contexts.
Though these instruments were commonly used in southern Africa during previous centuries, there is little evidence that we have discovered to date that these existed north of the Zambezi except for instruments similar to the lekope and thomo. There, multi-stringed instruments seem to have arisen from an early date, but further research is required.
The six-string instruments that we are concerned with were used historically among Basotho, not only for individual solace, healing or amusement but also for social occasions in which cultural, spiritual or other activities were carried out.
Gender distinctions existed in terms of using such instruments, but these were often not as rigid as some may imagine.