LESOTHO: Dreams Do Come True - Sankomota
Updated: Dec 5, 2020
A selection of varied tunes from the Mountain Kingdom, it entertains as well as serving as a reminder of the history of its larger neighbour, South Africa
Aside from being known for its comparatively cold climate compared to much of the rest of the African continent, as well as one of the only three countries in the world completely landlocked by another nation (alongside San Marino and Vatican City), Lesotho remains quite a mystery for most outsiders. Whilst Lesotho’s geographical location might seem to many people as a novel piece of trivia, when thinking about this fact it should be considered that the country is not just land-locked it is South Africa-locked. Of course the nation is independent and thus its own state, it cannot be denied that life for the Basotho people is intrinsically tied to South African politics.
“Whilst I would say that the album is inconsistent in places and it never quite manages to repeat the heights of Nntja Pedi, it serves as a reminder of the message of hope and solidarity that was felt by non-South Africans with those struggling under Apartheid.”
Lesotho has its own story and struggles that bear relevance when learning about any nation, yet for the purposes of this review, one has to focus slightly more on their neighbour’s history to understand the potency of this album. That said, it would be remiss not to see the members of Sankomota as distinct from South Africans, their music and tale is merely partially shaped by the goings on in South Africa. An example of their proud Basotho status is that the band were initially named Uhuru, before changing it to Sankomota due to the success of reggae superstars Black Uhuru. Sankomota is the name of a mighty warrior from the Bapedi and Basotho people. What’s more the band can proudly claim that they were the first to have released an album from Lesotho.
Yet, despite their Basotho identity their story seems constantly linked to the tragic past of South African apartheid. In 1979 they attempted to tour South Africa yet the Apartheid regime ordered them to leave the country and never return without providing them with a reason; one can only assume it was due to the colour of their skin. They then disbanded twice in the early 1980s, once due to the damage done to the entertainment industry in Lesotho following the attack on Basotho civilians in South Africa and once again due to a horrific car accident that claimed the lives of some of the band. Yet, their journey took them to the UK and they at points found themselves rubbing shoulders with the father of South African jazz, Hugh Masekela, who was exiled for his anti-apartheid songs. The multi-instrumentalist, perhaps best known for trumpeting, was part of a wave of jazz musicians who found that they could politicise the music which if you listen closely is exactly what Sankomota do on Dreams Do Come True.
The album first came out in 1987 before being re-released in 1991 (perhaps due to the fact that the end of apartheid was in touching distance at this point). They felt free to express their optimism and hope in songs like Shooting Star where they sing ‘every nation has a story…the hopes are the future, when voices we make will be heard across the world’ or Victory which almost acts as a call to action for those listening as lead vocalist Tšepo Tšola belts out the lyric ‘now is the time to realise victory’. This movement of non-South Africans drawing attention to the issue of apartheid through their lyrics, such as Peter Gabriel’s very powerful song, Biko, about the activist Steve Biko who died in police custody in South Africa, was incredibly powerful, and showed that music can be a unique tool to bring people together to inspire real political change.
Whilst my description might make the album sound like a selection of protest songs, it was far from the dreary, sombre tone one might expect from music that refers to such a bleak topic and instead was danceable music that galvanised its audience into feeling empowered and hopeful. The opening track, Now Or Never, is probably the biggest hit on the album. Far from being cliché political music, it is fun, body-moving jazz, filled with great harmonies. Similarly, Nntja Pedi is a real belter. This earworm kicks off with a similar beat to soul stalwart Freddie Scott’s (You) Got What I Need, made famous when it was used as a sample on Biz Markie’s Just a Friend, which is immensely catchy and enjoyable. Furthermore, whilst a lot of Latin jazz is often critically acclaimed for its distinctively Latin flavour, this album is a great example of infusing African rhythms into traditional jazz music. This is particularly obvious on Verse One and The Fruits of Toil. Both tracks use an array of percussive instruments, and whilst to me Verse One is mostly a boring love song, by the end of the track Sankomota sufficiently experiment with a variety of percussion, reverb, and loop pedal to keep it interesting enough.
In fact, the aforementioned Shooting Stars also uses a lot of different percussive instruments, including some particularly attention-grabbing jangly shakers, however, all of that is overshadowed when that track takes on a whole new life when it becomes insanely funky after the introduction of a sweet bass guitar. Whilst I would say that the album is inconsistent in places and it never quite manages to repeat the heights of Nntja Pedi, it serves as a reminder of the message of hope and solidarity that was felt by non-South Africans with those struggling under Apartheid. Singing in Zulu, Pedi, Sotho and English, Sankomota manage to create an authentic jazz album influenced by South Africa not just in terms of the content but also in terms of the cultural similarities between the two nations.