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Striking the right notes



MASERU – MUSICIAN Kommanda Obbs struck the right notes with his hit song, ‘Hona Joale. More importantly for many of his fans, the song introduced them to Obbs’ upbringing in the crime-infested Maputsoe, Lesotho’s second largest industrial town after Maseru.
The rest of his songs, whether under the group D2A-Majoe, his own solo-led Tšepe or under his name Kommanda Obbs, continue to display his fascination with life in his rural second home in the Berea district.
In ‘Hona Joale’, the Sesotho rapper, whose songs have penetrated the southern African music market even in countries where Sesotho is not a spoken language, takes a snapshot on the life of illegal gamblers.
Obbs, born Obadiah Chapi, appears in the music video as a leader of a gang involved in a street fight with another group of illegal gamblers.
He sings about how he is so broke that he has started gambling in street corners despite becoming a celebrity who is so famous that thousands of fans enjoy his music on television.
Rich in Sesotho and the use of poetic language, the rapper satirically, and infusing a heavy melancholic feel, opens a window into the life of a broke music celebrity.
The lyrics in many of his songs, with a deep and hoarse voice deliberately mimicking bassos in Basotho songs of traditionally initiated men, exemplify masculinity traits of Basotho men.
He likens himself to a hammer, and in music videos he carries a 16-pound mallet that chisels and cracks open rocks, while in other pictures he is seen waving a knobkerrie.
Keteu! an echo of a ringing bell as it swings and bangs against a metal clapper hanging at its centre, is his other moniker that his followers like to shout when he takes to the stage.
Obbs calls himself “the bell”, usually hung within the church steeple above all other buildings in the village, so that its sound can be heard far and wide.
Obbs says his Sesotho rap music is a reflection of his quest to become a true Pan-African artiste who dares to be different.
He says he started his music journey at a very young age as a result of his childhood memories of the rural life of his grandparents at their Nokong home in Berea where he used to visit with his sister.
“I would find the home fascinating, especially during holidays when village entertainers would play an accordion and a makeshift drum made up of an empty tin, rubber and beer bottle caps,” he said.
It was at a tender age that he realised that he liked music and, like any other child, started singing along and making his own makeshift drums.
As he grew older, Obbs would go with older folks to watch football in Maputsoe, then supporting the home team Roaring Lion FC, and they would sing to cheer the players.
“The music was good and until today is still conjuring up nostalgic memories,” Obbs told thepost.
“I used to watch a lot of football supporting the Maputsoe team called ‘Tau lia rora’ (Roaring Lions), and we would sing,” he says, explaining the foundations of his love for music.
Obbs says his life as a young man in Maputsoe and during family gatherings in his parents’ home in Nokong “made me realise the value of my culture as a Mosotho man”.
“I believe I was blessed enough to have experienced all that, getting to engage with different people.
It is because when we grew up we were not confident enough of who we were and that is why I learned to embrace who I am. That is where Tšepe (the bell) is rooted.”
“This describes how my upbringing brought me to where I am today,” said Obbs, who was born in Maputsoe on May 5, 1986 to ’Mapalesa and the late Tšoloane Chapi.
He says his parents were “not really” into music but they made peace with his choice so they supported him “and they always advised me to make my own money”.
“I was raised by a single mother after my father’s death. From her I learnt a little bit more and on top of that in my circle of friends I have high quality human beings who value respect and loyalty over all other important aspects that money cannot buy.”
Obbs gives credit to his school teachers as “we all know that school shapes who you are and over the years I had some of the greatest teachers who I will always remember”.
“Some of them would always tell my mom that they saw me as an artiste and they were aware of my potential,” says Obbs, who grew up idolising the late American rap great, Tupac Shakur.
“It’s during this era when I fell so hard in love with hip-hop, the music was like a father figure to me, it gave me some of life’s most important lessons.”
He started writing lyrics when he was still in primary school.
“Because I wanted to be different, I chose Sesotho as my music language.”
Although his parents were supportive at the time, he says it was not a walk in the park convincing them that music was the best path to take for him.
Also, when he finally became a well-known musician, many people did not appreciate rap in Sesotho as they were mostly used to American rappers.
“Despite this, I went on my journey because I believed that it was beyond the physical person’s perspective but a spiritual one. My recent album, Moea (Spirit), says it all. I believe music was chosen for me not the other way round.”
He features famo music star, Mahlanya from Seakhi group on the album. Mahlanya’s genre of music is not rap but u’a koetetsa (the Sesotho expression for famo poetry eloquence).
The song featuring Mahlanya is titled ‘Rebellious’ in English but it is wholly sung in Sesotho.
“The message behind the song is about unity and making sure that Basotho realise the quality of music they have. So featuring Mahlanya, just like any other artist, was a way to acknowledge him and to show him that he is recognised.”
Obbs is calling for all music artistes to unite and come up with a working strategy to beat piracy, which he says is wreaking havoc in the industry.
“I honestly don’t get the need of being famous and broke,” he opined.
Obbs believes that listening to a whole range of creatives and quality music by great musicians helps him improve as an individual.
“On my recent album Moea, the most important thing there is the sound, not only the debates of rap,” he says, responding to critics who say that musical instruments dominate the vocals too much.
He advises young aspiring musos not to be discouraged when they encounter problems but work hard “because we live in a depressing era”.
“Don’t lose yourself in the process of competition to avoid what we’re currently dealing with, which is depression. They should love themselves and be kind to themselves more than anything,” he says.
Tšepe, his band, has grown in leaps and bounds since 2016 when they released a gem of Extended Play (EP) titled Keteu.
It is this seven-track EP that he featured well-known artistes such as Zwake.
On top of that, in 2018 he released a self-titled album, Kommanda Obbs. It is a masterpiece of 13 tracks and he featured Bhudaza Mapefane on a song titled Pina and Eme, a famous Nigerian singer, on ‘Hurray’.
Obbs does not see himself retiring from the music industry one day.
“I will die singing, just like Tšepo Tshola.”
He added: “I want to be remembered as someone who is unapologetic about representing who I am regardless of circumstances and options. I want to be remembered for wanting to protect my culture.”

Mpolai Makhetha

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