By Helen Herimbi
The members of Ntjapedi make a striking impression as they mount the triangular stage at the Bassline in Newtown. Lead vocalist, Rasekgantsho Matsabu, is kitted in an orange pants and jacket ensemble while Mojalefa Mokubung dons a brown beret tilted to the right with a red-collar shirt peeking through a jacket. Khoeti Maile wears a brown suede jacket. Dressed in warm red, orange and earthy brown hues, the band looks every bit a unified brand.
But their purpose goes further than just their image.
“Ntjapedi is a name composed from a seSotho idiom, Ha E Hlolwe Ke Sebata,” (shall not be defeated by the beast) starts Mokubung, preparing an explanation he knows he’ll have to conjure up in every interview. “The idiom emphasises the importance of unity and co-existence. It’s not necessarily two dogs, as it is loosely translated. It’s more a philosophy of brotherhood.”
This collective has been crafting the material for their debut, Ha E Hlolwe Ke Sebata, for two to three years now to produce an album brim-full of eclectic sounds.
Matsabu is the lead vocalist and also strums the acoustic guitar, Mokubung adds the spoken word component to their music and occasionally shakes the rain stick and Maile also plays the acoustic guitar. Their sound has been labelled African soul by some, yet Matsabu is quick to dispel this.
“Soul is definitely one of the elements, but the truth of the matter is that you can’t box our music in.” Maile interrupts: “We’ve got funk, jazz and pop in here.”
And the thread that binds it is their culture, Mokubung points out. “We show the diversity of music. The unifying factor is the Sotho usage.” But Maile points out their reluctance to release before now. “The industry is so demanding that you can’t enter unarmed. So we had to go and fix our ammunition.”
With a great album under their belt and hot of pulling off a hair-raising, booty-wiggling, foot-stomping gig in a one-night only show which they dubbed The Mother Tongue Revolution, Ntjapedi is fully loaded.
The point of this show was explained by Matsabu. “Our people haven’t entirely forgotten who they are. But the young people may have forgotten and need to get back to who they really are. Nowadays there is so much influence from the outside world that you don’t even have to travel to New York because you see New York everywhere, even on our TV screens … it’s culture bombardment.”
The solution, according to Matsabu, is to educate yourself about where you come from so, as the adage goes, you’ll know where you are going. This helps a great deal when you share the stage with like-minded individuals who form a part of your performing band. Matsabu smiles: “The live element gives it a bit of weight, so it’s great to have eight people putting in an effort on a track.” And your sister.
Mokubung’s sister, fashion designer/TV personality Palesa, is part of the band.
“My sister’s always been there,” explains Mokubung. “She grounds us and introduced us to admin and writing things down – like our set list, because we always used to ask her: ‘What song are we playing next?’ It’s only natural to have her on.” Matsabu quips, “I’ve been singing with her since primary school, it’s like old times.”
On to the present, the group is well on its way to being a force to be reckoned with, but what legacy would they love to leave behind? “We want to be remembered as that band that conscientised people about issues affecting their lives,” says Matsabu.
This article appeared in Tonight on 29 August 2007.