Sankomota

🏷 Band from Lesotho mixing soul, rock, and traditional south African music

We end our below-the-equator trip around the world this week with a visit to Lesotho in southern Africa.

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"Uhuru" by Sankomota
(1983)


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Music in Africa: The history of Sankomota is as long as it is interesting. It is a dense tale punctuated by varying degrees of bad timing, bad decisions and bad luck. Starting out in 1975 under the name Uhuru, copyright claims from the Jamaican Michael Rose’s Black Uhuru meant that they had to re-focus their musical energies as Sankomota. It was no easy feat considering that Uhuru was already well-known across the Southern African region. Adoring followers in both Lesotho and South Africa could not get enough of their groove-oriented African melodies, skilled musicianship and ‘get-up-and-dance’ dynamics.

According to [Frank Mooki Leepa, guitarist and frontman], Sankomota was the name of a Pedi warrior who lived during the times of King Moshoeshoe. The band adopted it, re-imagining the moniker as a symbol of unity, regardless of one’s tribe. Notions of belonging were overlooked in favour of a more inclusive sound. The lyrics often contained entire verses sung in Zulu, Pedi, or Sotho. The music – stark and dense in equal measure – carried elements of the band’s influences: melodies criss-crossed mbaqanga’s technicality, jay-walked on reggae’s combustible street-corners, and shaved off jazz music’s jaded vision to form an amalgam of what Frank referred to as “malo” (spirit/soul) music. This is a band that has served as my sanctuary whenever pop music seemed to lose track. Leepa’s erudite arrangements, complemented by Tsepo Tshola’s moving vocal incantations, are excellent from any vantage point.

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To me, Sankomota represents memories of a childhood well spent: the tapes on long trips, the lazy Sunday afternoons, and the constant rotation of ‘Stop the War’ and ‘House on Fire’ on the radio. Sankomota’s music was significant in that it seemed to unify an entire nation. Their concerts are remembered as celebratory occasions with multiple encores. They reportedly even outshone American jazz giant Dizzy Gillepsie when he performed in Lesotho in the late 70s.

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Liner notes from the Shifty Records website.