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Artistes must stop working from a hunger perspective

by Lesotho Times

Bataung Moeketsi

TLALI Mapetla affectionately known as Mr Maps (MM) has built a reputable name for himself in Lesotho’s music industry, particularly among the hip-hop fraternity. With a background in radio, being behind the decks as a song selector, being a rapper among many other roles, Mr Maps has become what hip-hop lovers call an OG (original gangster).

The Weekender reporter Bataung Moeketsi (LT) caught up with Mr Maps at the Emotiv PR offices in Maseru to get his take on Lesotho’s music industry. Below are excerpts from their discussion.

LT: Who is Mr Maps?

Maps: Tlali Mapetla was born in Masianokeng. I went to primary school at Nulis in Roma from 1986 to 1995. From 1996 up until 2001 I was in Kimberly, South Africa at the Christian Brothers College, St Patricks, for high school where I met Matty (Matlaselo Mashakolo). After that, I moved to Johannesburg to learn production management and sound engineering at the South African Broadcasting Corporation while also doing voiceover work at the institution.

I ultimately started my career in radio at the National University of Lesotho’s campus station called DOPE FM in 2005. I was there for about a year and a half before Dallas T recruited me. The government wanted to start a new youth station and got the likes of Dallas T, the late Ms P (Pearl Ocansey) and myself to present shows, structure and run auditions at Ultimate FM. I also coined the stations “Heartbeat of the Kingdom” tagline. Since then, radio has come naturally to me but my focus has mostly had a lot to do with everything involving production. I am a journalist as well but that just came from supposed opportunities and my respect for the profession. Radio and journalism work together and that just happens to be one of the things I am currently doing.

LT: What credentials qualify you to discuss music as we are doing here?

Maps: I’ve always loved music. I started producing music with my best friends Matty aka Maddting and Masupha Molapo aka Uzi who sadly passed in 2015. We started in 1999 as a collective known as Funk Hits the Fan.

I began to gain more notoriety with the radio show I did on Ultimate FM called Backdoor Sessions from 2006. Urban music had not played on radio before then. I used have cyphers and more on radio, and we translated them into road shows. We created an outlet and a distribution channel for local artistes.

This was followed by Blankets and Bling (popularly known among Basotho as Likobo le Mabenyane) which I did as a marketing campaign to introduce the likes of Kommanda Obbs. It really changed how people partied and promoted music. The events we held at Litaleng (a former entertainment spot in Maseru) led to me, along with the people I was working with at the time, bringing international artistes to the country. We were among the first guys to collaborate with international artistes.

I then released my debut LP titled Tax Free in 2009 which had a couple of international features. I have continued to work with a bunch of these guys over the years.

LT: Who are some of these artistes who were involved with the album?

Maps: I had an opportunity to work with Proverb. I also worked with Konfab who’s originally from Maseru, Zeus from Botswana and a producer from Botswana called Favi. I also worked with a guy from Nigeria called Dapo Dina. He’s an insane pianist and we actually had an opportunity to meet in Manhattan about two years ago unexpectedly. I did some work with Mo’Molemi too.

Post Tax Free, Uzi and I had done some work on Khuli Chana’s second album. The tracks ultimately never made it on the album because of a matter I would rather not disclose. When JR was putting together his first album, we were some of the producers who worked with him. Man, I’ve worked with a lot of these cats. HHP was one of the first guys who gave me an opportunity to work in a professional studio session and this was around 2008 or 2009. A lot of these guys weren’t famous yet so I got to hang out with them while I was still in Joburg. HHP of course was still HHP.

I moved back to Lesotho to promote Tax Free towards the end of 2009 and then we started Blankets and Bling. Ultimately off that, we started Emotiv PR after realising that there was a huge gap between art and the market. What Emotiv PR does is help the corporate and the creative side communicate through the creation of value-based products.

LT: Tell us more about Blankets and Bling and Emotiv PR.

Maps: Blankets and Bling is a cultural picnic where we would blend urban or modern culture with our tradition. People would come out sporting traditional attire and so on. We started this event in 2009 until 2017 and we used to throw these picnics out of town in remote areas such as Maputsoe in partnership with Productions KangFong. Those are my long-time collaborators and we continue working together. The event fostered a lot of domestic tourism and a new appreciation for local products. Our efforts eventually created the foundation for cultural shifts including Wear Local Fridays, musicians fusing urban music with Famo and most importantly, a whole new generation viewing Bosotho as a strong sense of pride and entrepreneurship.

Emotive PR was founded in 2013 and I am the creative director. It’s a public relations company which is focused on telling Basotho stories. We collect and produce content for Basotho which is by Basotho. Stemming off that, we have done work for corporates in Lesotho including radio adverts and dramas, formative research and social responsibility campaigns. We are also the production company behind Sky Alpha HD.

At Sky Alpha I also have a radio show alongside Maddting called Top Shelf which plays at 5pm on weekdays and from 6pm it is made available online as a podcast. It’s an extension of Emotiv PR as far as journalism and production management because we write and produce the entire hour-long show. The idea behind it is to really have engaging topics, thorough research and banging beats.

Prior to being at Sky Alpha, I had a brief stint at MXXL radio. While there, we won the Best Radio Show of the Year award at the Africa Meets Fashion Awards in 2016.

LT: Not many people know how extensive your catalogue is and you have only mentioned Tax Free. What else have you done?

Maps: Before Tax Free LP I did a mixtape called Backstage Pass and I had even done a House project. I actually started deejaying in high school from around 1998 and I would play at our school social events. I would come home for the holidays and DJ here too. I used to be a House DJ back then until 2005. At the time, I was really into the Soul Candi guys who broke Deep House into the South African mainstream.

I’ve always loved hip hop and so from 2005 to 2008, I became serious about making beats professionally and getting them on professional albums. I had featured a group called Sake of Skill on Backstage Pass and in return, they featured me on one of their mixtapes that happened to win a Hype Magazine award in 2008 for the Mixtape of Year category. That was around the time I started doing professional releases from 2008 right until now. The last release under my belt was a collaborative project between L-Tore and I as Royale titled Show Me Yours which was released in 2015.

My discography in its entirety consists of my first mixtape Backstage Pass which was released in 2006. At the end of 2009 I dropped my first LP, Tax Free. In 2011 I dropped Best Kept Secret Vol 1 which is a mixtape that featured a bunch of local artistes. We dropped Best Kept Secret Vol 2 the following year and in 2015 we dropped Show Me Yours as Royale. Earlier this year I produced and released and released male choir album for the Masianokeng L.E.C Church together with Khotso Thahane.

I found myself hosting a lot of events as an MC too. I was the first guy to host the big Summer Feva events which had over 20 000 people and were held at Setsoto Stadium in 2011 and 2012. I have done the Kome Beer Festival. I was also a judge for the inaugural Vodacom Superstars competition in 2012.

I’ve done a bunch of work for DSTV and would promote DSTV Compact when it was first introduced in the country. I got an opportunity to tour the country around 2016 because of that gig. That same year I did a lot of formative research for Jphiego’s Rola Katiba campaign and I would interview a bunch of guys in rural Lesotho for an entire year.

On the journalistic front, I am also part of the Edward R. Murrow exchange programme. I ultimately found myself in the United States in 2017 with 14 journalists from 14 African countries and I was southern Africa’s representative in my capacity as Emotiv PR’s creative director. I got the invitation from the US Embassy in Lesotho.

In 2017 I was part of the panel that helped develop a new curriculum for media and journalism syllabus taught at the Institute of Extra Mural Studies.

LT: In 2020 people still say Lesotho’s music industry is still in its infancy, why is that?

Maps: It’s really interesting and yet sad at the same time. We have an abundance of talent but we don’t have any structures. We have a bunch of artistes who are either independent or under their own labels but have zero resources at their disposal. And those that do have the resources lack experience. Great talents often pop up here and there but the music that’s really good doesn’t get the distribution it needs because we don’t have the necessary structures. We don’t have the PR or management companies. A lot of that has to do with artistes wanting to do everything on their own and not understanding the business. You need lawyers on your payroll and you need other professionals for it to bigger than you, for you to actually become a brand.

To cut a long story short, we have a bunch of musicians but we have very poor infrastructure as far as supporting and promoting these artistes.

LT: Who is supposed to come up with those structures?

Maps: It would unfair to expect them to come from the government. It would be difficult because that would take a lot of legislation, parliamentary sittings and so forth. Ultimately, it needs to start with the artistes being organised. For example, many still chase having their songs playing on radio but don’t understand that stations are supposed to play them for spinning their tracks. Artistes also need to collaborate a lot more among themselves and create standards regarding performance fees and things of that nature. That way, they will be less susceptible to companies taking advantage of them which happens so often. It needs to start with the artistes having a united front, a common vision and understanding their worth and what it is they are trying to do.

LT: We have a handful of legendary musicians who have broken into the mainstream and have had some success, what’s their role in building the industry? Shouldn’t there also be policymakers and other stakeholders involved?

Maps: It’s similar to the political situation in Africa as a whole. We have a problem with succession. The legends, as you have mentioned, should be running workshops and imparting the knowledge that they have gained over their careers. On that note, I am currently working on an album which features artistes and producers from Lesotho, South Africa, the United States and the United Kingdom. It is expected to be released later this year and was done in the form of the succession I just spoke about. It’s a body of positivity and a reflection of the upwardly mobile Mosotho.

One of the things that I have realised having done radio for so long, when we put local music on the airwaves, somebody else was supposed to come to take the next steps and so on. Fifteen years have passed and the needle has barely moved. We have ourselves to blame because the artistes, even at their prime, don’t organise themselves. Corporates need relevant marketing and there is nothing more relevant than local music. But if the local musicians don’t uphold professional standards and there is no growth seen among them, then they will never build anything sustainable and remain the hired help that’s doing campaigns which make these companies millions. Artistes are hungry and the people in the big offices know that.

Once a standard is set, it will make things easier for the creation of the structures that are needed. We need stakeholder engagement between artistes, promoters, studio owners and engineers and everyone else on the ground. Off that, a basic understanding can be shaped with the expectations of those involved being at the forefront of how this industry is built. That will in turn change the manner in which consumers behave. We control the music. They complain for a week but still will always love music and will learn to adapt. Artistes must stop working from a hunger point of view and look at things from a business perspective.

LT: Using your experience in the industry, what can you say about the calibre of artistes the country has to date?

Maps: One of the greatest things to see is how diverse the culture has become. Within hip hop alone there are many sub-genres including trap and the guys who stick to their backpack roots. Secondly, there are a bunch of hardworking guys. There are producers like Taks Beats who has worked with so many artistes and he hasn’t even owned that yet, which needs to change. The quality of the music has improved immensely. The visuals are also coming together. We have top tier MC’s including Circus Recipe and Nuch. These are guys who can box at an international level and that in itself is something we can really be proud of. In general, Basotho artistes such as Leomile and Maleh are of an international standard.

LT: What are your earliest memories of the hip hop industry?

Maps: My earliest memory is coming home for the holidays and going to talent shows at Machabeng College around 1997. I had the opportunity to watch OG’s like Papa Zee who, at the time, went by the name Zee Dogg. That made me realise that it’s actually happening around me and that it’s not just on television. That got me interested in making beats around 1998 alongside Maddting.

Mokhethi Rampeta aka Pharaoh dropped Dead on Arrival volume 1 and 2 in 2004 and that motivated me because at the time, I was trying to produce an album for Nuch. That made me want to work with a bunch of artistes and peaked my interest in terms of the recording and engineering side of it all as I was just producing beats prior to that period.

I was in high school seeing Proverb make it and that inspired me and when he made it in the industry it made it seem even more possible. I saw first-hand that this could really happen. That changed the game for me. I got to see Khuli Chana make it at the level he had and six month before that we were chilling and talking about that very moment. AKA was my classmate while I was still in sound engineering school.

The guys around me making it at the level they had motivated me but then when my friend Uzi died, I fell out of love with music. You can imagine how the three of us had been working together for 15 years only for one of us to die. My focus then became production as a whole which includes events, videos and not just music. Music is still my first love and the basis of everything that I do but that particular experience made me fall out of love with the music. It was only in 2018 when I started flirting with the idea of another album which is centred on succession and it is my way of giving back.  It’s a representation of the best that Basotho can be and it’s a reminder of how special we are as artistes.

LT: What can you say about the spotlight that is currently on Basotho artistes like Kommanda Obbs, Ntate Stunna and Malome Vector among others? What must be done to improve the industry?

Maps: I think these moments of recognition over the years have created a reference point for aspiring artistes to see that it can actually be done beyond the borders of Lesotho. It also put a lot of pressure of the artistes you have mentioned and others to perform because when you have been in a non-existent market for as long as they have been and you get out there it’s a totally different ball game. It’s also an artiste development window. We’re hoping these artistes can get out there and really box at that level.

But also, it’s difficult to sell and understand Sesotho music. You need to understand Sesotho beyond the language. Signing to a South African label will definitely give a Mosotho artiste access to bigger platforms. It’s a good look as far as what it says on the end of the label that may feel that our artistes are of a certain calibre. The biggest thing those artistes can do is learn from those labels and come impart that knowledge.

LT: What should artistes be mindful of when looking to enter the music industry?

Maps: A lot of artist development must happen here in Lesotho. Some of the music that is accepted by the consumers is subpar which is disheartening and misleading because of the hype it receives.

The first thing that artistes must be mindful of is originality. We have a bunch of artistes who are trying to sound like someone else in SA or the States. You must have a lane that’s yours. Give us something that’s not out there. Secondly, we need get over the familiarity in the sense that we let a lot of things slide as consumers because we know these artistes. A lot of them release subpar music and we let it go all under the guise of supporting local, and that must stop. The radio stations must be more accountable. Artistes will tell you that when I still had my Backdoor Sessions radio show it would take some time for their record to actually play on the show. But by the time it would play, they were hot and were making good music. We must interrogate our artistes. If they release music that is of a low standard, they need to be called out so that they can build from that criticism.

LT: What does the music industry in Lesotho look like in the future from your perspective?

Maps: Artistes must take themselves seriously because their audiences won’t take them seriously if they don’t. That will change how they are perceived in the eyes of listeners. I hope to see artistes treating themselves like artistes and releasing music that is of high quality so that more acts can get bookings and be seen on different stages. I hope to see artistes making music that is relevant to the world and venturing off into lucrative partnerships with corporations and organisations.

Artistes need to package themselves professionally for everyone else to take them more seriously. We also need more collaborations and communication in the form of music and honest feedback. A concerted effort must be seen between stakeholders including artistes, promoters, venue owner, videographers, radio jockeys and the likes. We need to interrogate ourselves. Structures need to be created. Lastly, artistes must get over themselves and make room for some advice. They must be more open to learning what they don’t know. As opposed to solely supporting their own work, they need to support that of their fellow colleagues in the entertainment space and vice versa.

LT: The coronavirus pandemic has halted activities within the entertainment industry and artistes are bearing the brunt of it all. What must be done during this period and in preparation for when the world opens back up once again?

Maps: For starters, the whole Covid-19 situation has changed how the world is going to work moving forward. But in regards to artistes, it is a great time to reflect and take advantage of the fact that the first-time consumers are sitting at home with nothing to do. It would be wise on the part of artistes to create content for them. We have platforms such as The Love Letter but we need more of those and for artistes to take onus too. I don’t think artistes are taking advantage of this period as they should and it’s a great opportunity to find ways of venturing into the virtual world and figuring out how they can sell their brand.

This pandemic has made it clear that artistes need to diversify. If you were making money on the road and from shows, maybe now you can find a way to make money off merchandise. But for people to buy your merchandise, they need to buy into your brand. Either way, it’s a great time for reflection and if you are really serious, you will find a way, whether small or big. Artistes must put in the work and things will eventually work out.

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