THE family of the late Afro Jazz pioneer, Frank Leepa, have expressed their joy over the Lesotho Tourism Festival’s (LETOFE) decision to hold its 12th edition in his honour.
The world-famous LETOFE will be held on 23 December in Thaba Bosiu and a South African contingent including the likes of Hugh Masekela, Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse, Ringo, Vusi Nova and The Soil are all expected to grace the event.
They will be sharing the stage with locals such as Selimo Thabane, Kommanda Obbs, JC Crew, Mystic Margin as well as Sankomota- the band that gave Leepa fame in the 1980s and 1990s.
Leepa’s sister, Mpho, this week told the Weekender of the family’s gratitude to the LETOFE organisers for recognising her brother’s contribution to the music industry.
“We felt humbled when the LETOFE organisers approached the family asking to celebrate Frank through this year’s festival,” Mpho said.
“We regard Frank as a national treasure who worked very hard to put Lesotho’s music on the map during times when it was difficult to earn a living through music although his efforts were never recognised.
“When he passed away in November 2003, politicians promised to build recording studios in his honour but that never materialised, making this festival the first to celebrate his talent.”
She said that Frank was born a musician and when he was a baby, they kept him from crying by placing him next to a radio playing music.
“When he was nine years old at a time when other children played family games, Frank played a musician. He made himself a guitar from an old oil tin, a plank and strings which he played to other kids, imitating songs he had heard on radio.
“While at primary school in Mapoteng (Berea district) there were acoustic guitars at the school and Frank asked for lessons from his brother Charles who was already a student playing an acoustic guitar.
“I cannot remember the exact years, but he then joined the school band while in Form A at Christ the King High School in Roma. He put less effort in his school work and he was expelled after failing. Our father then took him to ‘Mabathoana High School in Maseru but he continued to focus on music and he would always get a beating from our father for poor performance in his studies but that never changed his love for music.”
She said he dropped out of school while in Form B after their father passed on as there was no longer anyone forcing him to go to school. Frank told the family that he would now focus on earn a living out of music.
He started Anti Antiques band in the early 1970s but it only started to achieve fame in 1975 when it was re-named Uhuru. He was the guitarist, vocalist, arranger and composer while other members were Moss Nkofu (drummer), Black Jesus (percussion), Moruti Selate, Tšepo Tšola (lead vocalist, composer) and Pitso Sera (guitar).
They first released their debut self-titled album in 1983 followed by Writing on the Wall in 1989. In 1991 they released two albums, Exploration – A New Phase and Dreams Do Come True. They followed this up with After the Storm in 1993 and Frankly Speaking was the last release in 2001 as Frank died two years later.
The Best of Sankomota 1981 to 1991: Greatest Hits and the Best of Tšepo Tšola & Sankomota soon followed and they have kept the spirit of Sankomota alive.
“The Anti Antiques used to practise at Qoaling playing Mbaqanga as well as cover versions of American R&B/Soul singer Percy Sledge and their buzz was felt across the country.
Tšepo Tšola initially played for another band the Blue Diamonds before joining the Anti Antiques.
“They then migrated to South Africa to grow their brand, renaming the band Uhuru (Freedom), but they never stood the test of time as they were soon banned as Uhuru was understood by the Apartheid government to mean liberation of the blacks.
“Frank never gave up and renamed the band Sankomota and managed to record their debut album in the early 80s which was their career break. They suffered a car accident in 1995, killing four members while travelling from Johannesburg to Cape Town where they had a gig. That was a huge set back which affected Frank,” Mpho said.
Although Frank re-established the band in the late 1990s he relied mostly on session musicians. He died on 27 November 2003 while preparing for a festival which was held the following month on 20 December in Maseru.