The BEAUTIFUL Maleh openly and humbly expressed to us her journey as well as her inspirations and formative elements that are the building blocks and pillars through which her world is rooted. Her music is testament to the solid background that shaped her sound and continues to be a source of great inspiration for her.
She started off from family roots that anchored and affirmed her voice and laid the way for her soul to fall in love with singing. She recalls times she used to sing to her family and the type of bands that had a huge influence on her like bo Sankomota. But there is a time on which she says she remembers in her life because that is when she started to sing professionally. She says, “I sang with a group of guys from Bloemfontein and we were, at the time, an Afro Pop group, and I learned from that time, because of the content we were writing about was exceptional, most of which was about things happening in our communities”.
“A lot of the way in which we wrote taught me, as you know me today – writing songs that I wish to appeal to even the young market mostly – songs that focus a lot on telling stories of the struggles that we faced; general day to day struggles like our struggle of getting out there as a band.” That was the beginning of her understanding that when you make music the impact is so huge that you have to be responsible of how you write and what you write because, as she says, “it is not about just touching hearts but you impact mind-sets as well and you really have a voice when you make music, it spreads that far, so whatever you say reflects who you are, where you come from and what you are about, and what you are trying to achieve.” The kind of music I am making is a continuation of what we were already making within the band. That taught me to take music seriously and use it constructively to pass emotions, experiences, motivations, aspirations and a host of many indefinably deep seated things that are communicated from the inside and expressed in song.”
She moved on from the group to go back to school because she had initially taken a year off to finish the album with the group and once that was done she decided to go back to school to complete her degree. “Which was important for me to be a musician,” she says, “but with a sound education that could work as a backup plan.” “And it’s true and the older you get you realise your parents are right when they say go to school, get your education, seek knowledge.” She made mention that she needed to do that and she left the group for a while and was technically not making music for some time due to the fact that she was out of her comfort zone; working with other people. “When you work in a group it is comfortable, you don’t have to take risks, being on your own is a different ball game,” she says.
She was quiet for a while, and was re-inspired, when, after completing her degree, she did her intern work in production co-ordinating for festivals that focuses on Jazz festivals. She didn’t want to be too far away from the music industry. “It had to be within the music industry,” she says, “and that is where I also gave myself the opportunity to get a sense of the music business from behind the scenes, which is something I felt would benefit and grow me as an artist eventually”. She didn’t know at the time she would go back to making music, but somehow, deep down, she knew she would get back to music. “One can say it is what many call a calling; when the passion of the arts has you, in a way, you must honour the calling and deliver on the gift, regardless of the obstacles and challenges,” she says. Behind the scenes she was exposed to working with many Jazz artists and music that she was not familiar with. She says, “Some of those performances I got to witness reminded me why I make music and that fulfilling connection with the audience.”
“One of the challenges for me of coming out solo,” she expresses, “and what I hope I was able to achieve particularly with my first album, Step Child, is the desire, fresh from my heart, to reflect something about the BaSotho nation from Lesotho, from the heart where the BaSotho come from.” And songs like Tsela ts’oeu, among others, talk about not forgetting where one comes from and always knowing where one is going – “I wanted so badly in the making of that album to have songs that deeply reflected my culture and where I came from.”
Courtesy of Mabontle Christina Molapo
She has spent a lot of time in South Africa, so she has been exposed to so many different cultures that, she says, “As a Singer I love to sing in languages like IsiZulu and do justice to the language and its spiritual content.”
Her influence also dates back to her days of listening to R ‘n B combined with those soul elements. “But more importantly, what we have been always trying to discover and wanted to affirm, are those rustic elements of the African sound; the African bassline, the guitar and how it is played, the percussive sound coming through and those many nice sounds from this gifted continent. Sounds that remind one of the late great Miriam Makeba, women who sang and made music that represents Africans – the whole continent and not just South Africa,” she says,” we’ve always been trying, in the making of the sound, to discover and to include those edgy African elements that unite us all as Africans.” “In a song like Chimsoro we wanted to touch on some Shona and Swahili; and going forward in my career, it would be important to discover and represent the many beautiful languages of this continent through song.”
“One of the reasons it took me long to make the first album in the first place had to do with a lot of the issues we all have to deal with,” she says, “Issues like self-doubt, fear, just one’s own inhibitions that hold one back. Just getting to the processes of making the music was a big step for me, hence why I named the album Step Child.
“It was like I needed to take that step, it is the first step that leads to so much more and it is the hardest one to take. And so obviously, after all of that struggle, that internal emotional struggle just to make the album; when the time comes to release it, again, it is very intimidating, one naturally wants their music to be well received.” Nevertheless, the album was well received – overwhelmingly so. But before the actual release, some colleagues in the industry felt like it was not a good move to make, because many had become acquainted to some of the house tracks she had done. They felt like there was no need to change a winning formula and were somewhat perplexed at the move.
“The response was overwhelming, humbling, and a blessing, really,” she says, “not just to me who makes the music but it is a blessing when a gift is well received because it is not mine.” I make the music and I write it, but it is something that is also given to me so when I pass it on as a musician, and to those who must hear it and they receive it well, all round everybody is blessed.”
“It was exciting to do a solo project and stand on my own and say I think this is a way I’d like to express myself as an artist,” she says, “and this is the beginnings of the sound because a sound is always evolving.”
It is good to have time between projects as is evident by the quality of the albums Maleh has offered to the world, “it allows you hopefully to have a longer career for one and when you give the music time you can be honest about what you are producing,” she says. There was a two year gap from the first album, Step Child, and You Make My Heart Go, the second album. “One of the things I learned was that when making a new album, completely forget about the previous one, do not be making music to try and copy it or try to make a new Step Child. Let it go, let it stay there in the past, let the process be organic, be in the moment. So in the making of the second album, You Make My Heart Go, I was really writing and making music about what was happening in my life in the two year period between the first and second project. My life had changed a little from the release of the first album from experiences around my life.”
The overall theme of the second album was love. “The single You Make My Heart Go, after which the whole album is named, which is interesting because up until the making of the second album I don’t think I have ever written so many love centred songs and You Make My Heart Go was one of those were I was looking at, especially, the idea that we all struggle with of loving self. Loving and honouring who you are, accepting yourself – flaws and all. We all have flaws but to look within your potential is important.” Songs like Ke Mo Afrika are based around loving yourself. A song like Maseru, for me, was a song I had to write to tell people that I love this little hometown that I was born in. In its entirety, the album is predominately about the love that I was feeling and it came from the people who were giving me love, from the reception with love of the first album to personal relationships to the love of spirituality.”
Courtesy of Mabontle Christina Molapo
A beautiful overall theme and message comes through from her music; messages on language and cultural preservation. She laments over how circumstances under which we grow have managed to take so much from our rich past and heritage. “I was lucky to grow up in Lesotho for a part of my life and be based in a hometown in which, from every angle, I was able to receive or to be in a space where cultural there was a lot to take in. I feel like we don’t have that opportunity as young people in this modern cosmopolitan world we live in. There is so much of a distraction that we really don’t get to understand our cultures. Our cultures just being our way of living as Africans – how we traditionally loved and respected one another. Our languages are also endangered. So that is some of the things I, mostly, like to address, and have people pride themselves with their home languages and every essence of being African irrespective of which ethnicity one belongs to.”
“The mission and the aim is to make music that represents Africans all over the world, music that will transcend borders and do justice to the gift that belongs to the people,” she says. And it is exciting because the song You Make My Heart Go was listed as one of the top 5 songs to come from Africa for the year 2015 by the UK Guardian and the music is played by radio stations over there as well.
“The most important part of this whole experience for me,” she says, “is the humility aspect of it as an artist, because I think a lot of artists get into the game and their music being well received for some people it goes to their heads and they lose track of why it is they make music in the first place and how it is they make music. I just strive to remain an artist, remain within the Art and the joy that making Music brings me and stick to that. Every reaction is a blessing and I think that when people celebrate the music that is enough for me.” Music is like water; the soul can hardly survive without a pure dose of the medium and Maleh provides exactly that to quench our thirsty minds and replenish our souls. Imbokodo, Ndlovukazi!
Courtesy of Mabontle Christina Molapo
By Themba Ka Mhlanga