When I first laid eyes on Black Jesus was in 1973, I was an 18 year old curious minded young woman. Black Jesus ignited curiosity in me more, when one winter night the Lancers Inn hotel bar door flew opened. Stepping in was an African man beside him a beautiful tall white woman with long black hair, dressed in black tight pants tugged in her high stiletto black leather boots and a long maxi black leather coat. The man wore a brown huge rim leather hat, black bottle neck sweater, black tight bell bottom pants, a sleeveless fox fur jacket and a brown leather man’s sling bag. The hotel was a hot spot for young and the working class of Maseru to hang out after work, the expatriates was another added mixer to the ritual. They proceeded towards the counter holding hands, he then ordered some drinks, moved more to the middle of the bar as they sipped their alcohol of choice.
They were both smoking cigarettes that were elongated by the mouth piece tip. He introduced himself and his lady friend. What was interesting and surprising was his name Black Jesus! One of the gentleman asked him why Black Jesus? He looked at him exposing his set of big white teeth, a big smile he replied him with a question, what’s wrong with Black Jesus? I was stunned, I had never really thought of anyone calling himself Black Jesus, the only Jesus I heard of was from the bible, yet I thought why not? On the serious side he continued to let us know he was a Mosotho from Teyateyaneng and had lived in East Germany for years. He was fluent in the German language as he would turn to his lady friend to interpret the conversation. After a couple of drinks with the lady on his arm the two disappeared in the night. That was truly an interesting night for me, never have I ever seen with my own eyes a biracial couple with such cheek and boldness as those two. To me they both expressed a bold social statement that was not too familiar with the country and the people. They continued to cause a stare around town walking hand in hand.
He was the talk of the town, whispers going around ,and people asking about who the man is walking hand in hand with a white woman. Wow! Where do they come from? Is he a Mosotho? As soon as the excitement about them grew, the lady was nowhere to be seen. I was drawn to his sense of adventure, he was a socialite around town, people gathering next to him to listen to his captivating stories about his life in Germany. He was a story teller, attention grabber, to sum it up a people person. At first some people did not approve of calling himself Black Jesus but later it seemed there was no harm in the Black Jesus name especially because he did not use it to preach religion to anyone, he was not a religious messiah but a cultural social messiah. Even though he had embraced the western lifestyle, he was still a true African . He took us on a 60s free style of enjoying ourselves. His motto was hey, have a beer, wine, smoke cigarettes or joint if you want and still follow your dreams and achieve greatness along the way. He would have a big laugh and extend his open hand to give whoever he was talking to a friendly hand slap gesture saying give me five followed by cool sister! He prove to be a driving force managing Uhuru/Sankomota together with Peter Schneider, They all seemed to work together in a professional manner towards each other, enjoyed each others’ company and the band members drove the direction of their music career. I have really never seen or heard arguments or about them with each other but they could have been some arguments. He rented an office building at the bus stop area which he converted into an apartment where the band members were either jamming, humming a tune, or brain storming about songs to write, sing and how the tune to a song should be.
The band played couple of gigs around Maseru and the surrounding districts. By this time Uhuru/Sankomota was a well know band and people looked forward to the next gig on weekends, finally people had a weekend occasion to spend their money on, support their home boys and have fun too. The defining moment for me was when Uhuru/Sankomota opened for an American jazz player Dizzy Gillepsie at the Lesotho stadium. That day Uhuru/Sankomota showed they were a band to be reckon with, people cheered, danced, intoxicated by the sound the instruments, Frank and Tshepo’s melodic voices. Medley of joy and pride just spilled all around the stadium. The excitement was followed by sheer amazement when Dizzy Gillespie blew his trumpet, his cheeks blowing out with a perfect round form depicting a frog’s blown cheeks. After the Gillespie opening we knew that Uhuru/Sankomota was ready to take on the World!
We took couple of trips to visit Black Jesus in Teyateyaneng where he was now living with his wife Palesa and their only son. This time he was an older mature man, some of his interests had shifted more towards a family life. He had a sizeable garden behind his house, down beside his house lived his mother and sister, on our visits he would always walk us to his mother’s home to show us she was doing well at her old age, he would exchange few words with his mother give her a hug and we would be back at his house to share a meal or drinks whatever was available. He had an old piano by the door which he would play a tune before leading us to a living room area. Palesa was always busy with one thing or the other around the house or she would join us as Black Jesus talk about their life’s plans. By then he had a son who was always running in and out of the house and daddy was patient with him and enjoyed his boy.
On one visit he talked about his plan to build a mausoleum for a resting place for his mother when she died. When we looked at him blank questioning faces, he just off the chair and said come outside by the garden I will show you where the building will be. First he walked us through the garden, claiming he a now a farmer, showing us a beautiful garden full of green healthy vegetables. Towards the end of the garden he pointed where the mausoleum would be. With great enthusiasm he went on about the shape of the building, stone building high enough to walk in and view or visit his mother. I would say I have never heard of walk in mausoleum anywhere in Africa. Most of the time he would throw in something funny with his stories but this time he looked serious. I had my doubts about his plan but there was a possibility since one of my nephew had been buried at his family property even though it was not a common practice. Mausoleum? That was new and different!
When we visited next tragedy had struck his house hold with the death of his only son. He had been hit by a car. His house was not far from the busy main highway. That was truly a sad time for his family. Later him and his wife were immersed into politics with the goal to serve the community of their town. 2002 I returned to the US, 2010 back in Africa, by then we had already heard of his passing. We were greatly sad that we were unable to be present for his funeral. A lady friend who resided in Teyateyaneng related to me the controversy surrounding his burial, courts were involved, and law was passed to stop people from burying their loved ones on their properties. I was beaming with great joy to hear him and his mother were laid to rest in the mausoleum he told my husband and I his plan to build. He led a simple life with significant purpose and meaning. I am blessed he shared parts of his life with me. Thank you BLACK JESUS and PALESA
To me this is a celebration of a friend’s life, musical, cultural, and social talents he had and used well respectfully. May his soul rest in peace!!!!
Frank Leepa, lead guitarist, slim, tall handsome with a shy demeanor, when I would see him at Black Jesus bus stop apartment, his guitar hanging on his shoulder always in readiness to strum a tune. He would give you a smile and go find a comfortable corner to either meditate on his musical creativity. One afternoon I came to the apartment and found Frank sitting in front of a huge window facing the warm soothing heat from the sun we all so much enjoyed in the winter months. His guitar by his side as usual. I am not sure how the conversation started but I could have told him about my sadness I was feeling with the death of my grandmother, he slowly strummed on his guitar without playing a particular song, began to tell me how his father was among the men who were ambushed and killed by the military of the BNP ruling party. He then continued to say his mother had passed too, of what I asked? He said She fell ill with grieve after an unexpected death of my father and died of a heartache. Thought here he was trying to build his life without his parents. His parents stolen from him yet he was able to console me by telling his own loss to somehow let me know it’s going to be alright underneath his quiet nature, he was a kind caring human being. After that conversation I was a frequent visitor at the apartment he shared with his younger sister Mpho. The brother and sister played roles of taking care of each other, protecting each other and being patient with each other and their situation, they were going on with life especially after their brother death to a car accident. Being around them made me stronger as I watch them take care of each other and be good at it after my grandmother’s death I compared my home life to a title book of a famous Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe called Things fall apart. Frank and Mpho’s friendship showed me that I can pick up the pieces and move on with life, which I did when I fell in love and married. In 1978 I left for the States but kept contact, later we moved to Namibia and to my happy surprise, Sankomota came to a newly independent Namibia, on a promotional tour in Oshakati, northern region at a night club called put more fire. With the African saying, lebitso sebe ke seromo, that night the name put more fire lived up to its name, with colorful light bulbs shining on the outside patio under the open African sky. Namibians and expatriates alike let the music ignite fire in their rhythmic unique dance moves. Oh! What a night! The next important moment for me was watching live TV first Kora African wards festival in honor of President Mandela, with Sankomota as a first band on stage. Truly the AHA! The memory of their humble beginnings in Lesotho for Uhuru/ Sankomota made feel proud for their well deserved accomplishments!
The band members were married with families of their own. Frank was the late bloomer in that department but he eventually joins the clan and married Thembisa Plata a Thaba-nchu native, by this time Sankomota was well known and revered. They had persevered against all odds. Life challenges are sometimes part of life, he seemed to have been shaken by a close brush with death when sankomota members had an accident that killed some and injured some with his life spared. I bet that was traumatic to him. While living in the same town in Ladybrand, Thembi confided to me that Frank had a pancreas disease, yet when we meet you could never tell he was ill, soft spoken, gentle, slow laid back walk and massive good natured presence that most people liked. I call that a GOOD SOUL! I was sad to have heard of his death and burial in Qhuqhu in the outskirts of Maseru and was not part of it. He was a loner and a private person too. After sharing his life with so many people through his music, I believe it was proper and fitting for his funeral to be private with mostly family members. He left us a memorable legacy that will continue through generations! Thank you Frank Leepa!
Pitso Sera one of the first bass guitar player for Uhuru. What strikes me from him and the rest of the band members are the instrumental self taught talent they all possess. They were a raw gift of talent that just needed practice and discipline and through the help of peter Schneider and from there were able to direct their music where they wanted to be. Pitso deserve recognition as one of the first band members. He played and showed he could handle his own. His presence as a band member was short lived but he continued to be a friend and around when there was a gig by the band members. What caused the break up with him and the band is not known to me but his identity as one of the Uhuru band members remain in our hearts. The last time I saw him, alcohol drinking seemed to have taken its toll, and he looked like he was searching but still haven’t found what he was looking for. I hope he has managed to find his calling and became a person he was meant to be, whether with music or something else.
Moss – The drummer: He was the best drummer known to come out of Lesotho at the time of their band formation without a doubt. His performance with the drums seemed effortless, with an approving smile he would playfully swirl the drum sticks between his fingers to show his workman skills and looses himself in a state of ecstasy, a joyful drum player trance, he raised the bar every time he played. The stage came alive especially when the song would break to let him show his skill solo on the drums that went on for a 2 to 3 minutes high lighting his talent. A gentle natured soul, very friendly, loved to make people laugh. He later became a well known business man as a contractor which he said was a good income to take care of his family. I know he is in heaven smiling down at us. We still feel the peaceful energy you possessed and shared amongst your friends.
SECHELE DIZZY KHAKETLA
Dizzy - Key board player: He was really difficult to read him, people thought he had lost his marbles yet what I observed was a very intelligent funny human being. The grape vine says he had his musical interest while studying in England. I do not know when he came back, my encounter with him like Black Jesus was at Lancers Inn hotel, and the local hang out for the Basotho. His family was and is still a well known name in Lesotho. People were confused by his care free lifestyle where he did not hold a particular job, especially coming from a high society of highly educated family. Sechele Khaketla (Dizzy) like many young people was just taking different avenues in his life experiences, like music.
He was a great key board player of the times from Lesotho. I think what most people did not understand was that he did not at the time want to tie his life to a eight to five grinding job, he was not finished having fun , so he continue to satisfy his fun loving sight of him. When the opportunity to be in the band knocked, that became his way to show his key board skills and that he can be an entertainer too, something that people enjoyed watching him do and was good at! As with Pitso, Moss, and Moruti, the departure from the band was not known to the public, it must have been amicably as there were no rumors of bad blood between the band members that I know of, or Frank and Tshepo had a broad vision which included more band players and experience with different instruments and techniques. Last time he visited my home he was a married man living either Thaba- Nchu or Bloemfontain and teaching. Thank you Dizzy for using music to create lasting friendships.
Moruti Selate- Bass guitarist: He carried on where Pitso left off with the standard that Uhuru had as a band, the difference was instead of pitso, there was this Jimi Hendrix look-alike guy donning a biggest Afro of the 60s era. He had a sexy aura about him, average size, thin, with a swaggering gait, smoking a cigarette like Marlboro man on a cigarette billboard advertisement. A city slicker! He had a big mouth that would expose a perfect set of white teeth when laughing. Even though the guys were enjoying the recognition with their music, as time went Moruti seemed to look abroad to pursue his life and music career there. In 1979 he travelled with peter Schneider to start a job working for Peter’s father.
Sometime in the eighties I received a call from Moruti while in London, the call was a wonderful surprise as I was in the US at the time. In 1986 I decided to visit Lesotho, so I contacted Moruti to meet me at Heathrow airport since I had couple of hours before my flight to Johannesburg. It sure was a happy reunion, he was quick to suggest we go back to his house to meet his wife. Introductions were made, had enough time for tea and the use of the bathroom and back on the road to the airport. He mentioned still in a band there in London. The subway ride to his home and back was an interesting trip as I have never taken one before. He saw me off to Africa and that was the last time I saw or heard of him.
In between 2000 to 2001 Cecily Anderson a friend called me and informed me of the sad news of Moruti;s tragic death, he had fallen from the high rise apartments in London. The details were vague but the Lesotho government had bought him home. Cecily and I attended the funeral. It was extremely shocking and sad, we could not stop asking why and how could he have fallen? When we finally accepted that he was gone from us, we found peace by accepting accidental death. Back in the states, we manage to get contact with Peter Schneider who was equally shocked to hear that Moruti had passed away. The most big shock was from Moruti’s ex wife Deborah who like Peter horrified to hear about Moruti’s death ten years after it had happened, especially when it happened in the London somewhere. Her and Moruti had divorced, and she had moved away and remarried. She was devastated. In 2010 she asked me to take a packet home that had Moruit’s photos of early days of him and Sankomota band members, some were of him in London with the new South African band members and a letter that was written by his roommate after his death as to notify family with the circumstances surrounding his death but was never mailed. It seemed like the letter was written years after his death and the roommate could not sumorn the nerve to mail it, which leaves family and friends with a BIG question mark. The letter seemed lurking in details. One other document was an enquiry report that conclusions of an accidental fatal fall from the apartment window. Moruti’s mother, two brothers and sister were still confused and far from getting answers to their loved one’s death after ten years to the incident. Moruti’s mother in her 70s looked young beautiful as if time had stool still since her son left. I truly empathized with them for their sorrow. The old photos seem to lighten their faces as they reminisce about when and where some of the photos were taken. They pointed to the South African band members that were present at his funeral and were happy to see photos of their brother’s band members doing a gig to raise money for Moruti to come home. The mother was able to manage a smile while going through the photos but was still deeply sad that there was not a concrete closure that can give her peace about her son’s death. I had conflicting emotions of joy, sadness frustrations that my delivery packet did not give enough information to satisfy their longing to understand Moruti’s death. Still, I saw joy in the midst of sadness as they go through the old and new photos of Moruti. Before I left I gave Moruti’s mother a comforting long hug as if to lift off the burden off of her. She had accepted her son’s death but sorrow remains. The good incentive is that Moruti’s resting place is Lesotho where they can visit. I felt small walking out and disappearing to the sea point location. To my happy surprise there was Tshepo Tshopla whom I have not seen in years. We gave each other an old familiar loud hellos and hugs. I told him I came from Moruti’s home and he clue me in about Black Jesus ailing health. I had a video camera so we made a short video to Peter Schneider and told him I will connect him with Peter, which I did.
Tshepo Tshola A.K.A. The village pope: Lead vocalist, The Voice! A preachers’ son who grew up around church music, what more can you ask for but a powerful moving melodic sound which he delivered with over flowing joy and a big smiling face. From the beginning his church upbringing seem to influence the spiritual energy that came across when singing. His singing had a soulful flare that was effortless. The strong deep voice sound became his signature sound famously known today. With the discipline he carried on stage while singing proved he was not just going to sing, he became a trail blazer as a performer from the humble beginnings in Lesotho for many young upcoming musicians for their dreams to become a reality. His music has addressed social issues including education for all children to giving hope to African nations.
What I am about to write on this paragraph is a touchy subject which in my mind deserve a mention. Uhuru/Sankomota were not only band members but husbands, fathers and friends. Hopefully with Tshepo’s permission I would like to pay homage to a friend a sister who the country mourned her loss at a peak of her life. Monice was a remarkable kind hearted young woman with a welcoming honest smile when talking to her. The best memory I still carry with me was when she told me her and Tshepo were going to get married. It was clearly a joyous moment and a feeling of victory showing in her eyes. As a friend my observation of the band members when it came to women was more cautious as not to be labeled women heart breakers or players. That is not to say there were no women interested, they were, what was more in the minds of band members was to play music and make everyone happy and proud of them as musicians so, I thought, yet I was happy for the both of them. I remember saying wow! Tshepo is the first one of the group to take a leap of faith to get married but again he grew up with faith in his own household and it was befitting for him to make a commitment of marriage as he continues to pursue his musical dreams.
Going back to Tshepo and Monice, their marriage produced two sons. Both of them knew and understood the circumstances surrounding an ongoing hard work ahead in order to achieve the possibilities of a great musician and be able to support his family through his love of music. Again this is purely my opinion of them, they seem to be making a good go at their marital journey. That journey was cut short by an unsuspecting MONSTER who shook the country and the Basotho nation by a discovery of a violent and brutal murder of Tshepo’s wife. The news of the murder terrorized women all around the Capital as every woman wonders if they could be next. In my mind that was a dark time, women were scared to be alone at home, husbands were reluctant to leave their homes. Safety and protection for everyone was at an old time high. The gruesome details of the murder was an everyday topic, how her body was hacked with a weapon none of us could figure out what kind it was. An axe was among the guesses, still the biggest question was WHY? It is said that when the body was discovered, their two young babies were found crying next to their mother’s body in a hope to get her attention or crying from hunger, this is an assumption of the rumors around this tragedy. I remember how a friend and I went to the area of the crime scene home just to stare in horror as the incident of the murder played in our young minds, picturing her fighting back, her screams, the children’s cries, her fear, our fear, sadness, sorrow, pain and absolute helplessness. Who is the MONSTER that did this? Why is there no arrest? Does our police have the know how to deal with a crime of this magnitude? The women felt like they were held under a hostage of crippling fear. For those who knew them closely felt a deep empathy for them and their families respectfully. I am not sure whether it took months or years but eventually there was a big sigh of relieve when the arrest of a foreign man from Zimbabwe was arrested. What really struck me was the weapon of choice, a machete! (panga) A tool used to cut grass or cut a path when walking through a dense forest. I am not sure if I had ever heard of this machete before this gruesome murder. I was a city girl, and I thought it was not a tool of choice used in rural areas of Lesotho as I have never seen or heard anybody mention it. The more the details came out about this Zimbabwean man, the more furious I became with anger. How dare he come to Lesotho and betray the trust of the country and its people. Is that how he pays the nation for the hospitality he was given living in Lesotho. I am not sure if he was legal or not, I wondered why did he leave his own country? To commit this heartless, senseless murder? He was indeed a psycho, with no shame, remorse or care whether she was a mother, wife or somebody’s daughter. With our travels I am not sure where I was when finally there was a court case and he was found guilty, sentenced to die. I am not sure whether I believe in capital punishment or not but in this case the relieve I felt on his sentence was justice has been served. There was a closure for her husband, both their families and the country as a whole. For me this case was a life changing moment, I became aware for the first time in my life that there are people capable of good and those capable horrific acts. That’s what Monice death taught me and many Basotho women around that time. This is my own special way to honor her, to let her know she is still loved and thought of. May she continue to rest in peace.
The loss of Tshepo’s young wife at an early time in their marriage was really a traumatic experience for Tshepo but he managed to gather strength, courage and hope to move on with his plan to provide for his children through his love, passion and calling as a singer/songwriter. The spiritual song, Ee holukile to me healed my grief and loss for Monice, Ee holukile I felt was his way to find comfort ,healing and bravery to accept what he could not change. It brings me to tears every time I listen to it. He manage to use his Christian upbringing to find solace with spiritual songs that guided his childhood and family. He took a tragic experience and transformed his life, his music to serve others, inspire, educate, give hope and show others to dream and through hard work anything is achievable. Music was his purpose and singing gave it meaning. Thank you Tshepo for sharing your gift!
His arrival in Lesotho was not a mistake, he was summoned by the African ancestors to guide the young men in their quest to become the first great band from a beautiful country dubbed little Switzerland, in between his family business venture. Peter is a Swiss-German and Black Jesus having lived in Germany speaking fluent German language created a resourceful marriage in a form of communication to take on the musician’s dreams and form a solid band. Peter was no stranger to the music industry as he was a musician. His knowledge and input as a manager was a tremendous boost to the young upcoming band members. With Peter’s direction the band was motivated and gained enough confidence to take a leap of faith and realize their dreams. One memorable experience that stayed with me was a party Peter held at his then home in Maseru West with his then wife Cecily Anderson. If my recollection serves me right, he had a surprise for the band members and invited guests. After meals and drinks, he sat us down to have us watch a show from the wall screen of the house. He dimed the lights off and turned on a kaleidoscope producing symmetrical patterns of rapidly scenes, shapes and colors moving in synchronicity with music. I think for all of us it was the first time to see such a show. We were mesmerized by the images changing to large, medium, small to tiny bits. That show made my evening. There were aha moments followed by ooh’s then laughter and giggles, amazed at this foreign yet beautiful display. For me that was a metaphor, showing the Uhuru/Sankomota that with discipline they can achieve colorful beautiful music that can shape their lives. As it seems their lives were shaped in the beautiful rich colors of their original African lyrics! Thank you Peter for playing an important role in the band members lives. You have a lifelong friends in them. You continue to show interest and honor their talents as you saw them from the beginning so many years ago.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all band members’ past and present. They have given us a rich historical music legacy which needs to be preserved for future generations. Tshepo went solo but he will always be a valuable living member of the band. Guys, you soared above the highest beautiful mountains of Lesotho in your own individual way! This is my remembrance of personal stories through my interactions with the band members or my observations of anecdotes of their lives. Some are of interesting and entertaining nature while some are of sad nature. My goal is to show that they were not only band members but husbands, fathers, uncles, brothers, family Men, friends and musical heroes. I pay the highest respect and gratitude!
KHOTSO PULA NALA
Happy heavenly Birthday Moruti Selate keep jamming with your Sankomota band members! We miss you all
Cathy Ingram, June 29th 2020
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