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Remembering iconic Mpharanyana

The late Jacob Radebe aka Mpharanyana


July 12, 2021 3 min read

3 min read


South African soul music legend Mpharanyana may have died over 40 years ago, but his music continues to touch the hearts of many people.

Born Jacob Radebe on April 16, 1948 - Mpharanyana was the best Sesotho soul artiste of the 1970s in Southern Africa. He died on August 21, 1979 at the age of 30 at the height of his musical career.
But some 40 years plus later, his music is still celebrated, confirming that he remains one of the greatest Sesotho soul singers to ever perform in Lesotho, Botswana and South Africa.

Some of the people who had the luck to watch him perform on stage still recall his amazing zeal and powerful voice, accompanied by his unique cough which was his musical trademark.

One of such people is Lirahalibonoe Lekema, 67, of Hlotse in Leribe who still vividly remembers the riveting voice that has left lifetime memories and amazing stories to tell about the iconic musician.
"His is an enduring showbiz tale of musical superstardom and early demise. In his case, unlike many African artists, the cause of his death was not substance abuse but TB, which he had been battling for years," says Lekema who was a young Lesotho soldier at the time of Mpharanyana's limelight.
Mpharanyana was born in Katlehong in the East Rand, Johannesburg and his interest in music was ignited at an early age.
"Before he died, he went on a huge musical tour in Lesotho. I was in Hlotse when he performed there and I watched him as he mesmerised the audience with his amazing storytelling music style. That brings me to the story of how he created the song Hlotse. During that show, I remember how some of the people in audience slammed him, accusing him of talking and not singing.

“That did not sit well with him and the following day, just before he crossed the border back into SA, he had one more performance in Maputsoe.
"He told his band members about a song he wanted them to put together in just few hours. That is how the band came up with the hit song - Hlotse. The lyrics of the song he first sang at the Sekekete Hotel in Maputsoe, narrates how he was ill treated by the residents of Hlotse. He further spiced the song with some fictional events that did not really happen, claiming that he was beaten up and pelted with stones.

“The song took the whole country by storm and the album went on to sell thousands of copies even beyond SA," Lekema gladly recalls.

The album opens with the title track, Nka Nako Ho Mo Tseba, a Sesotho cover version of Percy Sledge's Take Time To Know Her. It also features great soul-disco tracks, including hits – Hlotse, Dihwapa and Rosie.

Mpharanyana was known for coughing while singing. He had a chronic cough, which producers would initially edit out but it later became his signature.


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Max Mojapelo reveals in his book “Beyond Memory” that the constant coughing caused taping to be stopped frequently during recording sessions, but it later evolved into a stylistic characteristic after producer West Nkosi decided to leave the tapes running.
Mpharanyana recorded with the Cannibals before his untimely death. The Cannibals was composed of Mpharanyana on lead vocals, Sandra Senne, Johanna Tango and Catherine on backing vocals, the late Ray Chikapa Phiri on lead guitar, Richard Shongwe on electric piano, Ephraim Hlophe on bass and Isaac Mtshali on drums.

Struggling without their popular front man, after Mpharanyana’s passing, the Cannibals released the album Total Rejection that year, before merging with members of the Movers to become the mighty Stimela (after a short stint as Kumasi) in 1982.

"What moves through us is a longing for one more performance, one more song, one more touch. We may not understand why he left this earth so soon, or why he left before we were ready to say good-bye, but little by little, we begin to remember not just that he died, but that he lived and that his life gave us memories too beautiful to forget," said Stimela’s managing directors on a Facebook page created in memory of the late iconic musician.

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