The legendary Mohlomi Ntabanyane, popularly known as Ntate Apollo has shared performance stage with many local and international artists in his career of more than four decades as musician.
Oct. 7, 2022
BY MAPAMELA KHANYELA, METRO TRAVEL
5 min read
APOLLO, the pioneer of Famo music
Mohlomi 'Apollo' Ntabanyane
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The multiple awards-winner from Lesotho’s Royal family believes that he is doing something right for promotion of Basotho’s arts and culture because of the awards he has received. In this wide-ranging interview with Metro Travel’s Mapamela Khanyela, a prolific musical icon, who is 80 years old and a father of 35 children, share the story of his life and other related issues to his journey as a musician.
Mapamela Khanyela (MK): Please tell us who Apollo Ntabanyane is.
Apollo Ntabanyane: I am Gabrial Mohlomi Ntabanyane, my late parents ‘Mankopane Ntabanyane and Mosiuoa Ntabanyane told me I was born on the 10th May 1942 at Matšekheng in Berea district. Like most of Basotho boys at our times, we used to look after animals. I did not receive formal education but went to initiation school as it was a norm in my village.
I used to play sekhankula, a traditional musical instrument, while looking after animals. It was at that time I realized I have a talent of singing. I left my village for the mines in South Africa in early 1970s to work there. Working in Filijone mine did not last for me because my talent of singing was blossoming, therefore I worked as a miner from 1970-1974, from there I focused in my music.
I partnered with the late Forere Motloheloa (Phau-manyetse) who happens to be my cousin to form a group called Tau ea Matšekha. Our first album in 1974 had two songs Moshanyana (A boy) and Ke Mosotho (I am Mosotho). We were also famous with the songs such as ha Peete kea falla as well as lipelepele. I used to play drums and Phau-manyetse would play accordion, we were both talented as we would compose songs together. We were the first group to produce album of famo music. We named our group Tau-ea-Matšekha because we wanted to maintain identity of where we come from. In fact, before we went to the mines, we used to entertain people in different traditional pubs in exchange for cash. It is sad that our collaboration did not last as we had to go our separate ways. It was however a blessing on me as I continued to release more albums and became more popular.
MK: How did you acquire the name Apollo?
Apollo Ntabanyane demonstrating how he moulds his blanket into a horse tail
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Mohlomi 'Apollo' Ntabanyane wagging his horse tail blanket
Ntabanyane: I was named Apollo by some of our supporters because of my powerful voice following the first landing of Apollo 11 on the moon in 1969. The name is now my brand.
MK: You mentioned earlier that you became more popular as you went solo, tell us more.
Ntabanyane: I produced albums such as Kuena ea hlaha bolibeng, kobo ea borena, Mokh`oba, Lipalema, Apollo Thibela Meleko and Mehlolo e Sebokeng. These albums were loved in Lesotho and South Africa. I have entertained thousands of spectators in my journey. I have my own identity of a horse tail made of a blanket that I wear when on stage. I have shared performance stages with the late legends such as Oliver Mtukuzi, Hugh Masikela and Tshepo Tshola. On numerous occasions, I have also shared a stage with PJ Powers.
Lesotho Tourism Jazz Festival is among my best platforms where I entertain the audience. My journey has been showered with blessings. The late Queen ‘Mamohato Bereng Seeiso named me the King of Famo music following my splendid performance at Victoria hotel in Maseru and gave me Ostrich’s feather and knobkerries. King Moshoeshoe II awarded me for outstanding contribution to Basotho culture through my music while he was Chancellor of National University of Lesotho. King Letsie III awarded me with the most Loyal Order of Ramatšeatsana, recognition by our Royal family is a milestone. I received award from Moafrika FM for my contribution into music industry. On the hero’s day earlier this year (2022) Bochabela Music Arts Association awarded me with superior excellence as the hero. I am proud of these awards and will continue to serve Basotho with my talent.
MK: Share with us, what is famo and where does it come from?
Ntabanyane: Famo was a dance performed by women in closed doors as they listen to melody of the accordion, but as time went by, the dance was gradually transformed for public consumption, and it is for this reason that we have famo music in the public domain today.
MK: You have musical career that spans over 40 years, what are some of the highlights of this journey and what keeps you motivated?
Ntabanyane: I have recruited many artists who are famous today, artists like Rabotšo le Semanyane, Lebohang Letšohla and the late Monyase. Remember Tau-ea-Matšekha are pioneers of famo music, therefore most of the artists learned from us. I have collaborated with the late Mosotho Chakela as well. I have taught my sons and grandsons on how to play these musical instruments, they are part of my band. I am a self-motivated person and respect my work as an artist. I do not smoke nor drink beer.
MK: Coming closer home, tell us about you as a father and husband.
Ntabanyane: I am a father of 35 children from my twelve wives, unfortunately 12 of my children have passed away. I married these women because I love them, I married some of my wives on the same day, and five of my wives are deceased. My father did not believe as it happened. My home is like a mini-village - the houses of my wives are close by. My children are talented in music, just like me. I sometimes run initiation school.
MK: In a nutshell, are you intending to retire from music?
Ntabanyane: I will not retire; I still have determination and passion to entertain audiences through my music. This is a gift from God, and I have to use it. I will be glad to make collaborations with some of young and talented artists as well.