Bhudaza, during an interviw with Sowetan in Rosebank, Johannesburg. Pic: ANTONIO MUCHAVE. 10/03/2010. © Sowetan.
Bhudaza, during an interviw with Sowetan in Rosebank, Johannesburg. Pic: ANTONIO MUCHAVE. 10/03/2010. © Sowetan.

HE HAS an air of importance around him that you pick up immediately after meeting him.

HE HAS an air of importance around him that you pick up immediately after meeting him.

To a stranger, particularly those who might not have witnessed his simplicity and humility on stage, it is easy to conclude that Budhaza Mapefane, the Lesotho-born jazz virtuoso, must be full of himself, self-assured and perhaps a bit arrogant.

But see him on stage, or listen to his music, and you'll conclude that here is an artist who must walk tall among some of the finest musicians from the southern African region.

His music, which has a jazz base with a strong fusion of Sesotho traditional sounds and tinges of jazz and reggae beats, has spread his influence steadily from his Lesotho roots to South Africa and neighbouring countries.

With a degree in music from the University of Cape Town, he is well grounded too.

I met this music giant last week, absorbed some of his music knowledge, and realised that he is the sort of musician who takes his art seriously, understanding that the duty of musicians in society does not end with entertaining people. It goes far beyond that into the realm of social, cultural and political consciousness. This he made very clear during the interview.

"I love my Sesotho traditional music and that is why I apply some jazz, gospel and even reggae elements to it to make it appeal to a broader public. I am a spiritual person. I believe in spirits. My music is always different. Even the same song played on stage is always different from when it is done in the studio. Sometimes I add certain elements on stage, something that I might have lost during the studio process," he said.

The artist has just released his third album, Likhomo, which he says is linked to the first one, Bo-Mapefane. His second album, Mohokare, delinked his music from his debut album, and in the process, music fans that liked his first album were somehow lost.

"The second album, I do not know whether it was because it was not well marketed or what, but somehow it was not as well received as the first one. I actually wanted it to be different from the first one," he said.

The lesson from this second album has taught him the importance of building on the repertoire that has made him famous and sealed his fate as one of the most significant figures of jazz music in the region.

"This time I have gone back to the original style of the first album. I deal with social issues in the album, such as when a child is born and brought up by the mother's relatives because the boyfriend has run away. Under such circumstances the child tends to lose his or her surname, but one thing that the child does not forget is the desire to find out where and who its father is," he said.

Perhaps Budhaza, the late Frank Leepa and Tsepo Tshola are the foremost cultural ambassadors of Lesotho. They have put the music and culture of the Mountain Kingdom right up there, so it must inevitably be celebrated in that country. Not so according to Budhaza.

"I am not a friend of politics. Not that I hate politicians, it is just that I am critical of politicians and as a result of that the ruling powers in Lesotho do not like me that much.

" I never get booked to perform at government-organised events, for example. The ruling powers regard me as some sort of opposition politician, which I am not. It is just that I am critical of politics and politicians. They tend to ignore me and pretend that I am not there. I am more popular in South Africa than I am in Lesotho," he said.

Budhaza said that learning music both formally and informally is quite important in the life of a musician, and that is why he got his lessons, as a saxophonist and a musician, from experienced musicians such as Khaya Mahlangu and Johnny Mekoa, and at university level.

"In formal education you learn the structure and the articulation of music. Classics, for example, are a base for music, and jazz is developed from there.

"Classics actually teach you the discipline. For example, in a classical music concert you are not supposed to applaud after a song. You are supposed to wait until the concert is over.

"But in jazz you can clap your hands at the end of the song," he said.