Edinburgh 2013: From Lesotho to Edinburgh

Mick Perrin

SothoSounds JosephaWomex JacobCrawfurd 300x199 Edinburgh 2013: From Lesotho to Edinburgh

Mick Perrin, 58, producer and promoter, working with acts such as Eddie Izzard, Dylan Moran, Bo Burnham and Reg D Hunter, to name but a few, and is co-producer of La Soiree. This year Mick Perrin Worldwide present the first ever act from the Kingdom of Lesotho, Sotho Sounds, to the Edinburgh Fringe. Here, Mick talks about the story which brought the music troupe to Edinburgh.

In 1988, I was working as a tour manager in Edinburgh when I was asked if I would tour manage a show called Amampondo, (which is apparently Nelson Mandela’s favourite show). It consisted of a group of 12 South Africans, from Zulu and Xhosa tribes, who used zebra skinned drums and huge marimbas and performed acrobatics and traditional dancing, all the while wearing tribal costumes. It was an amazing show – but we faced challenges. It was the apartheid era and everywhere we went in Europe we faced difficulty of one sort or another – in each territory we had to seek the permission from the local African National Congress representative to be able to perform. Despite all that, the tour was an amazing experience for me. After a late night gig they’d run down the street chanting and dancing, and I would run along beside them chanting Amandla, which is a Zulu and Xhosa word for power. It was quite the scene, and I had some wonderful times.

There were also depressing times. On one occasion, coming back into Dover from Scandinavia, the customs officers, looking for contraband, searched our trailer; which was full to the brim with zebra skinned drums, leopard coverd Zulu warrior shields, sharply fashioned spears, and a whole array of drums and marimbas. One of the customs officials came into the mini-bus holding aloft my passport and set about goading the guys with racist comments “This is what you want, isn’t it? This is why you’re here.” But on the way out, another customs officer, a younger guy, stopped our bus on the way out and said that on behalf of all right thinking customs officers he wanted to welcome the group into the country and apologise for the actions of his colleague. That was very typical of the era – some people welcoming and progressive, others the complete opposite.

At the end of the tour the guys reluctantly went home, with the exception of Risenga Makondo, who stayed, married a Brighton girl, and had children. He took himself through college and got a university degree in music and now teaches music therapy to children with learning difficulties. But I knew none of this until a year ago.

Last year Risenga knocked on the door of my office in Brighton. We chatted about old times

and he told me about a group of musicians he’d seen whist on holiday in Lesotho. He asked if I could help him bring the guys over to the Edinburgh festival and I of course said yes.

Sotho Sounds are musicians, but they earn a living working as goats herdsmen – they go up into the mountains spending several weeks working in isolation. To entertain themselves they make their own instruments out of what is essentially rubbish. The instruments are fashioned out of old oilcans laced with fishing wire as strings, and rubber skinned oil drums beaten with a roughly carved sticks. They’re also incredibly skilled stick fighters, which when they are working in the mountains, they use to fend off wild animals or thieves, and which they incorporate into their performance.

Risenga, who is co-producing the show with me, has seen it all himself as a young man coming from South Africa for the first time. And now he’s brought his son along to help the guys from Sotho Sounds promote themselves and prepare for the show each day. The band have been here a week and a half now and have two weeks left to run. They’re being asked to give live performances all over the place. They played at various industry shows last week, and because they’d gone down so well were asked to play a second set – they got everybody up and dancing. These guys are truly wonderful, all stars in their own right.

The show is for all the family and I believe the Edinburgh audience will take them to their hearts because in the long tradition of the Edinburgh Festival, Sotho Sounds is very much an Edinburgh Festival act. They’re certainly eye-catching as they wander through the streets of Edinburgh in their traditional clothes of blankets and gumboots – blankets to protect from the cold and gumboots to protect from the snakes

Obviously I want the show to get huge audiences and for them to be successful. But most of all I wish for them to be able to go back to Lesotho with their heads held high, because they are the first act ever from Lesotho to come to the Edinburgh festival and the difficulties and hurdles they have overcome in so doing, is in itself a great achievement.

Sotho Sounds: Junk Funk - 13:30 – Nightclub, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 31 Jul – 25 Aug (not 14th)

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  • Nish

    I wish you all the best with Sotho Sounds and wish I could be in Edinburgh to see them. I saw Amampondo in the festival in ‘98 and they were spectacular. I also met some of the performers including Risenga – a lovely person. It does not surprise me to hear he has done so well for himself.

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