Morija Sesuto Book Depot (MSBD), Lesotho, published the first edition of Meloli le Lithallere tsa Afrika ka J.P. Mohapeloa in 1935. As they proudly announced in the Morija newspaper Leselinyana le Lesotho (The Little Light of Lesotho) on 23 August, “This book that we are introducing to preachers, teachers, and the Basotho in general from Lesotho and South Africa, is the first of its kind”.
There are many songs here, composed by a Mosotho, a child of Lesotho, the one whose name appears above [in an advertisement]. It’s been a while that we’ve been hearing some of these songs, some in schools outside and inside in praise of fine song. Today we have all these songs together in one book, a book that has been printed well, and which is easy to read. Let everyone rush and buy it, to show that we are rejoicing, and let us give thanks to the first Mosotho composer; because we can now teach his beautiful songs and follow the rules he has shown us in the way that he has presented them.
The book was a modest-looking A5-size paperback of 89 pages and what Joshua Pulumo Mohapeloa achieved in it is probably even more remarkable than his publishers imagined, for he single-handedly exploited the potential of a new multi-part African choral genre in Sesotho, building on what a handful of his Basotho predecessors - Hope Mosaase, Jeremiah ’Makoa, Stephen Mosaase, and W. Buti - had only tentatively imagined. Using their models, together with Basotho traditional music, hymns, and the handful of Western classical pieces in tonic solfa notation that he was exposed to at school he forged a new vernacular choral idiom with Sesotho texts, at the same time advancing a new literary genre in Sesotho: the song lyric.
Volume I contains a high percentage of songs that draw on folksongs, rhymes, or stories and was composed between 1929 and 1935, during which years school choirs all over Lesotho (and beyond) tried Mohapeloa’s ‘new music’ out. He experimented with language, his habit (in this first book of songs) of writing the music first and fitting words afterwards leading to many interesting abbreviations, elisions, and adaptations of Basotho words. He also experimented in this Volume with what he called ‘fine song’, a style of melodic writing conceived for western-style, trained voices. Some of the songs in Meloli I, such as ‘U Ea Kae?’ have become classics.
The songs in Volume I, originally written in tonic solfa notation and without texts translated (because they were written for Sesotho speakers) are newly transcribed into staff notation here, and are presented together with translations, notes, and commentaries. In some cases, Mohapeloa’s translations were found.
The works are numbered JPM001 to JPM032 for the composer’s catalogue, and ACE001, 003, 005, etc. to ACE063 (odd numbers) for the publisher’s catalogue for Vol. I. Vol Ia presents the same songs and critical apparatus as Vol. 1, but tonic solfa notation is added to the staves and even nos. are used for the publisher’s catalogue: ACE002, 004, 006, etc. to ACE064; and because these are effectively different scores, new ISMNs are assigned to the works in Vol 1a.