African Composers Edition

Online publisher of African compositions

Chao (Chao dance)

Mohapeloa wrote Chao in the late 1930s, first publishing it in Morija in 1939 as the thirteenth of 32 songs in Meloli le Lithallere tsa Afrika ka J.P. Mohapeloa: Buka ea Bobeli [African Songs and Extemporary Harmonizations by J.P. Mohapeloa: Book II]. Mohapeloa continued numbering songs in Meloli II  - his second songbook - from where his previous book, Meloli I ended; thus Chao is song No. 45 in Meloli II, not No. 13. The text and the music tell two slightly different stories: the text refers to a traditional dance style in which everyone joins in - even the ancestors’ presence is invoked, but ‘Chao’ is not the name of a traditional dance. The musical style is modern, almost hinting at a Basotho township style called famo, in which stamping, a strong beat, whistles, and a concertina or accordion accompany the singing and dancing. Mohapeloa’s brother recalls that when his songs first came out in the 1930s, he “was encouraged by the way people enjoyed his music. But there were people who were asking themselves whether these were songs: are they not dance songs. Some criticized them”. His modernisation of African music, such a strong feature of Mohapeloa’s work, was not universally approved and the composer himself acknowledged this in several of his writings.


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