’Mutlanyana was the first song Mohapeloa composed, some time in late 1929. He had just returned to Lesotho from the eastern Cape, where the diagnosis of tuberculosis had interrupted his studies at the South African Native College in Alice (now Fort Hare University). The only cure for TB in those days was rest and sun baths, and Mohapeloa spent many months undergoing this cure at his parents’ home in southern Lesotho. It was here that, his brother notes, he “started writing what I called music, in a playful way [and] this finally became the work that is known as ’Mutlanyana”. J.M. Mohapeloa continues, in his biography of the composer (1987):
At the beginning he wrote a few lines, he would then test it with two to three people to hear how it sounded. He would continue with the short song, changing it here and there. He would try it again, and then make changes. He would continue doing this until he had a complete song which was sung by a choir that he formed. It was also sung by other schools.
The text is based on a well known folk tale but the music was newly composed, intuitively building on what Mohapeloa, who had no formal training in composition, had internalised up to this point in his life.