Mohapeloa wrote Tšaba-tšaba in the 1940s, publishing it in Morija in 1947 as the nineteenth of 28 songs in Meloli le Lithallere tsa Afrika ka J.P. Mohapeloa: Buka ea Boraro [African Songs and Extemporary Harmonizations by J.P. Mohapeloa: Book III]. Mohapeloa continued numbering songs in Meloli III - his third songbook - from where his previous book, Meloli II ended; thus Tšaba-tšaba is song No. 83 in Meloli III, not No. 19. There are two songs by Mohapeloa called Tšaba-tšaba, written within a few years of each other but telling very different stories. The later one comes in the collection Khalima-nosi tsa ‘Mino oa Kajeno: Harnessing Salient Features of Modern African Music (JPM097), at the beginning of Volume IV of this Critical Edition. This one (JPM083) recalls Mohapeloa’s years in Johannesburg, and it is quite evident from it, says his brother J.M. Mohapeloa in a biographical essay, “that the author was missing the dances at Bantu Men’s Social Centre and the Inchcape Hall, where people danced in such an admirable way” (Mohapeloa and Phakisi 1987).
‘Tšaba-tšaba’ is a cautionary phrase in Sesotho that as a noun literally means ‘state of fear’, or as a verb, ‘be very afraid’. It gave its name to the popular fast jazzy dance in the 1930s and 40s where couples were always ‘watching out’ that they didn’t bump other people while dancing so energetically; or perhaps trying to bump someone without being bumped. It was thus a kind of game within a dance, as the song implies. The swirling skirts described in the last two lines remind us of the wonderful images of dancers captured by the photographers of Drum magazine in the 1950s.