Rikki Ililonga: Zambia’s music legend – By Patrick Kayukwa
RIKKI Makuyu Ililonga is a Zambian musician who has come a long way from the 1970s when he released his debut song Ulemu.
Rikki went on to release the controversial songs like Sheeben Queen sexual and Olemekedzeka (political).
The musician who is now in his 50s is still going strong both physically and musically.
e lives a comfortable life in Denmark where he has settled for decades.
There is probably good news for his fans in that Rikki is working on his old gems.
I am presently trying to remix and digitally remaster some of my old works.
I will probably release a single pretty soon on the Zambian market and re-establish my old record company, Sepiso Records. As you know Sepiso Records is the oldest indigenous registered record company in Zambia,” he says.
Rikki has registered another record company in Zambia called Pillar to Post Label.
He also says his album, We Shall Fight, which he recorded with Dr Kenneth Kaunda has not performed well due to the failure to support the album with a DVD (though in the pipeline).
He attributes this partly to Dr Kaunda’s busy schedule.
“My good friend President Kaunda works hard on several projects making it difficult for him to do other things like music. I am hoping to convince him to make the video sometime this year. The whole project is an edutainment. We would like it to have a visual impact on the younger population,” he says.
On the demise of his friends in the music industry, the veteran musician says death is part of life and that no one is really a master of his own destiny.
“It’s unfortunate that a lot of my contemporaries died at the very early stages of the AIDS pandemic without them realising how dangerous it was. In general, I have been a very careful person when it comes to my special life,” he notes.
Sometime back, Rikki had shocked his fans when he announced that he would take up fishing when he retires.
And actually he confirms that he was not joking when he made the announcement.
“I am going to go fishing and continue making my music because it’s a God given gift. I don’t see any reason why I should hang the guitar,” he says.
Rikki is also family man with five children.
Naita, his eldest daughter, plays the bass guitar for a band called Recon.
She recently made a kiddie CD, which is now a culture in Denmark.
She has played with many musicians who have passed through Denmark such as Ronan Keating.
Rikki’s other son Pumulo is trying to be a disc jockey (DJ).
The other minors try singing but it’s early to tell if they will take up music as a career.
Rikki who went through hard times as a musician back home says the Zambian music scene has improved a lot.
“Back in my days, people just thought… well… ‘people in the arts were not really useful’ but now it has became an industry. A lot of people have found that children who they thought would be academics were taking to the arts business,” he says.
On the other hand, Rikki says the industry needs a lot of investment especially in engineering, which is a very important part although many people have ignored that.
Though he lives a relatively comfortable life in Denmark, Rikki says he has not made any money out of his music in Zambia.
“It is sad to note that in Zambia no one pays royalties to musicians. I have made more money in Denmark from playing at concerts that I have not been able to make selling records in Africa,” he says.
In Denmark, he owns a modest apartment and has a summerhouse where he retires with his children for recreation.
Rikki talks of Zambia with passion.
He actually visits the country frequently.
“I am 100 per cent Zambian. I will always be a Zambian that’s why the Zambian flag is flying in my studio. There is a lot of Danish in me because my children are Danes, they do not know anything else other than Denmark. I have to adapt to some Danish norms in order to raise my children correctly. I have to look at some things from a Danish view point so I could say I am in the middle of this dual carriageway,” he says.
“I am in touch with Zambian musicians who want to be in touch with me. (Takes out mobile phone to call Larry Maluma in Australia but gets no reply). I am also on a project with Eli White Zulu who left Zambia in the seventies.”
On the question of his association with probably one of the most famous bands in Zambia, the Mosi-Oa-Tunya, Rikki says it is time he clarified the facts about who was who in the band.
“I am not a guy who goes blowing his own trumpet. I would like to correct this perception that I am a founder member of Mosi-Oa-Tunya. I formed Mosi-oa-tunya and gave it the name. My first recruit was my good friend Derrick Mbao whom I approached when I left Dr Footswitch. Later when the band outlived its usefulness I left. I still own the Mosi-oa-Tunya franchise. I will go and revive the band with younger musicians,” he reveals.
On the issue of banning controversial songs, Rikki says a lot has changed in society.
“In my time, the CD you gave me yesterday where the fellow Danny sings about Yakumbuyo on radio just like that, Oh boy… in those days he would have even been put in prison,” he says chuckling as he refers to some of his banned music.
“The banning of Rikki Ililonga music started a lot earlier. In fact, I am the most banned person. They started by banning Shebeen Queen, which had nothing to do with promoting prostitution. It was just mentioning situations that happen everyday,” Rikki recalls.
“As for Olemekedzeka, it’s funny how it was banned because when the United National Independence party (UNIP) was campaigning against the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), my good friend I am sorry I’m going to mention his name, Dr Steven Moyo, then director general of Zambia National Broadcasting Services was the man in charge of banning my song, asked me in the presence of his brother at the Lusaka Theatre Club whether UNIP could use the same song he banned. He said I know I was in charge of banning your song but I was only following orders from above. I laughed… I asked him whether the orders had changed.
“I don’t think all those harsh rules during the UNIP era came from Kaunda.
Kaunda was not on the censorship board. It was really the do-gooders who became party zealots to perpetuate something in their quest for moral correctness. In my opinion, a lot of people did wrong things in Kaunda’s name which I think was bollocks.”
Rikki’s dream to revive Mosi-Oa-Tunya would be welcome not to talk of his remastering of his old tunes.
It would be definitely interesting for this man who has been there and seen it all to tell the story of the music scene in yesteryears.