Ringo Madlingozi doesn’t quite agree with being called a legend. “It’s as if, when you’re called one, it’s the time when people give you awards, maybe a lifetime achievement or something, and they forget about you,” he said with a slight chuckle.
While that may be true in some instances, my reference to his legendary status is based on the simple idea that his music has been, quite literally, an important part of the soundtrack of our lives.
Whether you’re referring to solo hits such as Ndiyagodola or one that features a powerful collaboration like the one he did with Oliver Mutukudzi on Into Yam, there’s a moment, maybe three that you can certainly remember to a Ringo classic.
And, to be fair, several years and 14 albums later, he has earned his stripes as one of the country’s most loved musos.
The next item on our afternoon chat, with the dapper vocalist clad in a red-and-black dashiki-styled shirt, was what he was up to now.
A brief scroll through his social media account on Twitter revealed to me that he’s a staunch member of a certain political party. Something that, to be quite honest, is rather unheard of.
“You know, I grew up in a society where it was discouraged that a musician or someone in the limelight shares or associates their music or ideas with that of a political party. It felt like we are not allowed the freedoms that are allowed to other people. You’re sort of told ‘listen, because you have so many people that love and follow you, don’t influence them in that way’.
“But I have come to realise that everyone has their own beliefs when it comes to that. About who they want to follow,” he said.
Madlingozi’s decision to start publicly sharing his beliefs and political views is part of his “reclaiming of this freedom”, but more importantly it is driven by his belief around the role of the arts in a society such as ours. He is passionate about eradicating injustice and inequality, and if he can use his influence towards furthering these two goals, he will.
“I have always been a fighter in my life, because I grew up in Cape Town. And I have always loved my people. By my people I mean black people. Because I have always felt their pain and wanted to make it better. Maybe that’s why I haven’t even accumulated that much wealth, because I’m always giving,” he said.
It’s this giving, this spirit of love, that has always driven Ringo.
“Even from my very first album, it’s been about fighting for the downtrodden. From way back in 1997, I felt the need to write about migrants, about young people in prisons, about self loathing. It has always been my worry, about when it’s all going to change. Are we going to keep postponing the fight and handing it to our children or are we going to change things?” he asked.
He feels that perhaps it’s time to speak truth to power, to speak up in order to change the course of this country and the lives of the millions of South Africans whose lives desperately need it.
It’s a refreshing side of Madlingozi to experience, this explanation of the courage of his convictions, especially after he said he was advised early on in his career to rather sing about love.
“I was told by the record company to sing about love rather, because I had such a unique voice. At this point in my career, I have this platform, to share this message that I believe in, and to share it fearlessly so,” he said.
With an artist like him, where everyone has their favourite Ringo song, I’ve always wondered what his favourite album was.
In the almost two decades Ringo has been making music, his favourite album is one titled Ndim Lo. “It was an honest reflection of where I was in my life at the time. My wife and I weren’t on good terms and we decided to attend a spiritual retreat. Afterwards I went and did that album.
“There’s a song on it, Vuka Sula, it talks about finding your strength again. It touched many people. On that album, everyone had a song that touched them,” he said.
Madlingozi believes that he still has so much more to give musically. It will in fact come in the form of a new album that will be produced by Malik Zwane.
“I last worked with Malik when we did Mthulise. I love his ideas. We have started recording, and by the end of this year I will have dropped a single,” he said.
He added he was looking at releasing the new album in 2019.
He will be performing this weekend at the Moretele Park Tribute concert taking place in Mamelodi, Pretoria. He performed for the first time 20 years ago, when it first began.
“The very first Moreteles I was there because people just wanted to hear Sondela. I think I have performed 14 times at the concert.”
He added that he was looking forward to performing at the festival because of the concert’s energy. Madlingozi said with this performance, he would ensure he gives the people what they wanted, their favourite songs.
“I will be giving of myself on that stage,” he said.
Lovers of his music will always be glad that he ditched UCT’s medicine programme for the Shell Road to Fame competition, because if that had not happened we wouldn’t still be loving his 14 albums.
Madlingozi remains passionate about people and about his music, and that makes his coming project the one to look out for.
The Moretele Park Tribute Concert will take place on September 1 in Moretele Park; Mamelodi starting at 11:00, continuing into the night. Tickets cost R300 and are available at Computicket.