Ringo Madlingozi: From Gugulethu to ‘Best Male Vocalist’ in Africa

Voted “Best Male Artist: Southern Africa” and “Best Male Vocalist: African continent” in the Kora All Africa Awards, Gugulethu-born singer, songwriter and producer Ringo Madlingozi plans a new album in 2013 – and returns to his birthplace of Cape Town for a once-off concert.

Ringo Madlingozi: From Gugulethu to 'Best Male Vocalist' in Africa
This article by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Good Weekend’ of 2013/02/10
Sindile ‘Ringo’ Madlingozi was born in Gugulethu in 1964 and first attracted national attention when he and his band,Peto, won the Shell Road to Fame music competition in 1986. After Peto disbanded, he formed Gecko Moon and moved to Johannesburg, before establishing himself as a solo artist and releasing “Vukani” (“Wake Up“) in 1996 to critical and commercial acclaim. His music, bundled under the “Afropop” and “crossover” labels, melds elements of traditional Xhosa ukuxhentsa rhythms with contemporary instrumentation, and combines sentiments from the songs of amagqirha traditional healers and lyrics of love, happiness, hope and reconciliation. Accolades include the South African Music Award for Best Male Vocalist in 1998 and 1999, and the Kora All Africa awards (the continent’s answer to the Grammy’s) for “Best Male Artist: Southern Africa” in 1998 and “Best Male Vocalist: African continent” in 1999. He’s produced albums for greats like Miriam Makeba and rising Afrojazz voices like Mathapelo Masilela. As part of the United Nations global Aids awareness efforts, he recorded a Xhosa version of UB40‘s “Cover Up” with the band and has co-headlined the North Sea Jazz Festival and New Orleans Jazz Festival. He was also a pioneer of live music recordings in South Africa, insisting that a May 2003 concert at Pretoria’s State Theatre was recorded and released on DVD. It was another gold-selling success and helped usher in an era of South African live concert DVDs – and a follow-up “Ringo Live 2
“He said I should for what I know best: my people and my culture; my stories and my language”
– Ringo Madlingozi on Chris Blackwell.
“Since Peto, it has been a roller-coaster ride, going up and down,” says Ringo, from his new home in Johannesburg. “First of all, it was getting to Jozi and trying to set myself up, even though I came from Cape Town. It was hard – I would say very hard; a very challenging journey. I made sure when I was here, that I was going to make something of myself. Peto was finished but with Alan Cameron on keyboards, we carried on as Gecko Moon, and got out an album. It was never a hit album, but a few radio stations used to play the cover of (Randy Sparks and Barry McGuire‘s) ‘Green Green’ that we did, and our one, ‘Innocent Moments’. Then I came to singing in Xhosa, my home language from Cape Town, and that’s when I gathered more audiences.”
Famously, it was a chance meeting with Chris Blackwell, founder of the legendary Island Records (Bob Marley, Grace Jones, U2) that nudged Ringo to perform in his own language. “He said I should do what I know best: my people and my culture; my stories and my language. My first album was ‘Vukani‘, which means ‘wake up!’. Then came ‘Sondelani‘, which is ‘get closer’, and then ‘Mamelani‘, which is ‘listen’. You can see what that is about, and where it is going. The Kora Award gave me a lot of hope that what I was doing was on the right track. When I was nominated as ‘Best Male Artist’ for the whole African continent, I never thought I would get that one. I could not get to the awards ceremony because I had already agreed to perform somewhere in Durban. I was sitting there in my hotel room, and the next thing people started ‘phoning to congratulate me. That pushed up the bar for me. The Kora is the equivalent of a Grammy in Africa, so it made me want to go out into the world and represent South Africa and the continent.”
   ‘Ringo Live’: DVD behind-the-scenes
Sadly, Cape Town performance by Ringo are a rarity, so this interview is partly a history lesson. Like the story behind one of South African traditional music’s first ever big budget live concert DVD recordings.
“At first, it was difficult to even convince the record company that there was a market for it,” says Ringo. “I went for a lot of meetings, with me trying to convince the accountants at EMI Records that this would be something that people would buy. Then, there were virtually no other DVD’s being done by my peers. Now, it is something that artists will do “between albums’. After pushing and fighting for a long time, suddenly – boom! – they let me do it. It was a real collective effort, working with  Desirée (Markgraaff) from Bomb Productions. The late, great Kentse Mpahlwa was there to design the sound, and the Pretoria State Theatre really wanted to make the best out of it. Even now, people say that DVD pushed the standard of what we do here. It was a hard time, but deep down I knew it was going to work.”
“Let’s get together, let’s talk, let’s love one another”
– Ringo Madlingozi on his song lyrics.
Ringo plays his debut Kirstenbosch gig fresh from a start-studded Valentine’s Day concert alongside songstress Judith Sephuma – a sensual performance that again garnered both critical and audience acclaim.
“People have boxed me in that ‘love crooner’ corner, so to speak – a love singer,” laughs Ringo. “Judith loved that too and, when we were on stage together, she just winked and said, ‘Let’s give them something to write about,’ and she just got closer and closer. She’s like that – she knows how to make a show. But my songs do encourage love. People listen, and they hold hands, and they just fall in love: ‘Let’s get together, let’s talk’ let’s love one another,’ the songs say. If you come alone to this gig, then rest assured you may be going home with somebody. Things go around in a circle, and it’s time to shake things up back at home. Time to get people behind me, who are from the same background, so they can say, ‘That is our son; that is our brother’. I want to play songs from my first album, from albums like ‘Qhubeka‘ (2008) and the last one (“Jayva Sbali“), about three years back. We could go on for three hours!”
“I will be dropping a new album this year,” Ringo ends off. “I’ve seen that singles are coming back again, with all of that hype. Technology has changed, but it’s still all about giving the music to the audience. Now, you just put the song out on the ‘net, and people go crazy. The CD thing is slowly dying out but, when people love your music, they want the whole package of a CD with a cover and the pictures in it. I’ll be dropping a single in July, and then more, and then the album will be out around October.”
Ringo Madlingozi plays the Old Mutual Summer Sunset concert on Sunday 17 March (Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, Rhodes Drive, Newlands, gates 4pm; concert runs from 5.30pm to 7pm; tickets R110 (adults) and R80 (6 to 21 years old, with ID) from 021-7998783/8620 and WebTickets.co.za). Details SANBI.org and OldMutual.co.za/Music.
This article by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Good Weekend’ of 2013/02/10