/ 28 February 2022

Unpublished Riky Rick interview: ‘It’s important not to sell your soul’

Riky Rick performs at Zone 6 during a Red Bull Music Academy Weekender in Soweto, September 2016. (Photo: Tyrone Bradley/Red Bull Content Pool)

Rikhado Makhado, alias Riky Rick assumes a serious posture when he talks about musicians, posits profound views on performance and has bouts during which, it seems, he’s launching a broadside against backing track culture.

“I have an aversion to settings and set-ups that are heavily reliant on backing tracks and DJs,” he says. “I’m all for a proper rhythm section. I’ve resolved to play with a live band. 

“So we’re tryna like transition from a situation where it’s just the DJ behind you. I’m pretty averse to doing that kind of a show. So we tryna transition into having like a full band set-up.”

Rick is speaking from a gig at Shepstone Gardens, a highbrow wedding farm in Mountain View, Johannesburg. We meet hot on the heels of his performance, making towards the greenroom not far from the stage.

The interview takes place against the din of spirited revellers, a posse of content producers, and ubiquitous women vying for selfies. 

All of that, plus a persistent tang of pungent cigar, or weed, or both. Must be those giggly millennials from the patio adjacent to the green room. But earlier on, we did spot former home affairs spin doctor, Mayihlome Tshwete, flourishing a fat cigar. So go figure!

Anyway, we stick it out and get on with the interview, with Rick giving me the whole works about his current personnel. His band comprises a whole host of hotshots, including Septure Kunene (AKA and Lebo Sekgobela), who plies his trade on keys. Rick’s latest recruit is Ben Zadok (guitars, auxiliary keys), whose video Happy Days has had the internet hopping crazy. 

“They’re pretty good cats. Zadok is a genius. Kunene is an incredible board player who can actually play on gigs. Today’s probably like the second show as a full band. So it was like a live rehearsal.”

For all his affinity with hip-hop, Rick’s always had a bias for jazz musicians, particularly pianists, he says, adding that Nduduzo Makhathini is one of his favourite musicians.

“I listen to a lot of jazz. I’m on Robert Glasper right now. His Black Radio series is by all accounts a game-changer. Nduduzo Makhathini is one of my top five jazz musicians. He’s always seemed a prodigy or paragon of musicians with a knack for voicing perfect harmonies. 

“I’ve been trying to actually work with him for the longest time, but we just haven’t had time. But I saw he recently did stuff with Black Coffee. Amathambo is like one of the best compositions for me. For me, he’s one of the craziest right now.

“I love Jeff Lorber. You see when it comes to jazz, it’s even hard to call an artist a straight-ahead jazz artist. Lorber is known for Rhodes sound. I need to tell you about another jazz cat who makes my top five … but we don’t have time.

“But Robert Glasper is pretty much like the greatest for me right now. Jeff Lorber is one of my old-school cats and Nduduzo’s too much.”

What’s Nduduzo’s real appeal? I ask. “It’s the stories that he tells,” Rick says. “Also, when he makes a song, he doesn’t write like the sort of composer who’s desperate for acceptance, you know, a writer who’s trying to get a reaction. No, he’s not.

“He doesn’t write songs to pander to the people. Besides what he did with playing on Black Coffee’s song, he’s never made a song that’s in a format that’ll propel him into some sort of pop status. He could easily do that. And I respect him a lot for that. 

“I was watching TEDx Talks recently… He did a TEDx Talks interview and he was hundred percent himself … 100% African. And I just respect him so much as an artist. He’s never compromised himself.”

Rick is speaking soon after his involvement in Rémy Producers, a talent search platform that has been all the rage in the US. Partnering with premium cognac brand Rémy Martin, he set about searching for the next up and coming producer.

“It was amazing being part of Rémy Producers. I mean, prior to the project we had been trying to put something together with Rémy for the longest time. I’m quite picky with projects. So when this concept came through, it was like this is exactly what we have to do because there’s one thing: becoming an ambassador for a brand; there’s another thing with creating a project or creating a program that’s gonna uplift other people and that’s gonna have some sort of legacy. That’s something special.”

Rick says it’s important for artists to collaborate with corporations on projects that aim to lift people out of hardship. “Corporates are always keen to collaborate with people in the limelight. Artists are also keen to collaborate on projects with corporates. It’s a good thing. We all get mileage out of such deals. 

“It’s important not to sell your soul. It’s important for people with a voice to collaborate or be involved in projects that aim to uplift and elevate other people. It’s a woke thing to do.”

Born in KwaMashu, north of Durban, Riky Rick took a liking to the arts as a boy. His parents shipped him off to Hilton, a private boarding school in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands where, it’s reported, he actively started to work towards his dream in music. 

He rose to fame with his single Nafukwa before releasing his debut album, Family Values, in 2014. He’s ascended among the ranks of some of the most influential voices in music, commanding a legion of well over three million followers on Facebook and Twitter alone.

He has a profile with members of the press but for all his popularity, it’s his activities in philanthropy that excite him now.“ The numbers only mean we can reach more people. But with that comes responsibility: we have to be careful about the type of messages we give. I’m in a good space now. I think about philanthropy. My activities with Rémy Producers have allowed me an opportunity to be a mentor to young producers. To be human and to be an instrument of change. It’s as woke as it gets.”

With that, he steps out of the greenroom to FaceTime a friend. We figure it’s Nduduzo Makhathini.

The interview took place following Rémy Producers South Africa season one. Working in concert with the premium cognac brand, Riky Rick had set about searching for SA music production talent.