Take a trip to psychedelic Southern Africa with veteran rockers Jagari Chanda and Rikki Ililonga as they prepare for a journey to France to perform the innovative Afro-Global musical brew they created in the 1970s to an international audience for the first time.
JAGARI CHANDA > [Singing] “I’m going to tell you about a story of my friend by the name of Groovy Joe.” Colleague, friend, peer. Is he a peer? Musician, tour-mate. A lot of names he’s got but he’s Rikki Ililonga. He’s my friend in music and we are at his residence right now. Rhodes Park, Lusaka. We’re getting ready for a tour to Europe next week. We’ve just been rehearsing a bit and we’re not yet through but it sets a good basis for our rehearsals. I think we’ll have fun where we’re going and we’re ready.
RIKKI ILILONGA > I’m really excited. I’m looking forward to it. Going back to those days, it’s stuff that’s actually from our youth. We’re old men now so this is music we did some 40 years ago.
JAGARI > Tell me something. When a pilot is 80 years old, does he need to change his career? He doesn’t need, he’s a pilot. He just gets better by the day. The same with an artist, a musician, you just get better by the year. It’s like wine, the older, the better. You choose to remain where you want to be or you can grow old if you neglect your artistic abilities.
RIKKI > For those who don’t know Africa much, we were not living in isolation here. The hippie time, the flowers, love and everything, Woodstock, we were part of that culture too. This was a country that just had gained independence and there was much more optimism in the air.
The music that we listened to was what influenced us. If the record was in the top 10 in the UK, it was in the top 10 here. If you were a band, you aspired to be like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.
JAGARI > The climax of this stuff was from’72 to about ’79, thereabout. Rikki comes from this side musically and I come from the northern part so we had many groups that side, they had many groups here. When I listen again, I see a lot of talent in the band and bands generally in those days because they were serious musicians playing serious instruments and keen to learn more.
Love is the simplest theme to write lyrics on. Falling in and out of love. Anyone can compose along those lines. It’s alright, maybe you were not meant for me. That kind of thing. I miss but at the same time I let nature take its course, that’s what the song is about.
It’s not always that we compose songs based on personal experiences. Sometimes we are inspired by other people and situations. I can look at certain people and I can tell they are in love. How are they feeling in the presence of each other? And I can write a song about that. But also you just get a song like what Rikki was doing. That’s a children’s game song.
RIKKI > This on-going discussion, I think it’s still on today, about what one would call authentic Zambian music put with Western instruments. It became a tall order because we are in between Congo and South Africa so we are in this kind of mix but within we had our own folk music and the traditional music.
JAGARI > We have 10 provinces, about 72 ethnic groups. That gives us a big repertoire of ethnic music.
RIKKI > When we were challenged by the politicians at the time that we needed to do something much more authentic, I thought, if you want some authenticity then we are going to put in the drum but not get away from the guitars and the other influences which we have been living with. You couldn’t shed your skin that quick.
JAGARI > As much as we wanted to play rock from the Western world, we are Africans. So the other part is from Africa – Zambia. So it’s Zambian type of rock – Zamrock.
RIKKI > At first people were confused because it was new. They hadn’t heard anybody do that kind of stuff before so it was unique and it worked.
What we played is not really that sophisticated. Rock ‘n’ roll is 3-chord stuff, it’s simple music. It’s just something that you throw into the people’s faces and they either like it or they don’t. Period. But we were having fun and getting paid for it so it was okay by me.
JAGARI > This is a special year for me. It’s a special year because for the first time I’ll be able to play a concert in Europe. It’s never too late. You never know what God has in store for us.
RIKKI > I just hope we don’t bore anybody but we did a great job at the time. We can still do it. It’s only rock ‘n’ roll. It’s only Zamrock if you like.
INTERVIEWER > No fear?
JAGARI > No. How can a mechanic fear a truck whether it’s made in Zambia or made in Europe? A truck is a truck, he’ll fix the engine. That’s the way I look at it. I’m a musician, when music comes, I play it.
Posted: March 7, 2013