Maverick Citizen


New Riky Rick song uses AI to bring his voice back to life and promote mental well-being

New Riky Rick song uses AI to bring his voice back to life and promote mental well-being
Riky Rick during the Class of 2020 Fashion Showcase and Recognition Awards at the Durban International Convention Centre on 11 December 2020. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

The launch of the Riky Rick Foundation for the Promotion of Artivism revealed that his family have kept their promises to Rikhado in a profound and unusual way.

‘God gave us the gift of life
Now it’s up to ourselves to
to gift ourselves our own gift of living it well…
I just want to leave something that people can build on
When I’m gone my legacy lives on…
Never forget that we are much stronger when we move together
Let’s be happy, we won’t live forever.” Riky Rick (Stronger)

During his short professional life Rikhado (“Riky Rick”) Makhado was one of the most well-loved, successful and respected of a new generation of South African hip hop artists. Based on his award-winning album Family Values, subsequent songs and the leadership he provided in the industry, he was described as “a source of positive energy, a person whose words uplifted everyone around him”. 

As a result, his suicide on 23 February 2022 at the age of 34 was a terrible shock to family, friends and fans. 

Amid terrible grief and loss, Makhado’s death made many people think about the increasing prevalence of undiagnosed and/or undisclosed mental illness and depression in young people, the stigma and silence that surrounds it and the need to develop strategies and systems of care to overcome it. 

The launch of the Riky Rick Foundation. (Photo: Mark Heywood)

This is an issue that has particularly preoccupied his family, his mother Louisa Zondo and her life partner and father figure to Makhado, Kumi Naidoo, as well his close collaborators and musicians.

In her recently published book, Dearest MaRiky, A Mother’s Journey Through Grief, Trauma and Healing, Zondo writes movingly to her son, telling him that:

“Your death, MaRiky, was met with deep shock, pain and sadness internationally. It ignited wide discussion about depression and mental illness in general.” She asks, “as society, how do we attend to and strengthen mental health? How do we become a society that provides all – young people in particular – with access to means of transcending and transforming trauma?” 

In his book (published in November 2022), Letters to My Mother: The Makings of a ‘Troublemaker’, Kumi Naidoo also intimately describes his love of and life with Makhado. 

The Riky Rick Foundation was launched last week. (Photo: Mark Heywood)

Their last conversation on the phone, several days before he died, is recalled in the book’s last chapter, the “Letter I really wish I did not need to write”, telling his mother how “once again suicide has blown my life apart”. 

Recalling some of the things said in that conversation, Naidoo laments that “Rikhado had already made the decision to end his life… it was so devastating to realise that I had failed to figure it out before it was too late.” 

Riky Rick Foundation for the Promotion of Artivism

Last week, Zondo and Naidoo, together with Makhado’s wife, Bianca, and brothers told the audience at the launch of the Riky Rick Foundation for the Promotion of Artivism that “a legacy means nothing if nothing can be built from it”.

In keeping with this, they have all undergone a deep and difficult process of introspection and counselling since his death. They have kept their promises to Rikhado in a profound and unusual way. 

Thus it was that last week the voice and spirit of Riky Rick came back to life in a brand-new track, Stronger

Listen to it on YouTube here

The new song was made the centrepiece for the launch of the Riky Rick Foundation, where his wife Bianca celebrated how “his words live on, his words have meaning and power” and told how through the song “we brought his words back to life”.

Stronger takes its title from the last cryptic tweet Rikhado posted, early on the morning of his death, promising: “I’ll return a stronger man. This land is still my home.”

Riky Rick performs at the Cotton Fest Festival at the Station in Newtown, Johannesburg, on 1 February 2020. (Photo: Gallo Images / Frennie Shivambu)

Strangely, given the tragic circumstances of its creation, it is a song that feels optimistic and driven by the urgent power of love; a young man reflecting through rap on his evolution as a popular song writer and the development of his understanding about what really matters and what lasts in life.  

“But look
Death is not the greatest loss in this life
The greatest loss is what dies inside while we are alive
That’s why I really want you to remember that you
have to take care of the people that are closest to you. 
How much does it cost to show somebody love?
We can only rise by lifting others above
where they have landed
And there’s madness in love
But there’s always some reason in madness,
And I return stronger…”

The song’s poignant chorus repeats “We never die. We multiply.”

The way in which Stranger was composed and created, taking more than a year, is itself something of a miracle. 

According to one of its producers a beat was first created by the local production band, Ganja Beatz, with whom Riky Rick collaborated in life. The beat was “extruded” and used to create a song, with lyrics “sewn together” from social media posts made by Makhado. Makhado’s family approved the use of raw vocal recordings of Riky Rick, which were sent to a production company in Ukraine, which used the recordings to create a model of his voice.

The new song was made the centrepiece for the launch of the Riky Rick Foundation. (Photo: Mark Heywood)

Once the song had been developed local artist Lebo Machudi recorded the vocals to the song and provided a voice-over. These were then sent again to Ukraine, where Riky Rick’s AI-created voice was recorded over them. In the final stage Machudi’s voice was removed, leaving only Makhado’s voice in the song.

The end result is a powerful, positive and relevant song where, in the words of one of the speakers at the launch, “Riky got what he wanted. He came back a stronger man.” DM

Teenagers and young adults are the most at risk group for suicide in South Africa and mental illness has become an epidemic in young people. Do you think you might need help? The Riky Rick Foundation for the Promotion of Artivism is partnering with the Panda mental health app to provide free and confidential mental health services to young people. Download the app and contact them for assistance.


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