ZEX BILANGILANGI had his breakthrough amidst a very tough time for the entertainment industry last year, with his hit song Ratata, which received massive airplay during the Covid-19 lockdown.
With the addition of other hits like Wikid and Nalinda, this Bobi Wine protégé is steadily rising on the dancehall music scale. Quick Talk found him in the ghettos of Kamwokya for a chat.
What is your real name?
My real name is Tadius Mayega Zziwa. I am a Muganda from the Nnyonyi clan. Zziwa is my father’s name.
How then do you become Zex Bilangilangi?
I named myself Zex in high school when I was doing rap music. Zex stands for Zealous Enormous to the Extent. For Bilangilangi, it is a brand name because of the clothes I redesign by adding extra colours in them. So, that is how I came up with Zex Bilangilangi.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised from the ghetto in a place called Chamuka, which is between Kamwokya and Kyebando. I call it the “heart of the ghetto” because it is at the border of two very prominent ghetto places in this city.
How has growing up in the ghetto impacted your life?
Growing up in the ghetto has taught me many things, but most importantly it has taught me togetherness and sharing. The people here are very social and we always share the little we have even if it is just water. I carry those traits with me wherever I go.
How did you start music?
It was way back in 2014 in high school. Bobi Wine through his Fire Base Crew organized a music contest called Ghetto Voice Search and I decided to take part. When I got onto the stage and sang, Bobi Wine told me I was likeable and that he saw a very big super star in me and I should not give up.
Those words have kept me going up to today. Though I was not able to make it to the finals, I kept in touch with Bobi Wine and got into Fire Base Crew.
Tell us about your record…
It was called Wembley, produced by Zuli Tums, while he was also just starting out as a producer here in Kamwokya. I remember there was a studio in Kyebando owned by a pastor but we would also go there and do some raga and rap and he [the pastor] was fine with it because he was nurturing talents of the ghetto children. It is there that I learnt more about music and recorded my first song.
We don’t see many artistes from Fire Base Crew these days…..
Yiyiyi! We are there. Very many, by the way. But like our boss Bobi Wine has always said, Fire Base Crew is like a school where someone comes through, graduates and goes.
That is why you see many people come in and when they make a hit song, they leave. It is because in Fire Base we do not sign contracts that maybe can hinder one from moving away. They just give you a platform, teach you manners and you find your way forward. But I am still in Fire Base and bringing it to the top.
Now that you also have hits to your name, aren’t you leaving?
I cannot run away because Fire Base is a family. Even if I step out, I will always be part of the family.
You guys are given ranks and positions, what is yours?
I am the Ghetto Prime Minister. And right now it is like you are talking to the Ghetto President, because since the Ghetto President is away on other official duties, the Prime Minister is sitting in.
Tell me about your first time on stage…
My first time on stage was in high school. You know I used to sing in the school chapel choir and it helped me a lot in building up my vocals.
How did your family react upon you deciding to do music?
It was very difficult to convince them, because I am the last born at home and all my older siblings have these high- profile professions like engineers and architects; so, it was difficult for them to take my decision seriously.
On the other hand, my father is a staunch Catholic and actually I used to be an altar boy in church and at one time they thought maybe I would be a priest [Laughs]. But God blessed me in a different field, and with time they came to terms with it and now they are proud of me.
You broke out during last year’s lockdown…!
Most people even call me the Covid artiste. But it was a good thing and I always take my blessing no matter how hard the times it has come through.
And I am actually happy that I had my breakthrough during that period because my music was there to entertain people and make them forget the difficult times we were going through. I am appreciative and thankful that people supported my music during that period.
What else are you doing, away from music?
I am an activist; a concerned human who likes helping others and, therefore, I do a lot of charity work. I work with a number of NGOs like You and I Foundation, Collusion Network and many others especially in the ghetto and refugee camps.
They bring in funds where half goes to the nationals and the other half to the refugees. We also donate essential items like food, clothes, and mattresses to them. I am also still schooling and doing a lot of online courses. I am studying psychology and actually graduating soon.
What do you do to relax from all that?
I am a very good footballer. I love playing football and mostly do it under the Collusion Network football team where I play the number 10. I also spend my time doing my cloth painting and hanging out with my buddies here in the ghetto.
Are you in a relationship?
[Laughs] All I can say is that I am a parent but I am not in a relationship. I am a single dad. I have two cute little daughters, Chantal, 5, and Stacey, 3. I pray to God to always keep them for me and also for Him to give me the strength to work for them.
What should your fans expect from you?
I have a lot of music projects coming soon. I have songs with Chameleone, Pallaso, Weasel; the Mayanja family has really blessed me. I also have a song with the president (Bobi Wine) and many solo projects. So, my fans should just know that I have a lot of music in store.
Bobi Wine has become very big in politics, do you plan to follow suit?
No, no, no. I am more into activism and charity work and every person who wants me to do for them charity-related work can approach me and we do it for free, even if it is performing at a charity event for a good cause. I believe that if God blessed me with this talent, I have to get a way of giving back to His people.
Any last words to the ghetto youths?
First big up to all the fathers out there for not giving up because ever since I became a father, I realised that fathers also go through a lot of difficulties for the sake of their children [well, Fathers day is coming up soon.
Happy Fathers day, Zex, in advance!] But also when I see the mother of my children, I also know that mothers go through a lot to raise their children; so, shouts to all the mothers out there.
To the ghetto youths, do not give up. We have reached somewhere but we still have a long way to go. Let us have God as our guide and we are going to reach there in Jesus’ name.