/ 1 July 2021

Q&A Sessions: ‘I am not going to hang up my microphone anytime soon’ — Yvonne Chaka Chaka

Yvonne Chaka Chakadsc 1552
‘I live and breathe music’: Yvonne Chaka Chaka says she finds collabs with young artists such as Amanda Black, Christer Kobedi and Sun-El energising, and she gives props to duo Blaq Diamond

The award-winning music icon and humanitarian Yvonne ‘Princess of Africa’ Chaka Chaka speaks to Ntombizodwa Makhoba on being a strict gogo to her three adorable grandchildren, her new hobby of hiking and her current favourite track, Ibhanoyi, as well as launching WOMan Radio, and other ideas the 55-year-old has dreamed up for artists to earn a living during the pandemic

The song Umqombothi was iconic in the 1980s. Last year, you did a remake and collaborated with Afro-pop songstress Amanda Black. How did that come about?

I collaborated with King Korn to encourage young people to embrace and be proud of their tradition and culture and teach young people how to brew umqombothi in their households. King Korn is a traditional sorghum homebrew brand that has been a part of South African’s cultural and traditional celebrations. Working with Amanda was amazing, and the cherry on top was working with a young producer, Christer Kobedi, who added his twist and a youthful feel to the song. Wow! Amanda is talented. When we were in the studio, I envied her just by looking at her sing because of her soulful and incredible voice. Umqombothi is still a big song, mntanami. In 1989 people from London, Britain and Germany were dancing to the song in nightclubs. Although the recreation of the song was not commercialised last year, I am grateful for the feedback we received from the fans. I am blessed it is still receiving airplay to this day. 

Where does South African music find itself; how has it evolved?

Music has evolved, and it is growing. But I still blame the person who named our music genre bubblegum. Probably a man was mad with a woman when he considered our music to be bubblegum. [laughs]. Remember, with chewing gum, you chew it while it’s still sweet; once it loses its flavour, you throw it away. I disagree that our music is classified as bubblegum. Its sweetness doesn’t fade away. Our music still has relevance and uniqueness because people are still jamming to songs like Weekend Special, Makoti and Vulindlela at their wedding ceremonies to this day. These are the songs you can still remake. It does not matter how long ago the songs were released, society can still relate to the lyrics. These are what we call “staying power’ songs. Although I still don’t have words to classify our music genres, my music was influenced by MaBrrr [Brenda Fassie]. 

I love how young people express themselves in their lyrics and how wise they are in picking who they want to collaborate with. I hope that since everything is digital now, they will receive the royalties [they] deserve. Back then, we used to sell cassettes and so received our music royalties.

What is currently on top of your playlist? 

The song goes like this: “Ngizothengele ibhanoyi, my love [I’ll buy you the plane, my love].” The song is sung by the duo Blaq Diamond. They sing with so much soul. The lyrics are so catchy and speak to my soul. I just feel pity that we will not be attending any gigs since mass gatherings were banned due to the pandemic. I miss singing and watching live performances. Unfortunately, these are tough times we live in; we have to adhere to the protocols and take the necessary precautions.

Without these gigs, artists are really battling.

If we as artists are struggling, what about the backing vocalists and musical ensemble? As a result, this has led to artists losing their homes, cars and livelihoods. Sadly, most of them are suffering from stress, anxiety and depression because the relief fund that the department of sports, arts and culture is providing is not sufficient. 

I am trying to find innovative ideas to create a business model for our music where we can display live performances even during lockdown via streaming platforms. I think we can achieve this by adopting steaming services such as Showmax and Netflix. If people are able to watch movies from these platforms in the comfort of their homes, I am convinced that they could do the same with music. This means as artists we can work and earn a living. I have been trying to pitch my idea to different potential government department and private sectors, but I am hitting a stumbling block. Unfortunately, we need to come up with solutions immediately. Otherwise, we are still going to read more about artists dying as paupers. 

Speaking about coming up with solutions, tell us a bit about launching WOMan Radio. 

In 2016, I discovered that women’s voices were missing on radio across the continent. I then came up with a solution of online radio. Its main focus would be to advocate for women to share their views and solutions. I then parked the idea. Two years later, I started to engage with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa to get a license, which was a mission. Eventually, the idea was put into action, and that’s how the self-funded project WOMan Radio was born. It was officially launched in October last year, and it’s a free online radio app that you can download from your smartphone. But the problem is it needs data, which costs a fortune right now. Our hosts are young and talented and they engage on different topics such as gender-based violence, mental health and other issues affecting women. My show, On The Couch, airs every Friday from 12-2pm. The feedback has been amazing, and the listenership is growing every day; we have listeners as far as the UK, US, Germany, Lesotho and other countries. 

After a busy day in the studio, how do you unwind and relax?

I love cooking uphutu, fresh milk and inkomazi. But nothing gives me more joy than spending time with my three grandchildren. I just enjoy being with them — they complete me. But you know they are at the stage where they can express themselves, like back-chatting. But I put them in order because I am a very strict gogo. Being a granny is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Oh, how would I forget that I also sleep a lot and go hiking every Sunday. Thank you to my sister, Nonhlanhla, and my niece, Thuli Thabethe, for introducing me to hiking. It’s my new hobby, and it’s a natural exercise that promotes physical fitness; at the same time, it challenges you both physically and mentally.

Should we expect more collabs with young artists in the future?

Definitely yes. There is this young talented artist Sanele Sithole, stage name Sun-El Musician, who has recently visited my house and approached me to collab with him. I am looking forward to working with him. I am not going to hang up my microphone anytime soon. Maybe one or two collabs before I retire. It’s also a way for me to stay in touch with myself because music is love. 

I live and breathe music.