‘Princess of Africa’ on the beat

Thulani Gqirana

FOR renowned singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka, the woman known all over the world as the ‘Princess of Africa’, appreciating her roots is what keeps her relevant, even after almost 30 years in the music industry.

During her childhood the humble Soweto-born singer used to watch her mother clean beautiful houses and she swore that one day she, too, would live in a great house.

“One day my mother caught me sleeping in the madam’s bed and oh, did she beat me. She chased me out and told me uzonukisa ibhedi yomlungu [you will make the boss’s bed smell] never knowing that it was moments like those where I envisioned myself in my own house that gave me the drive to follow my dreams,” she said yesterday.

The award-winning singer and businesswoman was guest speaker in Port Elizabeth this week at a Businesswomen’s Association awards event.

Chaka Chaka, 48, recently released her 22nd album, Amazing Man, dedicated to Nelson Mandela and other leaders.

“With this album I’m telling people that this continent is not as dark as it seems from the outside.”

Her father died when she was 11. She said her siblings used to make fun of her when she talked about her dreams of becoming a singer.

She finished matric before releasing her first album at 19.

“The song Umqombothi was a filler on that cassette. Those days we were more interested in singing the English songs like Thank you Mr DJ.”

She was surprised when it became hugely popular.

“To this day I will be at some international show performing laid-back songs and someone will request ‘the beer song’.”

She said her late mother was her biggest fan.

“She would call me and tell me I’m on TV, or tell me to switch on the radio because they were playing my song. She did that for years.”

Chaka Chaka, a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, said:

“Youth these days have such advantages. The playing field is so open for them because of men like Mandela.”

She believes xenophobia belittles the work that was done in bringing democracy to South Africa.

“Whether it is in Port Elizabeth or Johannesburg, it needs to go. When our brothers were in exile, they were welcomed by the people who now have to live on tenterhooks in our country because we loot their shops when the mood strikes.”

She said she was fortunate to be married to a man who understood her well, businessman Dr Tiny Mhinga.

“We have been married for 24 years and he knows me inside out. He knows that I absolutely love to sleep in so he wakes up early and does his own ironing and everything.”

The mother of four says she is careful with her money and would like to see young musicians following her example in this respect.

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