Yvonne Chaka Chaka: Princess of Africa on Mandela – and why the SABC won’t show her film

Yvonne Chaka-Chaka, the “Princess of Africa”, is the bubblegum Afro-pop star who blossomed into accolades like being a UNICEF Ambassador against malaria, the first United Nations Envoy for Africa – and the first African woman to receive the World Economic Forum “Crystal Award”. And yet, the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation won’t *ahem* broadcast her award-winning documentary on women in Africa.

This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2014/06/01.

Yvonne Chaka Chaka

Yvonne Chaka Chaka

Yvonne Chaka Chaka – born Yvonne Machaka in Dobsonville, Soweto, to a domestic worker mother and a father who died when she was eleven – strides into the interview studio with an entourage of just two. Assuming her companions are liaison officers or media secretaries turns out to be wrong, though – Chaka Chaka has been showing two friends around Cape Town, and they’re feeling a little queasy after a choppy ride on the Robben Island ferry. Only after they’re settled and provisioned with some tea does she pause to take breath and transform into the entertainer, multiple graduate, international ambassador and favoured singer of the late Nelson Mandela; the woman dubbed “The Princess of Africa”.

She’s in Cape Town to promote “Amazing Man (Deluxe)”, an expanded edition of her 2013 album dedicated to Nelson Mandela. The CD/DVD combo is proof of the ongoing value of physical products in the download era, and also testament to the oddities of South Africa’s “celebrity” landscape. Although Chaka Chaka is widely praised locally as a daughter of our country’s soil – President Jacob Zuma insisted on personally congratulating her when se returned from Davos after receiving the Crystal Award – her album’s don’t get the equivalent reaction of, say, a “Princess of America” like Beyonce or Madonna. It’s also testament to even stranger machinations within the country’s broadcaster, but more of that later.

“Yes, mom, it is always good to collaborate with the young ones!”

 – Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s son, Don Machaka, on his mother’s collaboration with Zuluboy.

“I put a lot of effort into the album, working with people like Youssou N’Dour and Soweto Gospel Choir and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, young talent like Zuluboy and, on the DVD, working with Ihashi Elimhlope – that man is a legend of Zulu maskandi music,” Chaka Chaka says. “We decided to re-release it, but with the live DVD because so many people ask for that, and to show the video of ‘Amazing Man’, that we recorded before uBaba Nelson Mandela passed away – and because people want the video of my 40th birthday.”

Although Chaka Chaka is no stranger to international relations, given her work with programmes like the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, she admits that her collaboration with Senegalese African-music star Youssou N’Dour had a strange origin – even for her. “We were asked by Interpol to put this song together to warn people about taking fake medication, and being aware about not being conned into buying medicines that are not real. Youssou is also a Roll Back Malaria ambassador, like I am, so it was interesting to be asked to share other things too, and we made ‘Proud To Be’.”

Yvonne Chaka Chaka in studio with Evan Milton on Fine Music Radio.

Yvonne Chaka Chaka in studio with Evan Milton on Fine Music Radio.

She quips that one of her South African collaborators – Mxolisi “Zuluboy” Majozi – also earned her an entirely different set of kudos: with her sons, one of whom has a successful music career as a producer. “Zuluboy is a young musician and he raps his style – my sons were impressed and very happy and they teased me: ‘Yes, mom, it is always good to collaborate with the young ones!’ With Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the newer members are like younger brothers to me, and uBaba Bhekizizwe Joseph Shabalala is like a father to all of us. These are people that put South African music in that world class. Four times Grammy Award winners! I was really humbled that they agreed to work with me.

“This is a film about women in Africa, made by a South African, but it has never been screened here…
– Yvonne Chaka Chaka on “The Motherland Tour: A Journey of African Women”

Amidst all the success – including Chaka Chaka’s diplomas in Adult Education and in Local Government, Management and Administration, her production and record companies, the Princess of Africa Foundation charities and the limousine company she owns with her husband – there’s an anomaly. An award-winning documentary she filmed across Africa that was completed in 2010, aided in her being awarded the Global Economic Forum award and has been screened in Africa and abroad has yet to be screened in South Africa – despite a contract with the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

The Motherland Tour –  A Journey of African Women” chronicles Chaka Chaka’s work in fighting malaria in Africa, and showcasing other women who are frontline health workers – and was optioned by the SABC. “They never played it,” says Chaka Chaka. “They were supposed to pay for the content, but they never did that either, and it has never been screened. The people I worked with as funders, like GAVI (the Global Alliance of Vaccine and Immunisation) and some UN agencies (notably the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and Aids), wanted to sell it overseas but I said, ‘It also has to be shown in Africa’ – but the SABC never showed it. I don’t know what the problem was – they said they were waiting for their licensing department and there weren’t contracts, but the contracts were there. So it was just sitting, from 2010 until last year, and I had to wait because I did not want to renege on the three year period we agreed. I did not want to be in the wrong. It’s been premiered in Nairobi; it’s been shown internationally and it helped me get considered for an award in Davos, but this is a film about women in Africa, made by a South African, but it has never been screened here. It’s just a joke!”

This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2014/06/01.

Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s “Amazing Man (Deluxe)” is available in all good music shops, and online. More on the “The Motherland Tour” film here:  www.j.mp/PrincessAfrica. More on Yvonne Chaka Chaka, and her ambassadorial and charity work, here: YvonneChakaChaka.co.za

Yvonne Chaka Chaka joins U2 live on stage in Cape Town to sing "Stand By Me"

Yvonne Chaka Chaka joins U2 live on stage in Cape Town to sing “Stand By Me”. See it here: http://j.mp/RXuiTR

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