A year of milestones for the princess of Africa

2015-03-22 15:30

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Songstress, businesswoman, activist. Yvonne Chaka Chaka has a lot to celebrate this year: her 50th birthday, her 30th anniversary in the music industry, her 10th year as a UN ambassador. She spoke to Gugulethu Mhlungu about her future plans

You have a lot to celebrate this year. What are you most excited about?

Turning 50 is a real milestone. It’s scary, but look?...?Mam’ Miriam Makeba lived well into her seventies and Dorothy Masuka turns 80 this year. It’s wow. And I must thank God for being able to be a musician, work as part of the Millennium Development Goals special envoy, the work I get to do with the UN Children’s Fund, and the World Economic Forum and my Princess of Africa Foundation. It’s just been great.

What has kept you relevant all these years?

I was called an overnight success when I came out at 19. They called what we did ‘bubblegum music’ – music that’s sweet for now. I worked hard, and I think how I did it was always remembering you need to keep your feet firmly on the ground and respect your art. Your art is important. You can also let your art [and money] work for you. I know that if I was Yvonne the lawyer [as my mother had wanted], I wouldn’t be who and where I am. I never thought I would be in the same room as Ban Ki-moon, or singing for Queen [Elizabeth], or having dinner with Oprah, or being invited to the White House, but my work as a musician made that all possible. And, you know, I go to New York, Germany and other parts of the world, and people still want to hear Umqombothi and Thank You Mr DJ after all these years because those are the songs that made me.

What are your plans for the year?

I released an album last year, so I am working on promoting that and then performing. I’m going to do the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, The Lyric theatre and then Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria, as well as a possible 15-town tour of Japan.

You’ve achieved and done a great deal. What is still on your bucket list?

There’s still a lot to be done. I’m an activist, and people like Miriam [Makeba] and Dorothy [Masuka] used music to conscientise people. I have learnt that after 21 years of freedom and democracy, there are still injustices, and when I started singing music, I reflected the injustices of the time. Now we have a new set of challenges. I feel as though we are not being there for each other. It’s ‘me, me, me’ and we should really be asking: why is freedom not working for everyone? So, I still have a lot to do through – and with – my music.

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