“Yvonne Chaka Chaka has a feminine power, a life force that is tangible with that “It” factor of great stars like Marilyn Monroe.” Writer Heather Dugmore said of the recently honoured BET International Global Good Star and Power Award Winner.
Early Life And Music Career
Yvonne Chaka Chaka (born Yvonne Machaka) is a South African singer born in Dobsonville in Soweto in 1965. Born to Puti and Sophie Machaka, The Machakas had three girls: Doreen, Refiloe, and Yvonne Ntombizodwa Moloko Machaka. To this day, media historians still argue if she was indeed the first black ‘child’ to appear on SA TV. A series of meetings conspired to bring Yvonne’s talents to the fore.
A popular musician of the time, Pat Shange, introduced her to the man who’d be her Svengali, Dephon Records’ Phil Hollis, then based in inner city Jo’burg. Hollis, like the producer Attie Van Wyk, is among a few of the coterie of ‘crossover mlungus’ (or ‘white Negros’). He lived, loved and dreamt black music and had an ear for township sounds. Both Hollis and Van Wyk harnessed young Machaka’s raw gifts in a series of rehearsals – writing, looping and editing the rougher edges out. Finally, in the autumn of 1985, the three came up with a full album, but first released what was then known as a ‘maxi-single’.
It sold 35,000 copies, and the title track became an instant hit. Songs like “I’m Burning Up”, “I Cry for Freedom”, “Sangoma”,”Motherland” and the ever-popular, “Umqombothi” immediately ensured Chaka Chaka’s status as a star on South Africa’s mbaqanga music scene. Chaka Chaka had it tough growing up. Her father died when she was 11 and her mother, a domestic worker, brought up three daughters on her meagre 40 Rand a month salary.
Yvonne recognized early in her career that fame could be fleeting. In 1989 she created her own company, Chaka Chaka Promotions. In 1995 the more mature, established and married Yvonne would move into more African sounds inspired by Mbaqanga, East African cultural influences, Shangaan and other Pan-African styles. Popular songs such as ‘Umqombothi’, from Proud To Be African, come out of that era. Clearly with Africa, she had hit pay dirt. The continent beckoned her, and she reciprocated with a ‘bend on all fours and kiss the motherland’ gesture.
More love letters to the continent issued out of a young woman who, truth be told, raised the African flag long before the spoken-word poets of Yeoville, long before the Thandiswa Mazwais, Simphiwe Danas and their fan-gals, Zahara, Indwe and Berita.
More albums along that theme tumbled out of her seemingly inexhaustible repertoire: Motherland, Princess of Africa and Bombani – an ode to her in-laws, the Mhingas. Chaka Chaka has been married to a popular Soweto surgeon, Dr Mandlalele ‘Tiny’ Mhinga, for close to 30 years and the couple has been blessed with five boys who have all dabbled in music one way or the other. She also created her own music label, Chaka Chaka Music. Since then every album Yvonne has released has been on her own label.
She has two diplomas from the University of South Africa, one in adult education, another in local government, management and administration. She also studied speech and drama at Trinity College, London, qualifying in 1997.
Releasing hit after hit, Chaka Chaka’s subsequent award winning albums include “Burning Up”, “Sangoma”, “Who’s The Boss”, “Motherland”, ” Be Proud to be African”, “Thank You Mr DJ”, “Back on my Feet”, “Rhythm of Life”, “Who’s got the Power”, “Bombani ( Tiko Rahini), “Power of Afrika”, “Yvonne and Friends” and “Kwenzenjani”.
In the twenty-five years of her career, Yvonne has graced the covers of more magazines than many other African icons, illustrating the consistency of her popularity. Writer Heather Dugmore stated, “Yvonne Chaka Chaka has a feminine power, a life force that is tangible with that “It” factor of great stars like Marilyn Monroe.”
Advocacy and Humanitarianism
Yvonne is a champion for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, the United Nations MDG Envoy for Africa, and the Goodwill Ambassador for the Roll Back Malaria Partnership. Chaka Chaka is also a board member of Information Technology Companies, Human Resource Development and Sandown Motors. She became the face of First National Bank (FNB) in 2001 and in 2006, she founded her own charity called The Princess of Africa Foundation.
The Princess of Africa Foundation is a partner of the ACTION global health advocacy partnership. In 2012, she was the first African woman to receive the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award. Recently, the launch of her documentary film, A Motherland Tour — A Journey of African Women, filmed over five years of travels around Africa, took her on a world tour to promote the grassroots successes of those engaged in the battle against HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria, supported by the Global Fund.
Yvonne also serves as Ambassador for Nelson Mandela’s 46664 Campaign which raises global awareness of HIV/AIDS. She has also been ambassador to the University Of South Africa (UNISA), City of Johannesburg Tourism, and South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province Tourism. Yvonne has taught literacy in South Africa’s townships, promoted the rights of women and works to protect children everywhere, and she is a Trustee of Tomorrow Trust, which educates orphans and vulnerable children. She served as an Honorary Colonel in the South African Air Force. In 2015, she signed an open letter which the ONE Campaign had been collecting signatures for.
The letter was addressed to Angela Merkel and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, urging them to focus on women as they serve as the head of the G7 in Germany and the AU in South Africa respectively, which will start to set the priorities in development funding before a main UN summit in September 2015 that will establish new development goals for the generation.
Amongst many of her honours, Yvonne Chaka Chaka became the first African woman to receive the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award for artists who improve the world through their work in 2012. She was recently honoured with the International Global Good Star and Power Award at the BET Awards in 2017.