Yvonne Chaka Chaka: 'It's time that we shape the Africa that we want'
Yvonne Chaka Chaka (Photo: Getty)
Cape Town - Channel24 spoke to South African music veteran Yvonne Chaka Chaka about her humanitarian work, and how the causes close to her heart have influenced her music.
Known as the "Princess of Africa," Chaka Chaka has not only been at the forefront of African music for close to three decades, she has always demonstrated compassion for others through her humanitarian work.
Working with the United Nations as Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Goodwill Ambassador and as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for East and Southern Africa for close to 15 years, Chaka Chaka says that promoting women and children's rights have always been important to her.
"My dad died when I was 11 and my mother was a domestic worker. But as a domestic worker she was really ahead of time. She was not an angry woman in the way that she wanted us to prosper," she says.
Recollecting the words her mother shared with her and her siblings as a young girl, she says: "She [my mother] always said: 'I don't want you to turn out like me. I want you to have education. You need to be assertive as women. You need to be very independent as women, and be able to do things that you want, and you feel like doing. Without having anyone deter you from doing any of those things'."
"As a girl from Soweto you think: 'How am I going do that?' You think: 'My mother is a domestic worker, I don't have a father. Maybe the best person to take me out of my misery would be a rich guy,'" she adds.
But as she grew older, Chaka Chaka understood what her mother was saying, and started to practice the values her mother instilled in her.
"We see so many things. We have child soldiers, children who sleep in the streets, child prostitution and those things really don't sit very well with me as a mother. I wish I had lots of money so I could spread my wings and cushion all these children. Love, guide, guard and protect them," she explains.
Chaka Chaka, who was recently appointed as NEPAD Health and Nutrition Ambassador, says it was when she started travelling to other countries that she started to realise the importance for people to be "educated, empowered and healthy."
"How do we make sure that people are fully functional?" she asks, saying: "They need to have good nutrition. If they are sick, they need to have good medication."
"It is so sad for instance for women in Namibia or Sierra Leone to walk for three hours to a health care centre and they can't find medication," she says.
"Our mothers and grandmothers plowed in the yard, and ate good food. Organic and good food. But now it's only good if you go to Food Lovers or to Woolworths. Why can't we do it for ourselves? It's easier, it's cheaper. I believe in not giving people a handout, but a hand up," she adds.
"Giving people a handout, but a hand up" is a phrase she repeats several times throughout the interview.
Chaka Chaka recently attended the United Nations General Assembly alongside world leaders, to talk about TB and nutrition.
About the prestigious opportunity, the 53-year-old says: "We know that TB is the highest killer in South Africa. We wanted to know what has been done, what has not been done and what we are doing to combat the disease."
When asked how the public could get involved and aid in the plight she says: "Whether it's your neighbour, your family or your community, It's a matter of conscientising the people around you."
But she knows that this is not an easy task, saying: "It's very sad that bad habits spread so quickly, but with good things people are resistant. We should not despair. Those are the unsung heroes, the gogos in the township and rural areas who plow. There is so much good in us.
"I am an African, but Africa is for all of us and it's time that we shape the Africa that we want."
Through her music, Chaka Chaka has influenced people's attitudes, and through the years it has been her humanitarian work that has influenced her music.
"I started singing in 1984. During that time music and art was a way to disseminate information, whether it was by drawing, singing, writing a poem or a story."
And once again it was through travelling the world that she felt inspired: "I experienced different things and I put it in a song. My music is inspired by everything that I see around me."