I owe my fame to Zimbabwe – Yvonne Chaka Chaka

AFRICAN music icon Yvonne Chaka Chaka says she owes her fame and success to Zimbabwe as it hired her for her first-ever gig outside South Africa in 1987.

She was speaking at a two-day conference organised by the Jacaranda Music Festival, which began on the 4th of October and ends this Thursday in Harare.

The organisation holds annual conferences to support creatives in the strategic delivery of their art, bringing various experts from all over the world to educate and share experiences.

This year, Yvonne Chaka Chaka was invited to be the keynote speaker at the conference.

“I started music in 1985 and never thought that in 1987 I would get on my first flight as a musician. It was an overwhelming experience for me as I kept acting funny as the plane took off. People around me on the plane said you are a superstar, you must act like one, but I told them it was my first time on the plane whether I am a superstar or not,” she said.

Yvonne grew up in the Soweto township of South Africa and never thought music would become her career.

“I accompanied a friend to audition at a recording company and the white guy who was managing the audition asked if I wanted to try singing too. I then sang for him I’m in love with a DJ, which is a song he had written. He gave me a bus fare to come to the studio the next day. That’s how I started music and it was something I never saw myself doing one day.”

In her speech, she spoke about how music evolves.

“Tastes and preferences change and artists should embrace and accept that. The good thing is there will always be people who like Yvonne Chaka Chaka because there is only one Yvonne Chaka Chaka. Artists must collaborate and compliment each other, not compete, so never be jealous of new trends, cheer others when they are winning,” she exhorted.

She urged creatives especially the girl child to work and pray hard.

“Girls, don’t rely on men and rush into marriage thinking you will live large. Acknowledge who you are first, value yourselves, know your worth, and don’t be abused by promoters and all men. Promoters, don’t take advantage of artists. Your job is to identify talent, never take this for granted. Pay them what they are worth. Do not think you are doing them a favour. Your job is to look for business, sell your artist out there, and negotiate deals. As for me, my manager works for me and she knows we agree on 10% for the shows I get, and when she gets a show for me, she gets 20%. This is a dog-eat-dog industry,” the songstress said.

Chaka Chaka also highlighted how they got popular using traditional means like radio, television and newspapers. She added that in 1987 after the Zimbabwe trip, she was introduced to Whitney Houston in Washington DC, also met Mirriam Makeba in New York and started touring all other parts of the world with Umqombothi being the most popular track even in Nigeria and Kenya.

Yvonne called on collective management organisations to pay artists royalties at least twice a year and collect money for artists in all areas where there are music users.

“Facebook restricts playing other people’s music, it protects artists’ rights like Beyonce’s music for example. But us Africans we do not even bother taking all those procedures to get value for our work. Music is a business, even when you contribute a line to someone’s song, get paid. Backing vocalists and session artists are hardly recognised and thanked too. Do not look down upon them, there would be no band without them. Include them in getting a certain percentage of your earnings and even having workshops that recognise their hard work. They are part of the value chain,” she added.

Chaka Chaka confessed she didn’t know much about copyrights and music ownership in her first two famous albums and she does not get any royalties from them to this day.

“I was excited about being famous and was not educated enough in the music business to know that I was supposed to include my name. This is why you must register your music and get paid for it. Engage in workshops of this magnitude and lastly, do not rely on the music business only, invest the money you get in other businesses. Do not waste money on drugs and substances, do philanthropy work. Volunteer to do things sometimes without being paid but do not be exploited. I worked as an Ambassador in the Washing Hands campaign and it impacted a billion lives by being a face of a brand. Sometimes you do not get paid for it, but also embrace it as it opens more doors. Rehearse all the time, do a sound check nomatter how popular you get.”

Yvonne’s debut album “I’m in Love With a DJ”, sold 35,000 copies with the title track becoming an instant hit.

With other songs like “I’m Burning Up”, “I Cry for Freedom”, “Makoti”, “Motherland” and the ever-popular, “Umqombothi” Chaka Chaka sealed her place among South Africa’s creme de la creme, earning herself the title ‘Princess of Africa’.

Far from the music scene, Chaka Chaka runs a limousine company together with her husband, Dr. Mandlalele Mhinga. She also taught literacy part-time at the University of South Africa and sits on several boards of charitable organisations and NGOs, including the board of the Johannesburg Tourism Company.



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