Brian Sokutu
Senior Print Journalist
4 minute read
16 Mar 2020
5:55 pm

Yvonne Chaka Chaka relives her music journey

Brian Sokutu

What happened to the singer at the Dephon studios is something she still finds hard to believe.

Yvonne Chaka Chaka. Picture: Alaister Russell / Gallo Images

Like all domestic workers, Sophie Machaka slogged hard. Saving some of her hard-earned money, she envisioned her youngest daughter Yvonne Ntombizodwa Machaka becoming a lawyer.

Little did she know that her dream would be “dashed” when Ntombizodwa – today a legendary award-winning singer popularly known as Yvonne Chaka Chaka – would fall pregnant after completing schooling and by default, taking up a music career.

“My mother, who brought us up so well, was very upset and told me to find work,” recalled Chaka Chaka.

On a job search, her journey began at the SABC where she hoped to make it as a presenter, becoming a first black child to have made an appearance in 1981.

Not losing hope of finding a lasting career, the 19-year-old Chaka Chaka knocked on other doors for opportunities.

Accompanying a vocalist who had gone to Dephon Records in 1985 for auditioning, Chaka Chaka stumbled on Louis Hlophe who introduced her to his boss Phil Hollis.

“Although I sang at school and in church, I never saw myself as a singer. So, what happened at Dephon Records was a mere fluke – but a dream coming true.

“I was just accompanying Sungu who was a Stimela back vocalist who was to be auditioned.

South African music legend Yvonne Chaka Chaka on December 1, 1985. Picture: Gallo Images

“When Phil also insisted that I be auditioned on the song Let It Be – made famous by the likes of Aretha Franklin and John Lennon – I gave it a shot. So impressed was Phil that he gave me R20 as an encouragement.

“They then played the song I’m in Love with a DJ, written by Attie van Wyk and Norman Xulu, gave me the tape and lyrics to practise at home over the weekend, told to return on Monday,” said Chaka Chaka.

What happened to Chaka Chaka at the Dephon studios that Monday, leading to the hit song which sold over 35,000 copies, topping the charts in several radio stations, is something she still finds hard to believe.

Not knowing how the recording would pan out, Chaka Chaka met Van Wyk and Xulu, escorted to the studio, where she performed.

“I was given R10,000 as an advance payment towards the recording project, which then was a lot of money,” she said.

“Knowing that my mom wanted me to continue with education and eventually become a lawyer, I was faced with the challenge of how I would convince her to support me in my music career.”

Convincing her mother took some effort. “She later signed my music contract because I was under the age of 21, on condition that I would also continue with further study. Now, 35 years later, the rest is history,” said Chaka Chaka.

Famous for other songs such as I’m Burning Up, Thank You Mr DJ, I Cry for Freedom, The Power of Afrika, Princess of Africa and Celebrate Life, Chaka Chaka has every reason for recognising her late mother as having been her role model in life.

South African music legend Yvonne Chaka Chaka performing live on April 24, 1985. Picture: Gallo Images

Chaka Chaka has performed before famous people such as former president Nelson Mandela, Queen Elizabeth II, Richard Branson, Bono, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones and Oprah Winfrey.

During her performances, one of her backing vocalists, Phumzile Ntuli, contracted malaria in Gabon in 2004 and later died.

Touched by this tragedy, Chaka Chaka later became a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund and the Roll Back Malaria Partnership.

In 2006, she started her foundation called Princess of Africa – a name she received after a 1990 tour in Uganda – which focuses on championing the change in health and education for communities across Africa.

She has championed Chaka Backing Vocalists and Session Musicians Awards to plough back to the music industry.

Chaka Chaka is the first African woman recipient of the World Economic Forum Crystal Award. She was also chosen as the 100 World Class South African and was voted the 8th most powerful musician by Forbes magazine.

The first ambassador for Nelson Mandela’s 46664 campaign, which raises global awareness on HIV/Aids, she serves as the Honorary Colonel in the South African Air Force.


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