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The story of Yvonne Chaka Chaka (pictured) is synonymous with the story of South Africa.
For someone who has had a career that has spanned almost three decades, it is amazing that she is still around. This is the woman who received mail from a then- imprisoned Nelson Mandela, commending her for her good work as an artist during the struggle. If you wrote a book on the history and development of South African music, it would be incomplete without Chaka Chaka’s input.
But has that all faded now? Given that the singer is returning from what seemed to be a three-year sabbatical, and releasing her album, Amazing Man, which few people know about, you might be tempted to think the Princess of Africa has been dethroned without her knowledge.
“I am really not sure what is going on with the SABC because they are not playing my new music. I don’t know if they want me to pay them to play it, or maybe Universal is not marketing it well, I just don’t know,” said Chaka Chaka.
“I think it is a good CD because I spent so much time (on it) and had great artists and producers work on it. I am a perfectionist so that means I spend a lot of time on my projects and on this one I spent more than two years from start to finish. I travelled to different places to see what my people like and made sure I put that on the album, but bizarrely it is not getting any airplay.
“My question to Universal is: ‘where is the problem?’ Why can’t they sample all the radio stations because new material is always needed?” she lamented.
Amazing Man, a 10-track CD, could become one of Chaka Chaka’s best works from the 2000s because she has diversified her sound.
“I worked with a wide array of people, including Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Zuluboy, the Soweto Gospel Choir and Youssou N’Dour. I know all of them and have worked with them to a point where I consider them my friends,” she explained.
With each of these artists bringing their own influences and talents to the Amazing Man project, it took Chaka Chaka’s brilliance to adapt to her creative guests.
“It was easy to bring (in) the people I like and do something special with them. The one (song) I did with Youssou was from a request by Interpol. Because we are both UN Goodwill ambassadors we were tasked to do a song on fake medicine which is a rampant problem in Africa.
“There are a lot of people who are investing a lot of money in medicine packaging, only to trick people into buying fake contents. I read of a woman who had diabetes and they sold her syringes that contained water mixed with vinegar and that’s murder,” the musician said.
With the Grammy Award- winning Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Chaka Chaka explored new territory and the result is nothing short of amazing.
“We decided to do an a capella song together and I remember one of my friends listening to it for the first time and asking me who the female voice on the record was. I told him it was me, but even he could not believe it because he is used to hearing my voice within a number of instruments. I knew then that I had made the right decision to try out that song as it will give my fans something fresh to listen to,” she said.
Chaka Chaka has always voiced her political views through her songs. This is partly what drew Madiba to her music back in the 1980s. On this new project there is yet another politically-fuelled song, the title track, Amazing Man, on which the singer thanks legendary African leaders who helped to fight colonialism.
Being aware of the current African political landscape, Chaka Chaka was choosy about who received her gratitude.
“It’s a tribute to Nelson Mandela and a lot of great African men. I lived in the time of apartheid so I know now what it felt like to be in an era where people fight for freedom. The very first trip outside South Africa that I ever took was to Zimbabwe in 1986 and I loved it there. Now every time I sit with Robert Mugabe I ask him if he could take the country to where it was when I first came there.
“As much as I love Mugabe I did not add him in the song because I think he has overstayed his welcome. If he had not stayed that long, then I would have added him because in a democracy he was that ‘big brother’ who changed with time,” she said, laughing.
While some artists will not be cornered into saying which song is their favourite on an album, for Chaka Chaka one of them really stands out.
“Yesterday is one of my favourite songs because it speaks to our people in South Africa. It says we have come a long way and the struggle is long gone, but it appears as if we don’t care about each other.
“Back in the struggle days we looked out for each other as we were a close-knit family, but now it looks like yesterday is gone,” she said.
For Chaka Chaka Amazing Man is like any of her other albums, a well thought-out compilation, which she spent years perfecting, of her inner feelings.
“I take my time because I believe that if I do then my music can be listened to for years. I am at a stage in my life where I own my own record label so I do things in my own time. The problem with young people is they rush projects and when you listen (to them) there is rarely substance,” she said.
• Amazing Man is available at music stores nationwide.