South African icon Yvonne Chaka Chaka is barely audible when she first answers the phone. A vibrant song layered with her voice is playing in the background and she asks me to wait a moment as she leaves the room.
The artist, who is known as the Princess of Africa, is gearing up to release her 12th album, hence the new song playing when I call. But that’s not the only thing she is preoccupied with.
Chaka Chaka was preparing to fly to Los Angeles as she had been named the Global Good Power honoree at this year’s BET Awards. She accepted her award in the US on Saturday, which was when the international edition of the awards took place.
The American edition will be broadcast on South African TV tonight. BET’s Global Good Power award is described as one that “recognises individuals championing endeavours to positively impact change and heighten awareness in different parts of the world”
Chaka Chaka, who is also a UN Goodwill Ambassador, said being honoured made her extremely proud.
“I’ve received so many awards – in New York, in Washington, the Crystal award in Davos – but I must say that I am happy that this award is in line with my humanitarian work… It’s not about publicity, it’s about doing the work. That makes me happy.”
Chaka Chaka was inspired to join the fight against malaria when Phumzile Ntuli, a singer who was on tour with her, contracted it and died in 2004. I asked her if she believes the battle against malaria is being won.
“Complacency is sometimes a problem, but whether I travel to Sierra Leone or to Limpopo, I see progress,” she said. “I’ve gone to so many countries, spoken to so many presidents and gone down to the ground to go and hang nets and do residual spraying with the people.
Thank you @BET for the Global Good Power Award #Africa #BETAwards2017 #UniteToEndTB #InvestInNutrition #VaccinesWork #EndViolence #Education pic.twitter.com/qcgPXfiEZk
— Yvonne Chaka Chaka (@YvonneChakaX2) June 26, 2017
“Because I’m a mother and a black woman, they believe in me. I put myself in their shoes. All they want is a hand up, not a handout.”
Through three decades, this Thank You Mr DJ powerhouse has been able to use her musical talent to help the powerless.
After a five-year recording hiatus, Chaka Chaka is now ready to bring out more music. She has already shot two music videos and has even featured Bulawayo-born songbird Berita on a body-positive anthem for young African women.
When I ask her about the music, she sounds joyful when she says: “We’re listening to the new album because we’re releasing it soon.
“My last CD was in 2012. I don’t release every two years anymore – I’ve done that. The single is called Keep Looking At Me and we’re now deliberating with the team about what the album should be called.”
* Catch the BET Awards on BET (DStv Channel 129) at 8pm tonight.