For over three decades, Yvonne Chaka Chaka has enchanted audiences across the African continent and beyond with her soulful voice, energetic stage presence, and commitment to social causes. Born in Soweto, South Africa, on March 18th, 1965, Chaka Chaka’s career has spanned music, acting, entrepreneurship, and humanitarianism.
She burst onto the music scene at the age of 19, when Phil Hollis of Dephon Records discovered her in Johannesburg. Her debut album, I’m in Love With a DJ, featured hits like “I’m Burning Up,” “I Cry for Freedom,” and “Umqombothi” (“African Beer”), which later appeared in the movie Hotel Rwanda. These songs, along with her subsequent award-winning albums like Sangoma, Be Proud to be African, and Kwenzenjani, made Chaka Chaka a star of South Africa’s mbaqanga music scene and a household name throughout the continent.
But Chaka Chaka’s impact extends far beyond music. She was the first black child to appear on South African television in 1981, and has since shared stages with the likes of Bono, Annie Lennox, and Hugh Masekela. She has performed for world leaders like Queen Elizabeth II, US President Bill Clinton, and South African President Thabo Mbeki.
Chaka Chaka has also used her platform to advocate for social causes, particularly those related to health and education. She is a champion for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, the United Nations MDG Envoy for Africa, and the Goodwill Ambassador for the Roll Back Malaria Partnership. She was chosen by Nelson Mandela as the first ambassador for his children’s fund and has established her own charity, the Princess of Africa Foundation. The Foundation, a partner of the ACTION global health advocacy partnership, has helped countless families and orphans in need.
Chaka Chaka’s commitment to social justice is rooted in her own difficult upbringing. Her father, a talented musician, died when she was just 11 years old, leaving her mother to raise three daughters on a domestic worker’s salary. Despite the challenges she faced, Chaka Chaka’s mother served as a source of inspiration and mentorship for her daughter.
When Chaka Chaka reflects on her journey, she often cites her mother’s courage and strength as well as her father’s unrealized dream. Music was in her blood, and from a young age, she knew that it was her destiny to pursue it. She sang in church choirs, played with makeshift instruments, and dreamed of a future where she could share her talent with the world.
Throughout her career, Chaka Chaka has remained committed to using her talent to make a difference. She teaches literacy part-time at the University of South Africa, sits on several boards of charitable organizations and NGOs, and serves on the board of the Johannesburg Tourism Company. In 2012, she became the first African woman to receive the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award, an honor that recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to improving the state of the world.
For Chaka Chaka, her music and activism are inextricably linked. She believes that her talent is a gift that she must use to uplift others and create a better world. Her legacy, as the Princess of Africa, will undoubtedly endure for generations to come, inspiring future artists and activists to follow in her footsteps.