Jabulani — Déjà vu as Thandeka returns to her beloved Soweto

PJ Powers broke barriers by performing in townships in volatile 1980s

PJ Powers entertains fans at a Twenty Days until World Cup street party in Vilakazi Street, Orlando West, Soweto in May 2010.
PJ Powers entertains fans at a Twenty Days until World Cup street party in Vilakazi Street, Orlando West, Soweto in May 2010.
Image: James Oatway

A tall and beautiful blond female singer took the stage at Jabulani Amphitheatre in Soweto in 1985 and left music revellers asking for more.

PJ Powers was performing her popular hit You’re So Good to Me.

As the crowd sang along, PJ Powers had them eating out of the palm of her hand. It was one of those rare moments since it was during apartheid where mingling with a white person was a sin.

The pop singer, who was just 25 years old at the time, showed bravery as she continued to perform in black townships despite being called a traitor by her white community.

She was criticised for her actions and her car was pelted with stones but PJ Powers never stopped performing.

For performing at Jabulani Amphitheatre, Sowetans embraced her and even gave her a beautiful Zulu name, Thandeka, which means the one who is loved.

“It was the unhappiest time of my life. I was scared and felt unsafe. People used to ask me why I was performing in Soweto and I would tell them that it feels right to perform there,” she says.

PJ Powers is excited to perform at the Jabulani Amphitheatre in Soweto.
PJ Powers is excited to perform at the Jabulani Amphitheatre in Soweto.
Image: Foto24 / Nelius Rademan

The singer was not only performing in black townships but her music was being played on the then Radio Zulu, now known as Ukhozi FM.

Now that the storm is over, she openly tells the whole world that her career was officially launched in Soweto.

This weekend, it will be a déjà vu moment for her as she returns to Jabulani Amphitheatre, a place that launched her career 39 years ago.

The place brings only good memories that she will cherish forever, she shares.

The music diva who is currently touring the UK is set to land in SA today and will perform at the reopening of the Jabulani Amphitheatre on Sunday.

The venue was closed in 2016 for renovations and is set to re-open with a huge concert that features Abigail Kubheka, Babsy Mlangeni, Soul Brothers, Pappa and Blondie and Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse.

Chatting to Time Out while on tour, the forever-smiling PJ Powers is eager to perform again at the refurbished venue.

“I am currently touring the country side of UK and I continue to tell my story that my career began at Jabulani Amphitheatre in 1983. I am so excited about being back at the same stage again and it even brings tears to my eyes where I felt unconditional love.

“I still remember well that I performed in May 1983, and I was given the  name Thandeka, which means a lot to me.

“I am returning to South Africa on Friday (today) and will rehearse on Saturday. My voice is fine because I have been singing during the tour.

“I have been communicating with Sipho Mabuse because we are collaborating. Technology helps these days because we do a lot of things digitally. But come Sunday, I will be ready to perform at the venue. I saw that they refurbished it but they did not change its old feel, which I like. I am looking forward to see how the changerooms look like now. Definitely, they will look better than before.”

PJ Powers is excited to perform at the Jabulani Amphitheatre in Soweto.
PJ Powers is excited to perform at the Jabulani Amphitheatre in Soweto.
Image: Foto24 / Nelius Rademan

PJ Powers, who kick-started her music career in the 1980s as the lead singer of Hotline, will be performing the hits that made her popular like Mapantsula, Feel So Strong, See You in Soweto and Jabulani, among others.

She is looking forward to do Tatazela Jive, which was famous at the time. The dance was inspired by the song Jabulani and it took SA by storm in the early 1990s. It was composed just after her performance at Jabulani Amphitheatre.

“It all started when I wrote a love, rock song which was played by the late Cansas City Mchunu and VVO Mkhize, who were DJs at the time. The song became a hit and it was popular on Radio Zulu.

“After the release I got an invite to perform in Soweto. When I performed at Jabulani, I went there with a perception that people will be bored by my music. But I was shocked when thousands of people started singing the lyrics of the song. I stood there with a microphone in awe as people sang the lyrics.

“The song Jabulani came after the love I got in Jabulani (the Soweto township). I mean, the song says it all that Jabulani is the place of happiness. This is what I felt when I was performing at the venue with people showing me love.”

PJ Powers, whose solo career flourished during the 1990s and 2000s, has been churning out hits for almost 40 years that are still enjoying airplay on radio stations in Africa.

Her most recent hits include chart-topping singles such as Destiny, Stay and a rework of There is an Answer, a collaboration she did with the late award-winning gospel star Sfiso Ncwane.

The music legend has also teamed up to sing a hip-hop version of Jabulani with late rapper HHP (Hip Hop Pantsula) in 2010. 

Some of the highlights of her fruitful career include performing for late Queen Elizabeth of England and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

She further collaborated with Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Mdu Masilela on an international United Nations music video.

In 2003, she was asked to write the official 85th birthday song for late former statesman Nelson Mandela.

She sang to him and a host of luminaries such as Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton and many other world leaders and presidents during the international broadcast.

She has shared the stage with the likes of Eric Clapton, Joan Armatrading, Annie Lennox, Peter Gabriel, Hugh Masekela, Sibongile Khumalo, Youssou N Dour, Miriam Makeba and Harry Belafonte, among others.


Would you like to comment on this article?
Register (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.