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Ras Chunku Unmasked: Rastafari, Love and Music

By SoulSista Sekano

If you have ever attended any Reggae Dancehall Gig in Gauteng, then you know or might have seen Ras Chunku. Ras Chunku, the official flag man, at big or small events.

I have known Ras Chunku for more than 10yrs and on my way to interview him I came to realise that I don’t really know him, what’s his real name? I’ve always known him as Ras Chunku, oversight? Ignorance? Ras Chunku is well-known as the official flagman for local and international artists, a staunch Rastafarian and a DJ, I set off in the blazing heat of Soweto to speak to the Elder and hear what his take is about reggae music, politics, life and Love. When I get there I notice that his in a better shape than the last time I saw him. His health has been deteriorating lately so it was a great pleasure to see him looking so well. After greetings and a bit of chit chat, we got on to business; Rasta how are you? I’m better my Sister, things have been crucial but I’m getting there. So ye let’s talk about who Ras Chunku is?

Ras Chunku
Ras Chunku

Ras Chunku is a man who was born in Soweto in 1969 September 28th. I rise up at the age of 10 and I became a Rastafarian. I fell in love with the Rainbow. One day the rain was falling and I saw a rainbow and I got attracted by the colours so I went to the shops to buy some wool and made those bracelets similar to those that was used by prophets, I was not inspired by the Jamaicans to be a Rastafarian. I then made a follow up and found other brethrens and they recruited me to the movement.

SoulSista: but you already knew about Rastas?
Ras Chunku: No, I was still young, I was nine years, and I was just inspired by the rainbow.

SoulSista: Were you born here in Soweto?
Ras Chunku: yes right here in Soweto, white city

SoulSista: and your real name? You know most people don’t know your real name. I asked around and no one could tell me lol
*He bursts into a laugh*.
Ras Chunku: My real name that I was given to by my Father’s side of the family is Thabo, but because when I was young I had a small frame, so when everyone was playing with me they would say to me ” hello Chunku Chunku” so that name stuck until now. That’s where the name Ras Chunku comes from…

SoulSista: and last name?
Ras Chunku: My father’s is Skute, but I’m using my mother’s surname which is Mngomezulu, but I’m going to change to my father’s last name and I have to do all the rituals and cultural things from my father’s side.

SoulSista: Your school days? Where did you attend?
Ras Chunku: I started at a community lower primary center, I then moved to Donaldson Higher primary, I ended up at Alexander high school in STD 9.

SoulSista: so you left school at STD 9?
Ras Chunku:  Yes I. I started to preach about the Rastafarian movement at schools and everywhere I could.

SoulSista: Who were you staying with? And how did they feel about you leaving school for the movement?
Ras Chunku: I stayed with my aunt because I was in Alexander. But I grew up living with my Grandmother and my mother, I’m still staying with my mother. They didn’t take it too badly cause they used to see that their child loved this thing, they even allowed me to host Dubs, 6to6 in the yard. They were supportive, very supportive even today because they have seen that Rastafari is not a bad thing. It kept me away from all the bad things in the street.

SoulSista: Do you have siblings?
Ras Chunku: I’m the first born, I have 3 sisters who come after me. Emily, Jane and Violet.

SoulSista: You have nieces and nephews? I’m sure they are naughty lol
Ras Chunku: No, no, no instead they love the way I live, they even call me Rasta, Jahman. They grew up knowing that their uncle is Rasta. And it’s not about that, Rastafari is a movement it’s a church order. I’m a Nyabinghi, I chant Nyabinghi at the very same time I go to church see, and it’s not about reggae music. When I was growing up I thought it was about reggae but only to find out there’s more than that. It’s a spiritual things also.

Ras Chunku Flag Flown
Ras Chunku Flying the Flag in Soweto

SoulSista: So how did you get into reggae music?
Ras Chunku: Well reggae music…

SoulSista: Sorry to interject, cause I’m thinking when you were in the Rastafarian movement, were you aware of reggae music?
Ras Chunku: When I was young I met this elder called Ras Sipho, when I visited his place, he will always play the 45″ LPs, always playing Bob Marley, and Peter Tosh. That’s where I got hooked on reggae music by age 13-14 I already knew about Reggae music and what it meant.

SoulSista: What did it mean to you?
Ras Chunku: When I was growing up it was the music that was challenging the politics and apartheid government, it’s a music of freedom.

SoulSista: yes, you grew up under the apartheid regime?
Ras Chunku: Yes

SoulSista: and how was it growing up during that time?
Ras Chunku: It was very bad because we were harassed by the police, like me for instance I’ve been to jail several times like more than 8 times, in and out in different prisons for marijuana, being harassed by this so called police with camouflage, and we would be beaten, they didn’t care what age you were.

SoulSista: Did you spend long periods of time in jail or you would just spend a few days?
Ras Chunku: The longest I’ve stayed was a year, sometimes I would spend 6 months. I spent half of my life in prisons, I know half of the prisons in South Africa. But I never left the Rastafari movement because it showed me the light and the way.

SoulSista: When it comes to the church side what do you think about the name callings, some call others Christafarians and you find that they are always clashing, what do you think about that?
Ras Chunku: That is just criticism that’s all, cause when you go to church too much they call you Christafarian, and those who don’t attend are the ones who call others Christafarian cause they don’t love to attend church they only love to dance and dance. So we are big enough and we grow the movement so we know what the situation in the movement is.

SoulSista: You’ve been in the movement for a long time, what’s your message to everyone, how do they get together and be at peace and stop calling each other names?
Ras Chunku: Cause I’m on the side of Nyabinghi, I would say everyone must come to church and chant Nyabinghi cause it’s the only way of survival, we are getting old, let’s not end up only in the music, we are getting old, being elders, let’s find direction, know where we are going and where we are going to end up.

SoulSista: Ok let’s get back to reggae music, you fell in love with reggae music, that’s when you started doing Dubs. So you being a DJ now, how did that come about?
Ras Chunku: There were Bobos in the dance and they would play music of Bobos, so I saw that these people were spoiling things. They liked Capleton and Sizzla too much, they didn’t include other types of music, you see. So that’s why I took that step that no I cannot always listen to Capleton and Sizzla. I could see that they were killing the music, not to say that I’m critising the music but they were always playing that and jumping and jumping and not considering other people and that there’s plenty of music that one can play.

Ras Chunku
Ras Chunku Playing at Kingston on 4th

SoulSista: Who inspired you besides you not liking the way they were doing things, who’s that one DJ that inspired you?
Ras Chunku: Well I can’t really say cause, I was playing solely for the love of music, I’d go buy vinyls and tell myself that one day I’ll play for the masses.

SoulSista: Who taught you how to play?
Ras Chunku: No one did.

SoulSista: so how did you learn, did you have equipment that you would practice on?
Ras Chunku: No I did not have equipment?

SoulSista: so how did you learn *we both laugh* how far do you want to take it, or you are just doing it for fun?
Ras Chunku: No no! now I’m fully into it, cause music is in my blood, now you find that each and every session I’m the man who opens the set, whether I’m on the flyer or not.

SoulSista: yeah I know that every session we going to find Ras Chunku already playing.
Ras Chunku: Ye cause most of the DJs want to come when the house is full, and luckily I play more hours than them. They only get 30min and I get 3hrs hahaha.

SoulSista: Now they are going to steal your trick.
Ras Chunku: lol ye if there’s a young man out there who wants to do it, because I must recruit also, if there’s a young man who wants to take over I must surrender still and give others a chance to go forward as long as they’ll do it the right way.

SoulSista: Way back in the days when you were growing up, there was Lucky Dube if I’m not mistaken?
Ras Chunku: that time he hasn’t yet risen, we rose with Jamaican music, Lucky Dube came after.

SoulSista: Who are those Jamaican artists that were big during that time?
Ras Chunku: Mikey Dread, Burning Spear, Lee Perry, they are so plenty you know. Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Yellowman ye they are plenty.

SoulSista: Reggae music was big in South Africa during that era, was it played on radio stations?
Ras Chunku: no it was not played on radio stations, but some would play like Lesedi FM but some would not give it a time of day.

SoulSista: What do you think of the state of reggae music now compared to that era?
Ras Chunku: Even now they are still down pressing it, because most of the time it’s very rare to hear a reggae song, only hear it here and there.

SoulSista: What do you think is the problem because it’s big in other countries like Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Ghana, etc.?
Ras Chunku: I think the artists who play Mzansi Reggae, they are the ones who can push it further, they are very down also there’s no support amongst themselves.

Ras Chunku with DJ Smokey

SoulSista: How can they support each other? Remember everyone is also looking out for themselves?
Ras Chunku: By coming together and making one event, one festival, like in Cape Town they make big events, all the artists they come together but here it’s a different story, it’s only me who can make a dance and call those artists to come and perform for me.

SoulSista: but again don’t the media play a role somewhere, or you think the responsibility lies solely on the artist’s shoulders?
Ras Chunku: No there are people who can come forward like the promoters, the people who always bring the Jamaican artists here, it’s them who must be forward in that step because it’s them who promote reggae music.

SoulSista:  you are also an official flag man, how did that come about?
Ras Chunku: I was inspired by the Jamaicans, I used to see those waving flags on the stage, and I said no man I like the flag so why not! So I just jumped on stage one day…

Ras Chunku
Ras Chunku on stage with Beenie Man

SoulSista: and who was performing? Was it a local artist or International?
Ras Chunku: I can’t even remember who it was but it was a Jamaican artist. But I know when there’s a show I must be there

 

SoulSista: what do the artists say to you after their performance?
Ras Chunku: Some of them they love it, some of them don’t cause people are not the same, like during Beenie Man’s show, I got on stage the security pulled me back and Bennie Man said “no leave the man” but at first he thought I was a sistren “hey leave the sistren” and they told him “no his not a sistren is a man”. Some of them say “Give thanks for waving the flag you did very well”

SoulSista: so that you’ll continue doing?
Ras Chunku: Ahh forever, when the is a show, that’s my duty and no one else’s, I’m known for that, for the love of reggae again cause you can’t just do this things, it must come from the heart, you can’t just pretend,  you have to give it your all, then you’ll find things simply working out for you.

SoulSista: what do you think about our South African reggae artists?
Ras Chunku: there are artists that I look forward to their works like Jeremiah Fyah Ises and Momo Dread, they are taking this seriously now, I can even feel it in my blood. This guys are taking reggae to higher levels now, they are no longer playing, even there way they perform they are reaching the stage of the Jamaicans.

SoulSista: what would be your advice to the once that are still coming up?
Ras Chunku: They must learn from the once who are on top now, reggae is all about love, they must not give up.

SoulSista: What does reggae music mean to you?
Ras Chunku: reggae music is all about life, inspiration to other people, show lights especially the uplifting lyrics not slackness like dancehall, they build people, like roots and culture, those Jamaican brothers you can feel that this is an African ting.

SoulSista: In that inspiration, what have you learned about yourself?
Ras Chunku: I’ve learned a lot because it kept me away from the streets, I could’ve been a hooligan, I’m just a man who’s responsible you know. I know my ways and what I want in life.

Ras Chunku with Etana

SoulSista: Do you think if it wasn’t for reggae music you would have chosen a different route?
Ras Chunku: ye another route for sure, cause some people are drunkards I’m not saying drunkards are bad but you know the way we are living in this society.

SoulSista: So reggae music gave your life?
Ras Chunku: Ye it inspired me a lot, more teachings

SoulSista: who’s your all time Reggae artist, someone you can listen to all day.
Ras Chunku: right now my favourite one is Bushman.

SoulSista: Family wise, Is Ras Chunku married, single does he have kids?
Ras Chunku: Ras Chunku is a single man *a big laugh* I’m still looking.

SoulSista: Why is Ras Chunku a single man?
Ras Chunku: I used to have a partner years ago, then I separated with her, she’s the mother of my child, that was 15 years ago.

SoulSista: So you’ve been single since then!
Ras Chunku: Single since then

SoulSista: Why Ras Chunku!?
Ras Chunku: Hey you know it’s very difficult if you are a Rasta man, even some Rasta women they are not conscious you know. Well I tell myself that the time will come when I’ll get an irie woman, even if she’s not Rasta but the woman will understand my livity.

SoulSista: Ye I was going to ask if you want strictly Rasta woman
Ras Chunku: No, because if someone loves you they’ll follow you.

SoulSista: But you know everyone is ‘woke,’ this days so that rhetoric won’t work, what if you meet someone you really love and they also love you, but they don’t want to follow you?
Ras Chunku: Oh well I won’t have a choice cause life is life, I cannot reject someone still, it’s livity as long as we live and respect each other. Even my family are not Rastafarians but I live under their umbrella

SoulSista: So you and the mother of your child were you married or just living together?
Ras Chunku: We were not married, just a girl I met then I spent a period of six months with her then something happened, then we separated. I didn’t even know she was pregnant, even when the child was born I was not there. I found out when one sister asked me if I know Thuli* and I said yes, she said you know Thuli has a child? And she’s claiming that it’s your child. I cannot deny that because I know the whole story, but she was also involved with another man on the side.

SoulSista: Have you seen the child?
Ras Chunku: I saw him only once, honestly I won’t lie to you, but now they are in PE and I don’t know whereby in PE

Ras Chunku with Queen Ifrika

SoulSista: When last did you see him, how old was he?
Ras Chunku: He was very young cause the woman was coming here demanding money for the nappies and things, she came with him once, then she decided to go back to PE cause things were crucial, even I didn’t believe that the child was mine honestly I won’t lie to you cause when we separated with the mother she was seeing another man. But as time went on they sent me photos and even I could see that there’s no escaping here, the height, everything. But I only have those photos I haven’t seen him, maybe his 15yrs now. but to me according to the culture tings, I don’t say and I don’t believe but I think those people did something to me, I’ve never had any luck with women after her, even the sister you found here is just my friend, even you you’ve never seen me with any woman. I try but I fail every time.

SoulSista: So if you find someone now, do you still want to get married and start a family?
Ras Chunku: Yes of course!

SoulSista: Because I’m thinking, maybe you think it’s late now and you couldn’t be bothered?
Ras Chunku: I cannot give up, if there’s time then I can still do it, to me age is just a number.

SoulSista: and the love is always there
Ras Chunku: it’ always there sistren, even old people in the bible like Sarah they had children when they were already old.

SoulSista: You recently fell ill, do you want to talk about it?
Ras Chunku: I got sick I when I came back from Cape Town a few months ago, one sister just told my sister that they must take me to the Hospital as I was not looking well, so when I got to the clinic they told me that I have TB, then I started taking my treatment for TB till today, but I’m slowly recovering.

SoulSista: How has it been for you?
Ras Chunku: Hey it was very bad and crucial, I couldn’t eat, and I couldn’t keep anything down.

SoulSista: but are you better now?
Ras Chunku: Yes now I’m better, I can eat everything, and I’m recovering very well. I would like to thank those who have been by my side throughout. They must continue with that Spirit, cause Umuntu ngu muntu nga Bantu.

SoulSista: Great to hear that. Your parting shot?
Ras Chunku: I can say people must just love Rastafari cause it’s the only way, especially to us black people, I know there are so many religions out there but I n I is a Rasta man, to inspire people you know, Rastafari is the way to go. We are trying to bring some roots and culture even though there’s some mix up somewhere, Rastafari is the only way to some peace and love.

Ras Chunku: I’m very happy about this interview
SoulSista: Why are you happy?
Ras Chunku: Sometimes it’s important for people to hear what one has to say. Blessed.

Ras Chunku Nkulee Dube
Ras Chunku with Nkulee Dube and TK Dube

@Ras Chunku Mngomezulu

 

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