Melanie Bala: 30 Years Of Freedom

Melanie Bala: 30 Years Of Freedom

“There couldn’t be a harder ask than trying to find just thirty songs that encapsulate the history of South Africa’s musical landscape, as well as my own story that ran parallel to a lot of this music,” veteran TV broadcaster Melanie Bala tells Apple Music. “After all this time, I’m able to look back and very clearly remember the music videos associated with the songs, or interviews with the artists or live performances we had on Studio Mix. Many of these songs have a deeply personal memory attached to them too, like ‘Weekend Special’ by Brenda Fassie being played off a vinyl in our lounge at family gatherings and the whole family dancing to it; or like ‘It's About Time’ by Boom Shaka. Or ‘Another Country’ by Mango Groove capturing so perfectly the fears and hopes and dreams of what South Africa could be, before our first democratic election in 1994.”   She credits many of these artists with shaping SA’s cultural landscape. “Hindsight allows you to see the culture-shifters, the groundbreakers, the visionaries,” she explains. “Family Factory, the forerunner of what we know today as Joyous Celebration, pioneered a new contemporary gospel sound. Prophets of Da City, the OGs of rap from Cape Town, nailed the zeitgeist of 1994, with their sampling of Madiba's voice saying, ‘Never Again’. TKZee's debut album Halloween is iconic for a reason but it's 'Sikelela' off that album that for me showcases their musicality, innovation in sampling and signature sound. Destiny's Child came out around 1997, and I remember Tsakani ‘TK’ Mhinga telling me that she could write R&B songs just like them, in a time where South African R&B was not taken seriously; and boy, did she. Her songs are timeless. She paved the way for Jamali, Elaine and Tyla.   “For me, Simphiwe Dana and Lira were at the front of the Afro-Soul movement and sound we have now,” she continues. “Both albums so different but tapping in to jazz, soul, R&B and traditional music to weave together something uniquely South African. I'm cheating a little bit with AKA's ‘Victory Lap (Remix)’ because it mixes the old guard and the new by featuring Amu, Tumi and HHP—all heavyweights in their own right in the rap/hip-hop culture and scene of SA.    “In the midst of all of that, South Africa's house scene was coming into its own. Liquideep had us in a chokehold in 2009 with ‘Fairytale’; and at a time when everyone and their mom declared that music industry sales were dead, Zahara proved them very, very wrong. Fast forward and Shekhinah became the queen of pop, Langa Mavuso the king of R&B. And now, the ‘freedom babies’ are running the charts and continuing to pioneer and influence the culture—here and across the world.”    As for future generations, Bala hopes that they remember one thing: “They can always start over. Begin again and again, as many times as needed, in building this country, their communities, themselves. We're just at the beginning of creating a more inclusive, equitable, just and kinder world and they've got to take what we've started, and run with it.”

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