By Busi Ntuli
The year 2000 not only started with a bang for me but it was to be a year that defined my today.
I welcomed the dawn of the new millennium, aka the year 2000 at the pyramids of Giza in Cairo Egypt – at a party of parties and with someone I loved. I was with my best friend and fellow radio head, Nandipha Strydom affectionately known as Nandi.
Well-known French electronic-rock star Jean Michel Jarre performed a 12-hour opera, beneath the 4,500-year-old pyramids – from sunset Dec. 31 to sunrise Jan. 1. Approximately 40,000 people from around the world attended the event and when dawn struck, we all watched a 30-foot high golden cap being placed on the missing peak of the largest Cairo Egypt of Cheops and flooding the area with rays of light to signal the beginning of the Year 2000. There were projected laser images on the pyramids as well as other unique lighting effects that left us all in awe, including residence of Cairo who were attending.
There were 1,000 performers on a laser-lit stage and the most spectacular fireworks. The entire event was executed to perfection. We enjoyed a mix of Asian, Western, and traditional Egyptian music. A party like that, had never been hosted in Egypt before. It cost Egypt’s Ministry of Culture $9.5 million to outshine New Year’s Eve parties across the world.
The event was also broadcast live on the Web. Sixty countries bought television rights – so to say the event was epic, would be an understatement. Our stay in Egypt lasted seven glorious days. Nandi and I made it a point to explore the tourists’ Cairo and the “real” Cairo. We made friends with locals who on many occasions mistook us to be Egyptian. We both agreed that we had taken a trip of a lifetime and the memories of that trip would last for years to come. We promised ourselves that our our not yet born children and their children’s children, would surely hear about our trip.
Sadly, a few months after we returned from Egypt, my beloved friend Nandi was killed in a car accident together with her sister Odette aka Oddy, while on their way to a family funeral in Swaziland. I’m not big on documenting tragic dates, so forgive me if you were hoping I’d give the date when my beloved Nandi died.
Nandi and I first met at YFM, Gauteng and SA’s first provincial and privately owned radio station, targeted at the black youth. By the time we left for Egypt, Nandi had left YFM to join National radio station Metro FM as a news producer and reader however, when she died, the entire team at YFM was devastated.
In the early days of YFM, teamwork was cool. It was our way of life – we were comrades in ‘arms’. I’m sure I speak for all who were in the original crew both on and off air. Teamwork was key, not only the success of YFM but also to all of us individually. Let me name drop a few -Greg Maloka now Managing Director at Kaya FM, a regional radio station in Gauteng; award winning on air personality Thabo Mokwele (Kaya FM’s Best Tea in the city); Savita Mbuli now a successful business woman, Phat Joe, now a producer, TV host and radio head; the now Business woman and running junkie Phindi Gule; Internationally recognised DJ Frash; Idols SA judge and record label big shot, Randal Abrahams – the list is endless.
We were comrades in “arms” because we shared a history of being part of something that had never been done before in South Africa. There was no benchmark for the YFM beast. Getting advertisers to buy into a black youth focused radio station, in the late 90’s, in South Africa was the craziest idea.
Advertisers, represented by predominantly young, blond and blue-eyed white female media buyers who generally didn’t understand black youth, let alone interact with them back then, held the key to YFM getting advertising. As you know it takes advertising to keep a radio station alive.
The media buyers totally ignored us. It was South Africa in the nineties for goodness sake!. Yes, Nelson Mandela was out of prison, Black people had just had their first ever, right to vote -so yes, freedom had come but the key to YFM’s financial sustainability still rested in the hands of white youth who took forever to budge. The odds were against us but the YFM team from top to bottom, soldiered on. We did radio like radio had never been done before. We broke radio rules- from the things we said on radio, the music we played, right up to the in your face brand activations events we held.
We had nay sayers from all directions and some black parents were up in arms, sighting us as unruly and having a bad influence on Gauteng’s youth. On the other hand, youth from the other provinces in South Africa made it a point to tune into YFM as soon as they arrived in Gauteng. We were rock stars – poor rock stars, who believed in giving a voice to black urban youth. Thankfully, black youth embraced us. Eventually the media buyers started warming up to YFM.
I left YFM to focus on my business, a recruitment company I had started in 1995 – another first. Back then, there was no Black Economic Empowerment or affirmative action then. Basically in 1995, the laws that we now have in South Africa, aimed at redressing the injustices of apartheid which had put barriers for black people to succeed , were not yet in place. In fact, the reason I ventured into radio in the first place was to merely help supplement my non-existent income as a “businesswoman” on paper. Even though the radio bug had bitten me, I felt compelled to see my business through and I turned my back against the radio Gods. It was not to be for long.A few months after burying my dear friend Nandi and having to reminisce about our epic start to the year 2000 without her, I shortly met my now husband Lemmy Adebule. He was a tall, dark, handsome, chiseled and highly educated Nigerian native who had lived in the USA for 20 years and had been recruited to come to South Africa to set up a multi million Rand funded start up company in the television space.
Things did not work out the way Lemmy had planned but he had made up his mind that he wanted to stay in beautiful Africa. It was still the year 2000 and it is him who had a vision for a Pan African Media company that would focus on providing quality African content, created by Africans, for Africans.
That vision was to me, sexier than a tall, dark, handsome, chiseled and educated Nigerian Native with an American citizenship. When he asked me to partner with him, I said yes faster than I had agreed to a date with him the first time we had met. TransAfrica Radio was born.
Next week the earlier days of Transafrica Radio… ©
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