Media Talks Back: The World Show With Nicky B (Part 2)
In this two part series, IndiEarth interviews South African based radio presenter Nicky B on her offbeat radio show – The World Show With Nicky B. Read Part 1 here.
“I’ve always been committed to promoting South African and other African music on radio, and presenting it in a way that honours its excellence, and elevates it to the level it deserves,” says Nicky B, with enthusiasm that speaks volumes of her all consuming passion. “So often in this world, we are force fed certain styles and artists, without ever acknowledging the excellence, majesty, brilliance, of other musical styles – and particularly music from our continent (though I love music of all genres and from all around the world)!
Nirupama: What was it that first planted the seed for this passion for South African and African music?
I grew up in a family of music lovers – my father loved classical music, my mother loved jazz and she introduced me to South African jazz, International Jazz, Latin jazz, Cuban jazz and so much more. I also grew up, as a white South African, with what we call a nanny or a domestic worker, who essentially – in South African terms – is usually a black woman bringing up the children, looking after the home. I am fortunate enough to have been raised by an amazing woman – I call her my second mother – her name was Mavis, and through growing up with Mavis I was exposed to the music of what was then called Radio Bantu. Radio Bantu initially started off as one hour a day, and it played African or black African music, and with time it went into different ethnicities. I often say that besides my mother’s jazz influences, I was exposed to the roots of African music through Radio Bantu.
I also grew up with parents who had married outside of faith, so I never really fit in to any specific category – and I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve never been bound by ethnicity or tradition. I’ve always played the music I’ve loved, regardless of where it comes from. Most of the music I play I don’t even understand the lyrics, but I do understand the message and I can feel it in the musicality.
Nirupama: Tell us a bit more about this diverse musical landscape of South Africa, and about the political significance of the role of music during the emergence of democracy in the country?
Music is certainly one of South Africa’s greatest treasures – South African music has something that makes it accessible internationally – it has a warmth, it has a groove, I’m not even sure exactly what it is! We have a rich musical history and I think part of that richness comes from the fact that we have so many ethnicities, 11 official languages, and many influences over the decades – from the American big band sound, American jazz, to the traditional music of our ethnicities like traditional Zulu music, Tsonga music, a cappella, isicathamiya (the kind of music Ladysmith Black Mambazo has taken around the world)!
We also have an amazing history of South African dance music all the way back to the 50’s, and a strong history of music as a means, music as a weapon during the times of oppression. Music has played a huge part in the struggle, and in our liberation – the role of music in reaching our democracy in South Africa has been huge, both for people personally in uplifting their spirits, and politically when music was subversively used to spread a message against or within a system. Music was often a tool used to reach the people, presented in ways the Apartheid government could not understand. It is, in many ways, a part of everybody’s life in South Africa.
Nirupama: Who have been some of your most memorable guests on the show?
To narrow it down is difficult – but I’ll never forget Pops Mohamed, one of our greatest musicians – a musicologist, a teacher, a majestic musician who moves from the sacred right down to contemporary dance. He was the first musician I ever interviewed. Hugh Masekela (we refer to him as Bra Hue because he’s like everyone’s brother) usually comes on the show for a few hours – he’s one of my greatest heroes. Miriam Makeba – one of my greatest inspirations – she proved to me that no matter how far you go, the key is your humanness, your humanity. She is Mama Africa. So many of these artists spread a message of love – and love is a theme that recurs with all of them. That sort of consciousness is really evident in world music and jazz, it’s not rife with the egos that are common in pop music or commercial music.
Nirupama: From the sound of it, you’ve truly found your life’s calling and purpose. Tell me more about your creative vision for The World Show, and what is it that keeps you going – overcoming the many challenges and obstacles placed on your path?
My interviews are often driven by their music – it’s usually through their art that I am inspired to ask specific questions. From the start I have been the producer, presenter, and sole person present at The World Show – as a DJ I am honoured to have been able to do this so long in a highly programmed radio landscape. Every single new manager came in and tried to stop me from doing what I do – but somehow the music has spoken to the people. I’ve had to stay on my toes to make sure the show doesn’t get removed.
If I tell you – in my deepest expression – sometimes I believe I am merely a channel, and a divine power tells a story through me when I am centred and open. As much as I may have prepared the presentation of the show, the ways and paths it takes are sometimes way beyond anything I could have consciously determined. In the very beginning it was not an easy task – I would think to myself – what am I doing this for? Putting up with so many people challenging me – why am I doing this? I wasn’t sure. I did a meditation, and the message came to me that ‘this is bigger than you, get on with it’. [laughs]. Essentially, in the toughest times when I’m facing the biggest challenges in a world of mainstream commercialism and programmed packaging, it’s people like the late Miriam Makeba, or Hugh Masekela that keep me going. I realised, that if they continued to bring us the magnificence that they did amidst the incredible life’s challenges that they faced, then I surely can keep going. It’s role models like those great beings that encourage me in spirit to keep going, even when I am challenged to the very core.