My initial understanding of this topic was that I should write about an encounter with a local resident in a foreign country amidst my travels. However, my travels are practically non-existent. In fact the few I’ve embarked on were nothing glorious. I was too young to remember the intricate details of them and was always under the watchful eye of my parents who made sure I never ran astray, let alone speak to any locals. I was restricted to tour guides and hotel staff.

I look at the word ‘local’ and a number of definitions come up in my head. I rarely quote the dictionary and I can only summarize it in one sentence. I am a local and South Africa is all I know. Music is all I know. It connects the world and you don’t have to be involved in an awkward conversation with a stranger if you share a mutual appreciation for a song playing in the background. My local encounter is my encounter with local, home grown, South African music.

The venue: The ICC convention Centre in Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. The date: 23rd February 2013. The occasion: The annual Metro FM Music awards. The place: My living room couch.

Growing up in post -apartheid South Africa I was blessed to be exposed to all sorts of different cultures, people, and being able to attend a multi-racial school was a huge catalyst in exposing me to the diverse cultures. My driving force in life was music, from the classics my mother used to play at home, to the choral classics that Mrs. Cameron would arrange at choir practice, to the rock and pop tunes that my best friend Mandy used to play when we were at her house, all the way to the raw Hip hop beats my cousin used to nod his head to with his friends.

I was in awe of music and religiously without fail as my mother would drive me to school. The breakfast show with Glen “Glenzito” Lewis on Metro FM would be present like another passenger in the car with us, another sibling or friend that would walk me to school and for my mom who was no longer with my father, a colleague or even a companion. The self-proclaimed “teddy bear of the airwaves” was a radio legend in his own right. His show was a major breakthrough. He always played the latest music; the classics.

In fact his show single-handedly introduced kwaito music and house music to a population that was still trying to find its own sound after its voice had been suppressed by the confines of colonialism. This radio station, this show, gave South African music an identity, a voice, and gave South African artists a platform to tell their story in music.

Metro FM empowered, educated and liberated blacks in the form of audible art. And not only that, it encouraged other stations that had the same goal, the same vision and the same dream, to branch out and unite different cultures in black South Africa in music.

As I grew older, Metro FM also grew, South African music also grew, not the industry per se but more so the music. The world was starting to notice because artists like Hip Hop Pantsula (HHP) were able to cross over and become more main-stream to a point where he was touring European countries which was quite an accomplishment that no young, black South African musician could even have fathomed.

Radio stations like Radio 2000, which played predominantly Afrikaans music, became more urban. Before I knew it, Metro FM was now hosting their very first annual awards ceremony. I was still too young to understand the significance of an awards ceremony and my peers were more excited about the after parties than the actual awards ceremony. I wasn’t aware that the awards on their own were a celebration in their own right.

Fast forward to late 2010 after the Fifa 2010 World Cup in South Africa: where the country is diverse in what they have to offer musically, where the genre of music you listen to no longer defines who you are, where clubs and DJs that usually play hip hop music were now incorporating classic kwaito music, Durban kwaito music and overall South African house music into their sets, where parties that had two separated dance floors for each genre (usually being house and hip hop) now only have one dance floor.

Johannesburg was a good city to live in at that time. I was young, independent, free and was ready to explore the big city life and its culture through music. Hip hop was my genre of choice and the sibling I grew up with, it was like that also for Jozi residents. It was more than that , it was a culture, and my then open mind to all things musical began to be filled with nothing but hip hop, no matter how bad it got over the years.

In 2012 I was growing tired of the generic beats, the same topics about women, alcohol, drugs and money. Although I could relate to some of the topics being discussed and sung over ‘autotune’; I felt like I wasn’t being educated anymore.

Where was the music? Where were the stories? I refused to desert my first love but I was no longer in love with her. Those long conversations we used to have over some beers and cigarettes were now reduced to a simple “hello, let’s get to the chorus and call it a day.” There had to be more.

My life changed for personal reasons and by the end of 2012 I was back in Kwa Zulu Natal permanently. “They could never identify with me, they could never relate to me, they never wanted to explore their audio horizons, they listen to house, they don’t know better, they’re not on my level, they’re dumb,” I used to think.

I was now associating kwaito with a culture of foolish blacks, where drunkenness and debauchery were the order of the day. Their dance moves were silly and primitive and my connection with all things South African music was lost.

I was what they’d call a ‘nigga’, an ‘urban hip hop girl’, until I met a boy. I reconnected with an old primary school friend and a relationship was established; a bond that, in his words “would be very difficult to break.” Where he went I’d go, including some of the party scene Kwa Zulu Natal had to offer.

“I might as well get drunk because I definitely won’t be here for the music,” I used to think.

Boy was I disappointed. With every set that DJs would play I’d be impressed. So much so until one night I was blown away. I was in awe of how this guy would loop in a song with meticulous attention to detail and make sure there was a perfect transition from one song to the next.

The music my boyfriend would play in his car was, and I hope he never gets his hands on this piece, enjoyable and also good for our relationship because there was a meeting of minds, a meeting of emotions and a meeting of stories. Every song had a story to tell and we needed to share our stories.

Sitting in the salon to get my hair braided wasn’t so daunting anymore, given that the radio was always tuned in to one local radio station. The music being played by the local radio station was actually enjoyable. I was embracing the music of Natal and weeks later, the fast paced metropolis that is Johannesburg would confirm that they also sat up, paid attention and embraced it.

As I ramble, we are now in 2013, it’s a Saturday night and I have nothing to do but see what’s on the old box. I knew the Metro awards were airing live on one of the local channels but I had no interest in watching them. In fact my boyfriend was on call that night and all I wanted to do was stare at my phone and hope that he would get a bit of free time so we could talk.

I watched the remainder of the awards after a cousin of mine had called and asked me to tune in with the utmost urgency. Apparently my stepmother was somewhere in the audience and the camera as well as the whole country had caught a glimpse of her dancing along to a song by Kwaito artist ‘Professor.’ The category he was nominated for was best Kwaito album, his album was concurrently named “University of Kalawa Jazmee.”

Anyways two weeks later, another Saturday night in, I decided to catch the repeat of the awards. The awesome part about South African television is that they never edit something, so if you’re watching a repeat of something, you might as well be watching a live broadcast.

I was in awe. The standard of performance, the glamour, the beautiful dresses, but more than anything the diversity was what kept my jaw on the floor. That night it didn’t matter what province you were from, what kind of music you listened to or what was going on in your life. It wasn’t even about the awards, for the first time it was all about the music.

The task of being the main hosts of the awards was allocated to Metro FM Radio host, Azania Ndoro, who has been with the Lunchtime slot since I was a teenager and sports personality and secret crush Robert Marawa, whose sports show has been on the airwaves every weeknight at 6pm since I can remember. They looked spectacular.

They related with their audience in a way that not even a politician could relate to citizens that he or she wanted votes from. There was something different about them. They had grown, not only as presenters but also as appreciators of music. New artist Donald accepted his very first Metro FM award that night. I’m not a fan of Donald because I think he beats his chest just a little bit too much but I was proud of him at that moment.

“I just want to say one thing; it is my first time at the Metro FM awards. It is my first time being nominated for a metro FM award…” I can’t remember what else he said in his acceptance speech but I remember him also acknowledging his mother as he thanked her tearfully.

What also grabbed my attention was that as the winners were announced and as they were standing up to accept their award, their lead singles would play in the background. And as the camera scanned the crowd you would see women singing along to the likes of Zonke.

I wasn’t a big radio listener in 2012 and I felt left out. Firstly because I didn’t go out but also because I was out of touch with what South Africa was listening to. I also got a chance to see a nation rejoice and enjoy a performance form our very first black South African Idol. Winner of South African Idols season 8, a Durban Umlaazi native Khaya Mthethwa. He did a soulful mash up of his debut hit single “move” and fellow Durbanite Toya Delazy’s popular 2012 single “pump it on” before introducing her to sing the rest of her song.

She delivered an energetic performance and again, I’m also not a fan of Toya but watching her perform is always a treat. As the camera scanned the audience you could see Toya’s grandfather, political figure Mangosuthu Buthelezi. As if I wasn’t already having an emotional catharsis from watching the brilliant performances, presenters, and acceptance speeches, I was in awe of the fact that politicians and leadership in local municipalities took time off their busy schedules to attend what society had deemed an ‘artsy’ event.

My personal highlight was DJ Ganyani’s performance with Mlu and Big Nuz. Everything from Azania’s introduction, and I quote, “What do you get when you add legendary beats form DJ Ganyani and the soulful sounds of singer, Mlu, and just for that extra measure, one of Mzansi’s biggest kwaito groups?” the crowd cheers… “Ladies and Gentleman Dj Ganyani, Mlu and Big Nuz performing ‘be there!’”

I never paid much attention to that song until I saw the performance. Mlu’s energy, Big Nuz’s charisma and stage presence and more importantly the crowd’s energy was amazing. Women in their tightest dresses and their highest heels didn’t mind breaking a sweat for all of five minutes. It was magical down to the amalgamation of that particular track with a Big Nuz classic, 2009 hit “Umlilo”.

The finale, the much anticipated finale, was being built up and the presenters did a stellar job in building the nation’s anticipation of the final performance from DJ Mahoota featuring the vocals of Dr. Malinga. The song: 2012 runner up to song of the year on the Ukhozi FM countdown, the biggest countdown in South African Music, “via Orlando” which was an upbeat remake of a classic.

Whether the crowd wanted to jive to the song, sing along, listen or just see Dr. Malinga’s famous ballet kick and pirouette which has caused a lot of debate, comic relief or just a conversation topic amongst South Africans. It was inevitable that everybody who was there looked forward to that performance and I hate to admit this for reputation’s sake but so did I.

In those two hours I underwent a growth, something nostalgic. I was like a proud parent yet at the same time I was taken back to my childhood. I had fallen in love with a local and that local was South African music. It was like reconnecting with a childhood sweetheart who is older, wiser and better looking with a lot more to offer.

As to not exceed my word limit but to conclude what I’d said in the beginning, I’m not a well-travelled person; however my local encounter was here in South Africa, at home has been transformed. I’ve had a cultural awakening that re-connected me with South African music. I see now that as Metro FM grew, as music grew, as South African pop culture grew, we as blacks were not only empowered economically but we were also empowered culturally.

For two hours South Africans were able to put aside their differences, their issues with politicians, their sorrows, their busy schedules and unite in sharing how South African audible art has grown and still will grow. It wasn’t about who wore what, it wasn’t about the award, it wasn’t about losing or winning, networking or trying to outperform your fellow man; for once it was all about the music.

This is my local encounter that changed my perspective. Oh hail Metro FM Awards; oh hail South African music.