Lack of local music content casts shadow on Metro FM awards

“Legends don’t stop, they ask: ‘what’s next?’” is the tagline for the 15th annual Metro FM Music awards (MMAs), which will be held in Durban at the iNkosi Albert Luthuli ICC on February 27. This year the awards have faced criticism from veteran South African jazz musician Don Laka, who has asked pertinent questions relating to the state of the local music industry.

He recently took to social media to accuse radio station Metro FM of destroying the South African music industry with its playlist, which he says is made up predominantly of music from the United States.  

“Every time you hear an American song on our radio and watch SABC TV, know that money is leaving South Africa,” he wrote on Facebook. His grievances call the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) Local Content Policy into question and back into the spotlight. So what is the future of this policy? Will it ever be in favour of local artists?

This is not the first time this policy has come under scrutiny. But Metro FM is not oblivious to the criticism. Mail & Guardian recently spoke to Metro FM station manager Sibongile Mtyali about their playlist and the upcoming award ceremony, which is one of the biggest on the local entertainment front. 

“We are governed by the regulator [Icasa] like any other broadcaster in South Africa and there are set targets of what we are supposed to deliver in terms of music, especially for local content,” Mtyali told the  M&G during an interview at the SABC radio park office in Johannesburg.

Metro FM station manager Sibongile Mtyali. (Supplied)

The Icasa quota requires public radio stations to play a minimum of 40% South African music. The quotas for community radio are 40% and commercial radio 25%.

Icasa is in the process of finalising the review of local content regulations, which include music on radio and programmes on television. The process will be finalised by the end of March.

“On a monthly basis, Metro FM delivers around 50% of local music, and that’s a target we’ve set for ourselves and that’s how compliant we are with local quotas. Of course there will always be complaints that we are not playing enough. But what is enough local music?” asked Mtyali. 

She added that the station, which targets audiences between the ages of 24 and 35, wants to increase the local content on its platform and retain “its status as an iconic brand”.  The station’s current listenership figure is just over six million and it hopes to soon reach seven million listeners. 

According to Mtyali, the MMAs are not only aimed at acknowledging African musicians but also at growing the Metro FM brand, which had become incoherent in recent years. She says it’s not just about the award ceremony but also the experience. 

“We are trying to get as many people as possible to Durban to give them the Metro FM experience,” she said. “This is the year we are going big because we are celebrating 15 years of the MMAs, which is a milestone for us and that’s why we’ve had so many additions to the awards this year.” 

The MMA weekend programme includes an all-star comedy jam on February 25, a hip-hop party on February 26, a fashion show on February 26 and the award ceremony on February 27.  

Afro-pop sensation Nathi Mankayi and duo DJs Sphectacula and Naves, who host a show on Metro FM, are leading the pack with five nominations each. The stakes are high this year because, for the first time, the winners of MMAs will receive a cash prize of R100 000. 

Cassper Nyovest. (Metro FM/Facebook)

Another new addition to the awards is the African category, which acknowledges musicians beyond South Africa’s borders and artists who are listed on the radio station’s playlist. Despite there being more than 50 countries on the continent, all the nominees in the African category are from Nigeria, including artists Wizkid and Burna Boy.

“When we took the decision to introduce this category, we were not aware that at the end of the day it would come to this,” said Mtyali. “This was an awakening of some sort to us and it’s a call to action for the music and broadcasting industry, to say we cannot have a situation like this. However, we’ve just introduced this category. We want to grow it and we believe that next year we’ll present a different picture, but the reality of our picture is that most of the MMAs submissions that we received were from Nigeria, and this is reflected in the nominees.” 

Once the MMAs are done and dusted, Mtyali hopes the station will kick-start initiatives that go the extra mile to boost and celebrate all African music – not only during award season, but every day. 

The Metro FM Music awards will broadcast live on February 27 at 8pm on SABC1. Check out for the full weekend programme.

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Katlego Mkhwanazi
Katlego Mkhwanazi is the Mail & Guardians arts, culture and entertainment content producer. She started her career in magazines, before joining the Mail & Guardian team in 2014. She is an entertainer at heart.

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