“We were young lions then, and children of kwaito,” utters Sibusiso “The General” Nxumalo – YFM’s first Music Manager. But now, 10 years after YFM’s inception, the children aren’t the only ones who’ve grown up. The General spoke to Helen Herimbi about the radio station that pioneered the kwaito movement.

When YFM first went on air in 1997, it was clear that it would become a force to be reckoned with. After all, it was the only station that catered specifically for the youth and prided itself on playing kwaito music. The General shares: “The youth needed broader representation. Radio Metro was the only station for urbanised black people, but it wasn’t catering for the young market. Kwaito wasn’t played on Metro and that music needed a platform.”

And so a group of friends brought the YFM dream to fruition and invited The General to be a part of it. He explains: “I ran a club, Politburo, and the core group who went to the IBA (Independent Broadcasting Authority) to propose the YFM idea, used to come there. The day they got the licence from the IBA the place was packed. Suddenly Dirk (Hartford) leaned over a tequila and said to me: ‘How would you like to be the Music Manager at Y?’“

Six months later, Politburo folded because, The General says: “I was giving away too many tequilas and drinking too many of them.”

And he had a new job lined up.

YFM took shape in Bertrams and, because the target audience was the young, black person, it was “a convenient and logical home for Y.” Also because, “the original ethos of Y was that it was to be a revolutionary voice of the post-’76 radical youth. It was way beyond house music and was political, albeit funky.” He continues: “But the move to The Zone tore most of us apart.”

Some might argue that this move was proof of the station‘s prosperity and widening audience exposure beyond the township. According to The General: “That’s not where we’d imagined this conscious radio station to be, it seemed to have moved past us.” They had to decide whether to move to downtown Jozi – like maybe Newtown – or to Rosebank.

And that move decided who the target market really was.

“The epicentre of Y’s identity then became the young black person living in Rosebank with a passion for trendy things. So the guy living in Orange Farm was no longer catered for. I guess the national current was against sentiments like mine because, given the climate of the country, soldiers traded their camouflage uniform for suits and moved out of townships into cluster houses.”

“The Y move happened because this is what was happening in the country. But ultimately, I guess it’s not the end of the world. It’s just the way of the world. Not the world we’d envisioned in 1997.”

Does this mean YFM has failed its purpose then? “No,” The General is quick to emphasise, “because before YFM there was never a station for, by, about the youth. Along with that, it was a really important contributor to the development of the SA music industry.”

“That’s why we now have so many young black artists and black record companies, so the importance of Y can’t be underestimated. They made it possible for kwaito music to be the norm on radio. That whoever you are, it’s possible to enter this arena.”

But today, the station that pioneered kwaito hardly plays the genre anymore, with The General emphasising: “The fact that Y is now a house station is a problem for me”.

Speaking of problems, how does The General, who left the station in 1999, feel about prominent DJs like DJ Fresh, Bad Boy T, DJ Sbu and Unathi jumping ship?

“I don’t know if they had anything to stay for,” he laughs. “If Y was going to end up like Metro and Metro was offering more money, then why not leave?” Everyone, except for Rudeboy Paul, who contributed to once making YFM the capital of youth culture, has since bid it farewell, but does The General regret this? He smiles: “I didn’t choose Y, it chose us. We are very fortunate to have been on the cusp of change. YFM is something we lived and it was f*&$ing exciting.”

This article appeared in Tonight on 5 December 2007.