On a Tuesday morning characterized by a Johannesburg chill that cut through all sense of comfort, Mel Bala sat curled up in the corner of a bedroom couch in the Presidential Suite of Johannesburg’s go-to for a moment’s peace, The Fairlawns Boutique Hotel.
Perfectly poised without a stitch of make-up on, sat a woman whose role in television broadcasting is not often spoken of, yet the effects of which, echo through the careers and adjacent industries that have emerged from it.
Before the concept of lifestyle & music tv presenting became the springboard for “It-Girl” career status, before it unearthed a host of brilliant presenters that would redefine what ‘celebrity’ meant, before it positioned the concept of a television presenter as a credible profession, before it inspired the young, hungry and talented to pursue it, before this very Class of It Girls had that very profession be the leveraging point for today’s influencer marketing age, before all of that that we know to be what the tv and radio broadcasting industry thrives on today, there was Melanie Bala (née Son). From the days of the classic Bop TV to SABC 1’s iconic Techniques Heart of The Beat and Studio Mix and of course Metro FM’s highest audience rated slots, Mel Bala was and remains the undeniable it-girl before the term was ever coined.
This woman, whose broadcasting expertise span across television and radio, can be easily pitted against Hilary Clinton – a woman who sacrificed, became the most qualified, was often overlooked, but remains visible with a grace that makes her hard to ignore at a time when her voice is needed the most. Zora Neale Hurston, author of the acclaimed Their Eyes Were Watching God, once said “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer”. Much to how Clinton’s years of being answered back to have seen her wow audiences at the Woman In The World and the TIME 100 Summit events recently such that Democrats are regretful that she will not launch a 2020 presidential campaign, Bala similarly finds herself currently in years that have begun to answer back to her most rewardingly – a privilege that garners one perspective that only experience can afford.
As a woman passed the age of 40, her life’s accomplishments and challenges to-date that have had her question many things about the space she takes up and the multiple roles she’s played have brought her to the rewarding place where she’s seated comfortably in a season in which the responding answers speak volumes. During a candid one-on-one conversation, when asked what the one thing these current years and season of her life have given her, she responds with a word that symbolizes a state that for many represents a goal for life.
Ever so calmly, she says “Clarity”. Her demeanor, energy and collaborative spirit support that.
Mel Bala does not just deliver the news. She cares to do so to the extent that her commentary of a news story on radio or on social media lends itself to a conversation that takes the concern of the greater community and country into account. One could ask, why she cares so much – a question which has already considered her natural ability to care as a mother, so extends into more. Perhaps, an understanding that the only thing that makes wisdom valuable, is it being shared. It’s no wonder that Bala is commonly referred to as “The Voice of Reason”.
Besides the obvious labels of mother, daughter and sister, in respect of how she’s carried herself in her career, one could attune her to the moon. This attribute befittingly serves as an ode to her part-Chinese heritage as the words of Chinese philosopher and martial artist Ming-Dao Deng state, “The moon does not fight. It attacks no one. It does not worry. It does not try to crush others. It keeps to its course, but by its very nature, it gently influences. What other body could pull an entire ocean from shore to shore? The moon is faithful to its nature and its power is never diminished.”
Like the moon, Bala, has assumed a role of gentle influence in the local broadcasting industry. Due to her ability to be faithful to her course and not distracted by the loud noise of fame, throughout all the public exposure of her personal matters that outweighed public exposure of the contribution she has made to an industry that needed that contribution, she has remained faithful to her strong nature and as a result, her power has never diminished. What’s better yet is that now, that power finds itself as the strongest its ever been.
The Roman poet Ovid said that May is named for the maiores, Latin for “elders” and June for the iuniores or “youth”. This month, we usher in the month of the “elders” through a woman who represents all that it means to be an elder today – not at all old but rather a reminder that, “youth is wasted on the young” as George Bernard Shore so aptly put it.
Bala, who celebrates her 46th birthday this month, is the expression of longevity. Like the band of women in tv and film the world over who have redefined their generation as Generation Wow!, Bala joins the league of women whom have never looked better – women such as Connie Ferguson, Jennifer Lopez, Basetsana Kumalo, Gabrielle Union, Bonnie Mbuli, Jennifer Aniston, Claire Mawisa, Halle Berry, Gwyneth Paltrow, Unathi Msengana, Victoria Beckham and Angela Basset, just to name a few. Women whose best lives are being lived in these answered years. Women who like Bala, play multiple roles simultaneously and still maintain a sense of self unapologetically. Women who know how to be great mothers as much as they know how to be great lovers, women who like Bala commit to a 5-days-a-week yoga routine but still know what the pleasure of a glass of wine or the drag of a cigarette means, women who are everything and one thing all at the same time and accept that that, is just fine.
True to the English proverb, March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers – at thebar this May we present Mel Bala – a flower in the broadcasting industry, whose real bloom, much to our delight, has only just begun.
Assisted By: @theoneandonlywanderer
Hair Designer: @lajawihair1
Make-Up Artist: @bk_makeupartist
Fashion Director: @karinorzol
- Wardrobe (Kimono & Evening Wear): @biji_la_maison
- Jewellery: @charles_greig_jewellers
Creative Director: @foreveronke