Greg Maloka: The music maestro
In June of 2007, 35-year-old Greg Maloka walked into his first meeting with the Exco of Kaya FM and posed what many would have deemed a worrying question from the station’s new managing director.
“What business are we in,” he is said to have asked a rightfully perplexed room that duly informed him it was a radio business. “I said, ‘Okay, well, that’s good. But from today, we’re not in the radio business.’”
Fast forward 12 years and Kaya has become more than just a radio station, having dropped the FM from its brand name.
The content hub now boasts a number of ventures that include KayaTV, Kaya Travel, and Shop Kaya, an online store that supports local businesses by offering their wares on the portal.
OR Tambo is one of my greatest influences, just in the way he saw the world. He was a mentor
But rewind to when Maloka was just 13 years old, and you will find the start of a story and subsequently a career that has cemented him as one of radio’s most innovative and inspirational leaders.
Not only is he one of the medium’s biggest icons, but he is also responsible for the development of some of its greatest talents, including the likes of DJ Fresh, the late DJ Monde Mabaso, Unathi Msengana, and current Gagasi FM managing director Vukile Zondi. Maloka is also widely lauded for the local promotion of different genres of music including kwaito, house, and Afro-pop.
“You know, I created radio as a child on tapes, so I used to record my own station,” he says, sitting across from me in his roomy office in Rosebank. He’s dressed in his signature getup of casual/cargo pants, shirt, and arty sneakers as he talks about how he spent his teens “recording” his own radio station on cassettes at home with the rudimentary tools of a gifted microphone and earphones.
Maloka’s speech is measured, each answer well thought out. His office is a reflection of his interests. There is art from the African diaspora hanging on the walls, a box of prized vinyls on the floor (some autographed), a stocked wine fridge, a collection of wine corks on the table, a coffee machine — he drinks about six cup a day — and books, including an anthology of poems about someone who inspires him, Oliver Tambo.
“OR Tambo is one of my greatest influences, just in the way he saw the world. He was a mentor. He mentored a lot of young people,” he says. “I was quite young myself when I got the opportunities at 22 when I started at YFM. I started from being in the queue and auditioning, to running the place.”
Legend has it that Maloka, standing in a queue of about 600 aspirant DJs auditioning for the newly licensed station, passed the time by hand writing a strategic plan for the station which managed to land in the hands of the then music manager, Arabi Mocheke.
The “inspired moment”, as he calls it, landed him a job at the station. “Since then, I try and talk to young people about being able to spot your inspired moment, and being able to use it.”
Maloka used his moment to develop a career at the station that saw him occupying most pivotal roles, including that of music and station manager, and eventually becoming the youth station’s CEO. At the time, YFM was arguably one of the leading platforms that influenced youth culture in the country.
His achievements didn’t go unnoticed: Kaya FM, then largely a niche regional station catering for a mature audience in its 40s, headhunted him to take over the station as managing director.
“I was 35 when I was asked to come to Kaya. So I have this passion for young talent because how dare I not look at other young people when I was given opportunities at a very young age, and was able to do the things I have done?”
A lot has been written about Maloka. How he grew up in Diepkloof, how at some point he wanted to be a priest, his thoughts on who and what the Afropolitan is, and how he once registered late at a technikon in Soshanguve which ultimately saw him joining the campus’ radio station. But how would he describe Greg? “I’m the person that’s forever seeking clarity…”, he says reluctantly, adding that he’s never been asked this question before. “I’ve not found it easy to articulate some of the things I think.”
Like many who are deemed to be of exceptional ability, Maloka says he is not able to articulate himself as fast as the speed at which his mind works. “And because of that, you find that many amazing moments pass because you weren’t able to be clear. The pace that I do things, versus the rate at which I think about stuff and how I want things to happen, are totally different. And I guess people won’t know that because what is in my head versus what the output is… I guess I always feel we can be a hell of a lot better.”
With a stellar CV that highlights numerous accolades, including induction into the Liberty Awards Hall of Fame, as well as a proven track record as one of media’s most successful leaders, why has he stayed in radio, which is not necessarily the most lucrative of industries?
“I have not seen one industry that would have afforded me the opportunity of shifting the cultural needle. None,” he says resolutely. “I mean, radio is a very versatile medium. When you think about other traditional forms of media, they’ve been under enormous pressure, but radio is a complimentary medium, so it finds its way to survive that perspective. There hasn’t been a medium that competes with [just] listening.”
After 25 years in media, what has been his proudest moment? “I think my proudest moment has been being able to watch the manifestation of the Afropolitan over the period. So when I started with YFM, it was a certain mindset, the same sort of presentation of a people. Being African was not fashionable. If anything, we all wanted to be anything but, you know?” (He says “you know” a lot.)
“Being able to contribute to the consciousness conversation in the way that we did; whether it was pushing local music, local firms on air — being able to repackage offerings for Afropolitans.”
“I’ve been blessed with having worked with the two most important markets in South Africa, [youth and adult]. I don’t know any other radio manager who’s had a chance to work with the same people over two different, very important, life stages. And that, I suppose, is a moment of pride. Even though it’s not something that I created, but getting the opportunity to do that was incredible.”
His reach has gone beyond radio and music. His involvement has extended into other areas, such as art and film.
“FM is just one frequency. It’s just one channel through which you disperse this content. Culture as a whole is broad. So we’re focused on building alongside people who are creative, people who are creating products that showcase just how amazing Africans are.”
FM is just one frequency. It’s just one channel through which you disperse this content
Building for the future is also something Maloka is passionate about. “The whole thing about not thinking about [just] today is very difficult because we are hungry today, we want freedom today.
Everything has got to happen in our lifetime… and sometimes we make a lot of mistakes because we want to eat the fruit of the tree whose seed we should have planted. But if we understand the length it takes for a tree to grow and bear good fruits, that’s generally never in your lifetime.”
Maloka is more reticent on the issue of his legacy. “I don’t want to focus on building a legacy, because a legacy is what society decides when you die.
Dealing with challenges and opportunities as they present themselves to you is what we should be doing. I leave that decision to people because we make different impressions on different people for different things… but also understand that when you’re amongst other cows, best you be the purple cow.”
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