Greg Maloka. Picture; Supplied
The green of the vast lawn pops in a sea of suits. There’s grey and navy and black on bodies that chatter over lunch. Towards the end of the lawn, Greg Maloka is standing with a few colleagues - the only one in tan pants, sneakers and a Harvard Business School puffer vest. He stands out, like he always has in his career.

On this day, this Managing Director of Kaya FM, who was also integral in shaping the soundtrack of a newly emancipated youth through YFM, is one of the judges at a big media company’s marketing conference. But I am simply there to talk to him about headlining Obrigado, a music event presented by DJ Kenzhero and Tha Muzik in Johannesburg on Saturday.

We’re talking so much, he barely touches his steak and vegetables. Obrigado is a celebration of Latin American soul, lounge, hip hop, jazz, Afrobeat and funk. So what’s on Maloka’s playlist?

“I have to go into my crates,” he says as he wipes his mouth with a napkin.

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“There are a lot of Latin sounds I’ve been listening to, among other things. A lot of it is classic jazz radio, Paul Desmond, Gilberto and I’m a huge fan of Louie Vega as well. I’ve been dipping in and out, but playing at Obrigado came as a bit of a surprise for me.”

Maloka says he was just joking about playing at the event.

“I don’t really play gigs anymore,” he admits. “I’ll just jump on if Rhythm Sessions is playing but I’m not really playing a whole set. In my head, I was just going to rock up with a few songs and the Obrigado guys would be like: ‘Oh here, come through.’

“Turns out I’m the main feature this time around. I’m really humbled because I have a lot of respect for Kenzhero and Tha Muzik and even people like Just Themba. Those guys are some of the most intelligent collectors right now in this era and genre.”

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This genre is quite niche in a country that loves to dance to house or bop to trap-hop. But a station like Kaya champions “world music” - so does Maloka believe there is a true market for these Latin sounds and more?

“Nicky B (who presents The World Show and has played at Obrigado) has been around on Kaya for 20 years,” Maloka says emphatically.

“When we check our stats, she has the highest penetration - more than anyone on the station. If you flip that to what the guys are doing with Obrigado, you realise there is that slightly off-centre market that loves music. They just enjoy the music.”

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“There are people who go to clubs and it’s more about what they’re wearing, what they’re going to drink and the music is just there. Here, the music is the key driver - that’s what brings you to the space and everything else is the cherry on top.”

Maloka is still not touching his lunch even though I assure him it’s okay to do so. At this point, the suits have filed into the ballroom where the conference is being held and they are starting to shut the doors. With obrigado meaning “much obliged” in Portuguese, I ask Maloka if he practices gratitude in any way.

“I practice gratitude all the time,” he confesses. “I grew up in Diepkloof - in zone one. I went to township schools. And I grew up in a country where some things were not meant for me. So when I think about how far I’ve come and how many opportunities came to me, but also how many times I was made to feel inadequate and that I couldn’t achieve certain things, it’s difficult not to sit back and reflect and be grateful.”

He continues: “And for my children and the generations after that, I am trying to pass on the idea of gratitude. To be grateful for different things. Sometimes, I’m conflicted in my mind because it’s like: ‘Why are you grateful for things that should have just been?’ But I also understand why it’s like that.”

So what is he grateful for today?

“Today,” he repeats, and as he does, the MC inside the ballroom calls his name. “Well today I am grateful for life,” Maloka says. “For the fact that people depend on me. That they appreciate me. People appreciate my contributions and want to hear from me. Jeez. Just life.”

They call his name one more time and he places his napkin over his plate. Next time, lunch is on me.

* Obrigado is at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg on Saturday. Tickets are R100 at Quicket or at the door.

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