“He does not foresee radio becoming less of a preferred medium of communication. Artists still rely on this platform to reach audiences and promote their craft.  The award-winning jazz slot he presents accords him an opportunity to interact with listeners who are highly opinionated about the direction it should take. His love for radio started at a very young age”

When engaging with Ngwako Malakalaka in a conversation, it does not take long to notice his passion for radio and jazz in particular.  The 36-year-old content producer, ardent music collector and presenter of “The KJazz Show” at Kofifi FM 97.2 where he is also a programmes manager, grew up listening to radio personalities such as Shado Twala, Mesh Mapetla and Grant Shakoane.  “I would record myself doing links and selected music as if I was presenting a show and would ask my sister to listen to it and give feedback”, he told Jazz It Out.

He was born in Soweto and raised in Zone 1, Meadowlands in a musical home with a lineage of singers who were part of iconic black collectives like the Messiah Choir in the 40’s through to the 60’s.  The marriage of an alto vocalist grandmother to a jazz purist and collector grandfather gave birth to his mother, a contralto singer who joined the popular Imilonji Kantu Choral Society under the directorship of George Gobinca Mxadana in the 80’s.  “So naturally, growing up around these sonic influences harnessed my ear for music”, he recalls.  His grandfather owned a huge collection of jazz vinyl records which included Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie and Art Pepper.  While other music genres were celebrated, jazz often took centre stage.

At school Ngwako enjoyed both academic and cultural activities.  He was in the drama groups, fluent in playing the recorder and singing.  History was one of his favourite subjects because it taught him about things that occurred in the past.  As a youngster, he always enjoyed all kinds of music genres.  By association he took a liking to rap music.  Run-D.M.C., Nasir Jones, Snoop Dogg and later Shawn Carter was always playing on his walk-man.  Music TV and Bop TV introduced him to groups like The Roots, Fugees, Buckshot LeFonque and Arrested Development.  RnB was also its peak in the 90’s.  Artists such as Boys II Men, El DeBarge and Al B. Sure! were his firm favourites.

Ngwako Malakalaka. Picture by Zelda Dennysschen

For this skilled communicator and family man, radio means different things.  “It is a companion, a medium for information dissemination and a platform to teach”, he said.  The medium has survived many inventions such as television, YouTube and digital music streaming services.  “It really proves to us that audiences still believe in and follow this media today”, he added.  He gives an example of what he stated at a music workshop recently: “I told the attendees that radio still holds the reigns when it comes to artists introducing their music to audiences.  As an artist, your music will never be known if it hasn’t been played on the radio”.  He also emphasizes the flexibility of radio as a medium to take along with as one commutes, work, shop or even just relaxing, making it an integral part of our daily life.

Ngwako cut his teeth in broadcasting as a producer and presenter of “All Africa Top 20” on Trans Africa Radio in 2007.  “This is where I got behind the microphone for the first time”, he remembers.  The station celebrates African music in its entirety which made him acknowledge the richness of different cultures within the continent.  It was an amazing experience that allowed him to explore what it means to be an African from a musical perspective.  In 2009 he became content contributor to various shows at commercial radio stations 5FM and YFM.  That experience taught him to understand the market dynamics of radio stations.  Who is listening?  How old are they?  What do they do?  The content he created was based on the responses from those questions.

Between 2010 and 2014, he was Public Relations and Social Media Manager for Rhythm 100 Radio, which made him realize that many organizations and brands struggle with using social media as a platform to promote or express themselves effectively.  They tend to miss the opportunity to interact with their followers forgetting that they follow them for a reason which is primarily to keep up with activities of the brand or company.  In 2014 Ngwako formed part of the original line up of presenters at Jozi Maboneng Radio (JMR), an online radio station in downtown Johannesburg.  “By that time, Maboneng Precinct had not yet become the hive of activity it is today”, he recalls.  JMR was the second online radio station that he worked for as a broadcaster.

He is also the programmes manager at Kofifi FM 97.2. Picture by Zelda Dennysschen

His commitment and dedication as a radio practitioner was recognized when he became one of the Top 200 young South Africans to look out for in 2016 by the weekly publication Mail and Guardian.  “I was quite ecstatic that amongst many other young South Africans, I was being noticed for my contribution to the medium and my community”, with vivid memories.  While on a break from radio, he started a jazz blog where indigenous jazz artists and compositions were profiled and promoted including local events, news and music reviews.  He was no stranger to writing as he had been a music reviewer on the now defunct Musica website.  Jazz radio presenters were extremely supportive with the blog, allowing him to express his views through their platforms.

In 2018 Ngwako joined Kofifi FM 97.2, a community radio station that is located in Sophiatown, a place that was originally a suburb where people of all races lived peacefully, making it a very cosmopolitan area of Johannesburg.  Unfortunately, when the apartheid government came into power, it used the Group Areas Act of 1950 to destroy the suburb and renamed it Triomf, which means triumph in Afrkaans, forcefully removing Black families to Soweto.  The place was returned to its original name in 2006.  The place is also called Kofifi and the station chose to give itself that name.  It broadcasts to areas including Soweto, Greater Johannesburg, Pretoria East, Midvaal, Westonaria, Ekurhuleni and Krugersdorp.  Though its streaming apps, it is accessible to the greater part of the country and countries like Canada, Switzerland, Australia, Thailand, England and the United States.

Initially, Ngwako was recruited to present a Soul and RnB slot between 16h00 and 18h00.  When the former presenter of the jazz slot left, he was asked to stand in until they found a replacement.  For the better part of 2018 and 2019, he would present both the jazz and Soul/RnB slots.  While the station was still faced with not having a permanent anchor, its programmes manager left to join the public broadcaster.  The CEO of Kofifi FM 97.2 appointed Ngwako as the programmes manager, made him the permanent host of the jazz slot and relieved him of the Soul/RnB show.  Since occupying the jazz slot permanently, it has since been extended by an hour from 10h00 to 13h00 on Sundays and is grateful for the support from the station management.

An avid reader and music collector. Picture by Zelda Dennysschen

One of the stories he heard was how the original Sophiatown was the melting pot of many migrant workers who came from all over the country and continent to find work in Johannesburg, ultimately residing there.  Consequently, when they created “The KJazz Show” that was one of the key pillars of the show.  “For that reason, when you listen to the show, all styles are catered for, from Avant-Garde to Afro Beat to Marabi and Cape Jazz”, he asserted.  The area was able to create a unique offering that displayed all the colours of jazz from an international perspective, and leading that was indigenous music from the African continent.

The show places South African Jazz at the centre stage.  “I believe our artists have a platform through the show and as much as we celebrate jazz from all over the world, we have an obligation to do the same with our music. Guests we invite on the show are in the interest of documenting our jazz and artists”, he emphasized.  Ngwako has come to acknowledge that there is limited, if any information about South African jazz artists online from yester year.  Some have passed on and others have aged and they were instrumental in pioneering jazz in an African and South African context, yet so little is known about their legacy.  This has compelled them to start a series where they interact with artists and give them an opportunity to narrate their stories, keeping audio records of these interactions.

In 2019 and 2020 “The KJazz Show” won the award of Best Station Playing Jazz at Mzantsi Jazz Awards.  How did the production team of the award-winning jazz slot react to win the award for two years in a row?  “We were very excited.  The whole idea of the awards is to celebrate South African Jazz and it is a concept I am thrilled about”, he told Jazz It Out.  Winning the award gave them an indication that they are on the right path and because it is a public vote category, they were elated that audiences felt the same way.  He thinks Mzantsi Jazz Awards have changed the perception of jazz as music genre catering only for the elitist crowd.  Even though the target audience is still largely seen as a niche market, the genre needs to be celebrated.

Dressed for succes. Picture by Zelda Dennysschen

Ngwako also uses his previous experience as Social Media Manager in engaging with listeners of his jazz slot.  He believes presenters should share the playlists and interact with listeners about the content presented in real time.  “That way, your listeners are not only getting to listen to you via their radio but they are also connecting through their devices”, he said.  Many of his regular listeners are quite knowledgeable about jazz and provide consistent and constructive support to the show.  They also allow him to experiment a lot when it comes to music for the show.  He was happy when the listeners embraced his idea of playing maskandi and mbaqanga on Heritage Month.

Radio has not been spared in the current Covid-19 pandemic.  They were forced to think out of the box as a radio station while monitoring the different levels of the lockdown.  Some of the presenters had to broadcast from their homes.  He was also concerned about the cancellation of live performances but grateful to see an increase in online performances.  As creatives, jazz artists must always be given room to create new bodies of work which gives them access to their audiences.  He loves what jazz legend Sonny Rollins once said about jazz.  “Jazz never ends, it just continues”.

He has a few CD’s by South African jazz artists that are on a high rotation on his individual playlist.  Sphelelo Mazibuko’s “Afrikanization”.  He describes the Newcastle drummer as fresh and exciting which comes through on his album.  “First Offering” by Gugulethu drummer Tefo Mahola is another of this current favourite.  Mahola considers himself as the next Tumi Mogorosi and is looking forward to see him achieve that.  On the international scene, he connects so well with Pharoah Sanders’ “The Impulse Story” which he thinks has a lot to do with the spiritual side of jazz.  “Changes” by Carmen Lundy is one of favourite recordings.  Recently he discovered Alonzo Demetrius and his project “From the prison nation” which features Benjamin Jephta on bass.

When he is not performing his task as programmes manager, producing and presenting his jazz slot, Ngwako does a lot of reading of books, especially biographies.  He is quite a keen foodie too and spends hours creating and recreating meals for his family.  “I also enjoy a bit of travelling, attending live shows where possible and stage plays at the market theatre.  Through all of these, jazz is the ultimate soundtrack”, he assures Jazz It Out. His facebook account is Ngwako Malakalaka.  Follow him @officialngwako on Twitter and Instagram.  His show has a public group on Facebook TheKJazzShow on KofifiFM 97.2.  You can further follow the show @thekjazzshow on Twitter and Instagram.