It’s common for people to wax lyrical about someone who has passed. You know, not speaking ill of the dead and whatnot. But, if everything you’ve heard or read about Pheko Kgengoe since we lost him to the coronavirus this week seems really good, you can trust it. 


It’s all true. 


You’d be hard pressed to find someone who has something negative to say about Pheko because he and negativity were not in the same Whatsapp group. I hung out with Pheko on many occasions in the last decade. For business – he was a record man, I was a media person – and for shooting the shit. We were always, I mean always laughing. 


Pheko was a really good guy. And not a good guy by music industry standards – because there’s a distinction. He was the kind of person who was authentically positive in his energy and his dealings with people. I know because he was nice to everyone he “needed” and to those that he didn’t.


Although he wasn’t confrontational, he was steadfast in putting everyone on the same level. 


One year – I don’t remember which – the South African Music Awards were being held in Durban. In general, my agoraphobia makes it hard for me feel comfortable at these sorts of things so, maybe a day or so ahead of the ceremony, I fully expected to arrive in the city and chill in my hotel room until I could no longer procrastinate going outside to try to “network” with peers and pioneers in spaces I never fitted in. But that year, I ran into Pheko and a colleague I won’t name to protect the guilty (all of us, ha!). 


It was all love as usual. And they were talking about the spots they wanted to hit while in town. They said, as always, I could join them if I felt up to it. I declined and after chatting for some time, I retreated to my room. A while later, I decided I wasn’t losing anything if I went to just one place with them. I called and they were actually about to head to the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Conference Centre – where the awards would be held – to pick up something for one of the artists Pheko represented. Pheko said I was welcome to tag along. 


Speaking of tags, I didn’t have any. And you needed a special one to be let into the ICC at that time. Pheko spoke to the powers that be and talked me up to them like of course it was just an oversight that I didn’t have the tag. My wrist was blinged up and the three of us went upstairs. Right into the area that musicians, award presenters and celebrities were invited to fill up their SAMA swag bags. 


I’ve been a music journalist for years and I’ve never thought about those bags. I’ve also never been offered one. Ha. Pheko told me he was assigned to fill up his artist’s swag bag because she was too lazy to make it to the ICC. There were cosmetics, confectionery, food vouchers, perfumes, socks, hair goodies and a whole lot more. 


I was looking at a pair of sneakers when I felt a tug on my arm. He handed me an empty bag and said I could create my own swag bag. When I told him I felt weird taking these items when I wasn’t a musician, a presenter or celebrity, he laughed and told me there wasn’t a difference between me and those people. That we all worked our butts off in the game. I know he felt like the point that he was making was that everyone was valuable. But, to me, it was like some Robin Hood stuff. 


Pheko fulfilled his obligation to his artist and we left. I saw him again often during that weekend and we laughed at the frivolity of it all. Over the years, I saw him many times when he had gone independent and many times when it was my turn to go solo. He never treated me differently because I was no longer penning pieces in a big building. I always had time for him. Such a good guy. However the afterlife looks, I know he’s out there lighting it up. 


Thank you for everything, Pheko.