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SA music industry lost Shonisani Lethole and Pheko Kgengoe to Covid-19

SA music industry looses Shonisani Lethole and Pheko Kgengoe to Covid-19Lethole passed away at Tembisa Hospital where he was admitted with breathing difficulties, while Kgengoe succumbed to the Covid-19 virus at Helen Joseph Hospital.

While in hospital on 25 June, Lethole, who ran workshops and linked local musicians with international opportunities, wrote a tweet to Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize in which he said that the hospital staff had not given him food for two days.

“Dr Zweli Mkhize, can I respond to your tweets if the problems I have at one of your facilities continues, it’s becoming unbearable and they don’t seem to care. Didn’t eat for 48 hours.”

Since Lethole’s death on Tuesday, the tweet has ignited anger towards the government and the hospital’s methods in dealing with COVID-19 patients.

Lethole’s father, Albert, spoke to IOL(link is external) on Wednesday and revealed some of the details surrounding Shonisani’s death. He said the nurses at the hospital had refused to help him to the bathroom. He also had to plead with one of the nurses to take home-made food to his son.

“The food that I got him during the week was still sealed. I could feel that something was wrong but they were just not forthcoming with information,” Albert Lethole told the publication. The Lethole family has now approached the government for answers.

Gauteng health spokesperson Kwara Kekana said the department was aware of the incident, and the matter had been brought to the attention of the MEC’s office and was referred to the hospital’s chief executive for management.

“The department will ascertain all facts surrounding the incident with the quality assurance team, and a detailed report will be provided to the family,” Kekana said.

The family is planning to bury Lethole in Limpopo next Friday.

Kgengoe – a game changer

Pheko Kgengoe worked for Universal Music and Sony Music. He later established a PR company called 4 The Love, which did consultancy work for MACUFE and artists like Unathi, Kwesta, Black Coffee, Oskido, Black Motion and Kid X.

Music publicity and marketing specialist Thabiso Mogwathle said Kgengoe was a talented promoter who had shaped the careers of many local artists.

“I have known Pheko since 2008. He used to work at Universal Music as an IT specialist. He had a bug for music and we slowly brought him into our division as a consultant and trained him to do PR. He worked fully with me in the local division. He was very passionate and contributed a lot to the music industry. His death is a loss to the whole music industry. It has not fully sunk in that he is gone. He was a friend, a brother and a business partner as we worked on various projects together.”

Musician Kabomo wrote on Twitter: “Pheko promoted my first album All Things Grey when people thought my sound was weird. He somehow was able to push it until it was a number one record. I have him to thank for my music career. Love and many thanks my brother, you will be missed.”

Local hip hop manager Refiloe Ramogase wrote: “Wow! I am so saddened. Man, you had such go after leaving Sony, and going on your own, you blossomed and realised so much of your potential. I am so sad because you are leaving behind such a young child. Rest easy papa. You’ll be missed.”

Shoni the connector

The Brother Moves On co-founder Siyabonga Mthembu recalled his childhood days with Shonisani Lethole and spoke about how he had helped the musician and his band to connect with the right people in the music scene.

“Shonisani’s contribution is immense,” Mthembu, who also fronts Shabaka and The Ancestors, told Music In Africa. “The Brother Moves first took interest in the Roundhouse Battle of the Bands competition because Shonisani kept pushing us. At that time he was working for the British Council. This led to our first UK show where we played the Total Refreshment Centre, which is the epicentre of the vibrant UK jazz scene. Shoni introduced us to our first real manager, Adi Frost. His endeavoured to connect African artists. He championed The World Show by Nicky B since we were young and spoke of how iconic it is. He introduced the new artists to the old-school players. Shoni respected and loved us all. He showed the kind of love for music that made him a big part of the Johannesburg live music scene.”

Kaya FM presenter Nicky Blumenfeld described Lethole as a vital cog in the creative space.

“I felt Shoni’s death so much on a personal level,” she said. “My heart is completely broken, this should never have happened. One thing I know, which Shoni has proved, is that legacy is the way you touch people. Shoni has left a huge legacy. I met Shoni about 13 or 14 years ago. He was one of my avid listeners who reached out and kept pursuing contact with me. I eventually I told him to come to the studios and we became friends.

“We started working together on certain things that I was working on, such as workshops around the country. He was just starting to know the industry and he was so moved by the music and getting involved in the cultural scene. Since then, we became very close friends. For me, Shoni was one of the most incredible human beings. He was positive and had the ability to connect people and make everyone feel special. He worked with a Norwegian company to set up businesses, but it was always tied up with music. He was somebody who helped me in many ways.”

Blumenfeld says she will dedicate her next World Show(link is external) to Lethole, which will air on Kaya FM on 5 July from 6pm to 10pm.

“The show will feature Shoni’s interview. I will also be talking to Siyabonga Mthembu from The Brother Moves On because he was a childhood friend of Shoni. I have also invited a few people to send me voice notes, which I will package around songs that remind them of Shoni. I was motivated by the importance of him in my life when I decided to do this four-hour tribute to celebrate Shoni’s life on my show. I have also invited some musicians to speak during the show.”

Norwegian music promoter and distributor Trond Tornes said Lethole’s perception of creative work was original and unique.

“Shonisani contributed greatly to exchange of culture,” Tornes said. “Not because it was going to gain him financially or increase his status. It was Shoni’s pure instinct and strategic insight that made him see how important it was to be a connecting point between South Africa and the Nordic countries, and also many other countries. Shoni’s eye and ear for art and music was totally cross-over from genres and agnostic as to where it came from. He knew as much about Norwegian jazz and electronic music as he knew about gqom and amapiano.

“I hear so many people saying the dearest things about Shoni now – his close friends in Johannesburg and his close-at-heart, far-away friends in Oslo, Copenhagen, London and Los Angeles. And I feel I’m not alone when experiencing a deep vacuum from where Shoni would be. He felt like a brother to us all. Shoni’s name will be forever.”

Like Tornes, Mthembu and Blumenfeld, former Southern African Music Rights Organisation managing director Andre Le Roux remembered Lethole for his talent to connect people.

“I knew Shonisani through the music industry and business,” Le Roux said. “The first time I went to Norway, six or seven years ago, people spoke about Shonisani. They spoke about a guy who is in South Africa and who does interesting projects. When I was there I met Trond, who also spoke about Shonisani, and when I came back I had respect for Shonisani. To me, he was a connector. There are different types of people in the world: there are people who do things for money, some do for love and some for passion, arts and music. Two or three weeks ago, he called me and we both spoke about what we were doing and there was an understanding of how we do work and link things up together. That’s what made him so interesting. He knew he was building relationships.”

Akum Agency’s Jess White said: “Shoni was the type of person the music industry needs more of. His passion, his positivity and his desire to connect you with the right people was amazing. He always saw the big picture, and it did not need to involve him. He was selfless, humble and a beautiful man. His laughter, his hugs and his smile brought warmth into any situation.”

Media strategist Shiba Melissa Mazaza described Lethole as energetic and relentless in his pursuit to see South African musicians make their mark abroad.

“I came to know him through his work connecting South Africa and the Nordic region technologically, musically, culturally and especially regarding his aspirations for Entreprenerd Africa and fostering business-minded creatives. We met in Johannesburg before we began the cumbersome work of taking a South African delegation of musicians over to Norway during by:Larm Conference week for our pilot event with colleagues and friends Trond Tornes and Endre Dalen. I had been to Norway once before but ours was a trip that changed my worldview in many ways. Shoni never limited himself when it came to his work, and now neither do I.

Mazaza lambasted Tembisa Hospital for not taking the necessary measures to save Lethole’s life.

“I believe that had the staff at Tembisa Hospital given him the care he needed, he might still be with us. His family deserved to know that he was going to be cared for, and they were never made to feel that he was in safe hands. I understand that this is a trying time and everyone is worried about their own welfare, but nobody should have to die hungry, cold and alone. It’s just not something that should be acceptable,” she said.



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