City Press chats to Sal Masekela about his famous father and starting his own band

City Press chats to Sal Masekela about his famous father and starting his own band

Johannesburg - If you’ve ever been privileged enough to meet the legendary Hugh Masekela, then you would know what an amazingly warm, welcoming and honest person he is. Fearless with his approach to any subject and, at his age, still the leader of the pack.

His son, Selema “Sal” Masekela, not as a deliberate act, has those same qualities, but just polished slightly differently.

The younger Masekela has been in the country for the announcement that the Afropunk Festival – where lovers of arts will be able to ravel in music, style, art and food – will be taking place at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg for two nights in December. The city will join New York, Atlanta, London and Paris as cities hosting the global event.

The first batch of performers for the inaugural festival on 30 and 31 December were announced by Masekela at Constitution Hill’s Women’s Jail on Thursday – with his band Alekesam included in the lineup.

Alekesam is Masekela spelt backwards

“I went with Alekesam because there’s already a Masekela that makes music. I didn’t want my name to get in the way of the music.”

He says he decided to make music later in his life because when he was younger, it was hard to be the son of a famous musician.

Alekesam is the musical project of Masekela and Sunny Levine. They are a second-generation musical amalgamation as the sons of Bra Hugh and Stewart Levine, who has produced music for Bra Hugh for most of his career. The band’s music has been featured on the hit TV shows Entourage and House of Lies.

“I was visiting my dad in California when I was a kid. He had a licence plate ... and he said ‘look at it closely’ [mimicking his dad’s voice], ‘it’s your name backwards. Don’t you forget it’. And it was cool.

“I never forgot that moment, so when I was working on an album, I didn’t want it to be, ‘Sal Masekela is making music’, so Alekesam just made sense.”

But this Masekela is not only a musician, he’s also a journalist and producer. You might also remember him as the host of E!’s popular Daily 10 news show.

In addition, Masekela is the executive producer and host of Vice World of Sports, which takes viewers all over the globe to explore people, politics and culture through sport.

It’s no surprise that Masekela developed a knack for entertainment considering that, as a youngster, he got opportunities to tour the world with his father, and work with him on the historical Graceland tour. “I went on tour with him and Paul Simon and was heavily influenced by that. My dad took me out of school for three months and I worked as a roadie at 15.

“My earliest memories are of being four or five years old and being in jazz clubs with my dad and watching him perform, and him taking me out of school or on holidays, going on the road. That’s my relationship with my father. My dad has always been into everything, whether it’s traditional jazz music or rock music – if it was great music, we were listening to it.”

Masekela says the first time he went to an Afropunk Festival, he remembers being excited about performing his music with his father in the crowd for the first time. “It was incredible to be in a space where there’s no judgement, everyone is just celebrating being alive and you get to interact with people whom you normally wouldn’t.

“It’s going to be really unique to see how that plays out here.”