Before a private show in Jozi, American traphousejazz artist, Masego talks to Helen Herimbi
A gilded saxophone hangs from a chain and rests on his chest. Fresh off a highly anticipated performance at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival – and before treating Joburgers to a private show – Masego is basking in his shine.
But unlike his bling (do people still use that word?), the Virginia-raised artist who was born Micah Davis refuses to rest.
When I sit down with the artist who took on the Setswana name, Masego, as his alias, he tells me he’s got a studio session with AKA planned for that evening. As told through Twitter, the pending Supa Mega collab came about after Masego shazamed all the songs he liked in Cape Town clubs and they turned out to be AKA songs.
“I don’t want to be easy and say it was All Eyes On Me,” Masego says as he fishes his phone out of his pocket to look for the song that compelled him to want to collaborate. “Ah,” he exclaims as he finds the songs. “Sweet Fire was the one that made me go ‘wow!’ I heard that and 10 Fingers back to back. Rhythm and melody got me and how the people react to his songs. When they came on, people got up. So we’re supposed to have a session tonight and we’re going to see what happens.”
That night, he also takes to the Universal Music Group stage to perform a new song where he croons about how he’s going to “call you lady, lady”. Then, he performs a slew of songs ranging from Wifeable as well as Girls That Dance (with Medasin) to Tadow (with FKJ) and his latest, Queen Tings.
On that last song, he name-drops Kenya’s Lupita Nyongo, Zimbabwe’s Danai Gurira and a list of American actresses. I call him out on the fact that his South African dedication doesn’t even include Nomzamo Mbatha or Thuso Mbedu.
“People ask me about that,” he admits. “But it’s about the essence. Think about it like this: what started Tadow was just being there. It’s not about a Parisian woman. I just saw her and she hit me like: ‘Tadow!’ So with Queen Tings, what started the inspiration for the song was my first trip to South Africa,” he continues.
Masego was the headliner at Weheartbeat’s Fakugesi technology festival last year and the trip is one that changed his life. “That song would have never happened if I didn’t come to South Africa. The essence of that song is: I want a woman who makes me feel the way South Africa made me feel.”
I can confirm that women in this country love Masego. At his Jozi performance, he goes from a cheesy cover of Snoop Dogg’s Sensual Seduction into Fergie’s Glamorous and he’s almost drowned out by these high pitched screams from the audience. Before he performs Navajo, he asks everyone to make hearts with their hands and put them in the air.
“Come on industry people,” he pleads. “I know you got money but you got hands as well.”
The women laugh and cheer him on. See? Ladies love cool Masego and in a sense, he carries that with him.
His left knuckles spell out JAZZ while on his right hand, a microphone on his index finger knuckle takes the shape of an L. On the middle finger, a snare drum creates an O, and next to that, a saxophone is angled to look like a V while the keys on the pinky knuckle form an E.
“I knew I wanted to get hand tattoos since I was in high school,” he tells me, “and I also knew it represented the fact that I would never get a job again. I had to be ready for that lifestyle. I wanted ‘jazz’ on my hand and I wanted it in Old English (font) just because of the way the game was around me but I wasn’t in it. Then I wanted to balance out this grungier side of me with a more lighthearted side which spells out love. These are all the first instruments I learned how to play,” he says, touching the LOVE.
Masego is a stellar saxophonist and he is determined to be a multi-genre artist. Armed with an MPC and other gadgets, he also creates beats live on stage. Through his first EP, Traphousejazz, Masego came off more as a producer than a performer. He tells me this was because he was scared and somewhat scarred.
“I used to hide behind production and instruments because I didn’t like my voice,” confesses the artist who is in his early 20s. “I came from a very gospel town where it’s like: Jennifer Hudson can sing. Pharrell cannot sing. I was like: ‘I sound more like Pharrell than Jennifer Hudson so I can’t sing.’ So I would just produce and wait til I got a proper singer on the song.”
“Then in high school, I started to see that girls had Pharrell pictures all over their lockers and even rappers like Andre 3000 who has a bit of a voice on him were singing. Even Kendrick Lamar sings! Then I felt like I could do my own version of singing and have it work. So I started to just come into my own talent and found myself.”
Now Masego takes that sense of self everywhere. It’s easy to see that he truly enjoys being who he is when he’s on stage and that is the most contagious thing when he is in a room. No wonder he is not interested in resting.