Music

Masego is making the sax cool again

Meet the Southern gent behind a new genre he calls Trap House Jazz.

Swaying and posing to Erykah Badu on a breezy Autumn afternoon, Masego is trying to decide between a leopard silk shirt or a vintage Janet Jackson tour jacket for his Hunger photoshoot. A cacophony of prints and colourful pieces are lying all over the dressing room, and he mixes them up with the same kind of easy Southern swagger as he does with his sound.

Referred to as ‘Trap House Jazz’, the Masego sound is deeply rooted in the rich history of Black American music. Bringing together the energy of 1930s jazz, with hip-hop, soul and a little bit of dance, the infectious blend came from early jam sessions the multi-instrumentalist held with his friends where they would listen to everything from Chicago house to K-pop.

Thoroughly post-modern in outlook, his music reflects a borderless mindset that could only exist at this moment in time. And it makes perfect sense coming from a digitally savvy artist who was born in Jamaica, raised in Virginia, with a name that means “Blessed” in the Bantu language of Tswana.

Fresh from the release of his debut album Lady Lady, we catch up to talk empowering women, style inspirations and the magic of Andre 3000.

Congrats on your new album, Masego.  It’s very much inspired by womenWho are some of your female heroes?

It started with my substitute teacher, Ms K.  I played saxophone to try to impress her.  Throughout my whole life, women have always inspired me in many ways through conversations we’ve had, a woman emits so much energy.  I mean, look at you – you have this boss lady energy from the moment you walked in!

Haha, thanks!  Do you think it’s particularly important to celebrate women particularly at this moment in history?

It’s essential.  You should ALWAYS celebrate women.  I like to work with as many women as possible.  Whether it’s music videos, styling, production or direction I want to work with as many women in what I do as possible.  I trust their vision, always.

Who are some of the female artists who inspire you musically?

Lianne La Havas, Tiffany Gouché – who is on my album, Emily Nichols – she’s a future R&B artist who I’m loving right now.

So, Trap House Jazz – whats the deal?

I developed it when I was 15.  I was trying to find my place, to build a community of like-minded people.  Me and my friends we were all pretty much from the hood but we all played instruments.  We were also listening to house music from Chicago and some EDM too.  I was playing the saxophone and I’ve always liked the sophistication of jazz so it just made sense to call what we were creating ‘Trap House Jazz’.  We would have a bunch of jam sessions and I would always be playing music from overseas – it could be Korean pop or some Singapore jazz and we would just play over the top of it.  It just felt like a nice community and a mindset that everyone had.

Jazz has needed to reconnect with a young audience for a while – is it important for you to bring people in the history of the music?

I think it’s beautiful because the fact that I call my music jazz, they might think – hey this isn’t what I was expecting.  It might make them more open to really exploring what jazz is.  Think of Cab Calloway, he’s from the 1920s and 1930s, he is one of my biggest influences and he’s just such a cool dude. His energy, his spirit.  If you introduce it in the right way, people get it.

You’re a big fan of Andre 3000, what’s your favourite verse from him?

The verse he did in Green Light, the song with John Legend where he was talking about “If I was with you, I’d be the one that you’d go home with”.  He’s so Southern and slick, he’s also a gentleman.  He knows how to charm a woman.

What do you think it would take to get him out of retirement?

It’s like, what would it take Jim Carrey to start doing movies again, he just has to decide on his own.  I really hope he makes more music!

How’s the experience of your live show?

The live show is the thing.  Every show is different.  It’s kind of structured like a comedy show with the audience.  I’m making beats from scratch. There’s a lot of call and response like Cab Calloway does.  I have my piano, drum machine, saxophone – some of it is planned out, some of it is free flowing. I love the crowds in London. They come out to party and have a good time.  In the US, it’s more of a stylistic thing, but here people really want to let loose.

Your fashion style is very distinctive.  Who are some of your favourite designers?

Vivienne Westwood – I discovered her because of her amazing trousers and I bought so many pair.  I like Alexander McQueen a lot.  Gucci.  I love the 1970s classic style.  It’s a very free time for style.

Jazzy Jeff has been a mentor to you – he’s so underrated by people.  How has he helped guide you?

Just hearing him talk is a gift, he has so many stories that it’s amazing to just listen to him.  His generosity was confusing to me at first.  He let me stay at his house and just record music.  He hosts this thing called the Playlist Retreat every year.  He has bought every instrument there is – and he’s like here’s my house, here’s some food, just create.  He’ll come in every now and again to put a loop down and scratch but he is just an excellent host.

When you’re travelling around, where do you get the best energy?

South Africa.  My name is from there. My family goes back there.  I want to spend a lot more time out there.

Where do you see your sound going next?

I see myself incorporating more guitars.  Darker sounds.  Based on the music I’ve made after the album I see it become moodier.

Thanks Masego!

Masego’s album Lady Lady is out now on Island Records. Follow him on Instagram – right here.

12 November 2018