An AllSwell Music Interview
By Laura Rubin + Glen Walsh
If you grew up watching action sports, you know who Sal Masekela is. Long synonymous with the X Games (13 years commentating both the summer and winter games), Selema “Sal” Masekela is a beloved presenter, producer and journalist. VICE, Red Bull, FIFA – they all look to Sal to tell it like it is. In short the guy is a one-man sports media juggernaut.
He’s also got music flowing through his veins as you’ll learn from reading our interview with him below. We caught up with this second-generation musician fresh from his blazing set at Bonnaroo.
Part of the ongoing series of interviews created in conjunction with Whalebone Magazine read on and listen in to the playlist DJ Glen Walsh created based on Sal’s bi-coastal upbringing and aversion to recent U2.
Was music a big part of how you grew up? What was the soundtrack from your early youth?
Music was a massive part of my life. My father, [South African Jazz icon] Hugh Masekela, is a flugelhorn player and singer. My earliest memories of my father are on stage. It wasn’t uncommon on the weekends for me to be in clubs with my dad till 3 in the morning watching his sets, as well as many of the greats like Miles Davis and Charles Mingus.
There was never not music in my house. My mom was always playing music. Loud. Stevie Wonder, The Commodores, Grover Washington Jr., Manhattan Transfer, the Evita soundtrack, Marvin Gaye.
Raised up right. What’s your first listen of the day?
My go-to morning music is generally fairly emo-laden. Radiohead’s “In Rainbows" and lately the entire new Feist album, “Pleasure.”
Mmmm…morning emo. Do you listen to music while you create or do you consider that a distraction?
It depends on what I’m doing. When Sunny Levine and I are writing an ALEKESAM album we actually tend to avoid music, especially anything newly released or “of the now.” It can take you out of the flow and or make you second guess your direction choices. That said, in the lead up to writing a record we bathe in as much music possible -- usually of the obscure and under-appreciated variety. That’s where you find inspiration gold.
I also really like music before I go on camera or onstage to host an event. It manages my nerves and sets my energy.
Old school question. What were you listening to in Junior High?
Michael Jackson, New Edition, Luther Vandross, Kurtis Blow, Run D.M.C., Africa Bambatta, Roxanne Shante, George Benson, Stevie Wonder, Whodini, Grandmaster Flash, L.L. Cool J, Wham, Madonna, Tears For Fears, A-Ha, Cyndi Lauper, Toto, Prince, Hall And Oates.
Very NYC-meets-Carlsbad circa 1984. Most recent live show?
The Weeknd at Bonnaroo. He CRUSHED it.
We heard you crushed it at Bonnaroo. Do you have certain music that puts you in the mood to create?
Afrobeat like Fela, William Onyeabar and Brazilian Classics like Gorge Ben, Caetano Veloso, Elis Regina.
Two part question. What music puts you in the mood for nookie?
1. Junkfood sex
Prince, Frank Ocean, Chaka Khan, Marvin Gaye
Stevie Wonder, Minnie Ripperton, Sade
Sade, that classic panty-dropper. We love a good roadtrip. What musical memories do you have from roadtrips past?
In 1996 I hitchhiked across Colorado snowboarding for two weeks. A young lady had just run my heart through a food processor. The only album I listened to the entire time front to back was Fiona Apple’s “Tidal.” My life would be different entirely without that record.
Music saves. Truth. Top live music moment?
LCD Soundsystem at Austin City Limits 2016. That shit restructured my cells.
Most unlikely but amazing live music moment?
I have two. Beyonce a few years ago at Coachella. Greatest live performer on the planet. And Kenny Loggins, San Diego Bay 1997 with my mom.
Loggins! Do you have older siblings? How did they inform your taste in music?
I have an older cousin named Mabusha who acted as a big brother and musical surrogate in my teen years. I had to listen to Prince, The Beatles and Bob Marley otherwise he wasn’t going to hang out with me.
Quick: Vinyl, Cassette or Digital? Don’t think just answer.
Cassette. Cassettes don’t skip. Also you could hack a cassette. With a screwdriver a pen and a little ingenuity, you could alter its intended usage. I also liked what could happen over time as the sound quality degenerated. Some started to sound better.
Congratulations: that’s officially the best answer we’ve gotten to that question. How do you discover new music? Who widens your musical world?
I discover new music via strongly music supervised television programs, music festivals, Spotify, Pitchfork, my Dad, my cousin Sunny and some trusty millennials that have a concept of what life was like before they existed.
Best lyricist? Barry Manilow to Solange, nobody is off limits except Springsteen and Dylan. Too predictable.
Favorite music venue?
Belly Up Tavern, Solana Beach California. The best show I’ve seen there is a tie between Erykah Badu and Jill Scott. They were both touring their first albums and the shows were lit beyond comprehension. I got to hear Badu perform “Tyrone” for the second or third time before she put out the performance as a single. It was one of the greatest musical experiences of my life. People hugging strangers like it was a church revival.
Speaking of hugging, what’s a dater deal breaker in terms of music? AKA: If they own the T-shirt from the tour, you’re out.
When I’m on RAYA if a girl has a U2 song off of any album after “The Joshua Tree” I hit the x button instead of the heart ❤. No matter how beautiful, it is an absolute deal breaker. No exceptions.
Masekela is currently executive producing and appearing as host in VICELAND’s docu-series, VICE World of Sports. To stay current with his band ALEKESAM's gigs follow @alekesam_music and look for their new album SOUND PROOF HEART, dropping in September.