Masego: The Art of Living

Fresh from his European tour, the Jamaican-American musician reflects on how his environmental influences enrich his multi-genre, needle-moving music.

The Jamaican-American artist Masego is highly motivated by a sense of community, and what he calls the “art of living”. This manifests in where he likes to spend his time – away from big cities – the “real” food that he eats, and how he likes to interact with “regular people”. Community is also the lifeline to his music, which incorporates a diverse set of sounds and inspirations, from church to Andre 3000 to the jazz musician Cab Colloway.

The 30-year-old is not only a smooth, crooning vocalist but a multi-instrumentalist, playing the saxophone, drums, guitar and keyboard. He’s flexed this skillset on his debut album, Lady, Lady (2018), which included his hit song ‘Tadow’, as well as his 2020 EP Studying Abroad and follow-up self titled album, released in 2023.

You’ve just finished touring around Europe and the UK. How does playing to audiences there compare to in the US? 

MASEGO It’s just a different approach to live music. In Europe, it’s like the concept of a holiday – you’re prioritizing filling yourself up before you go back and be a workaholic. When it comes to a show, people use it more as something that they need, to come and fill up before getting back to reality. So you feel that understanding and approach with the crowd, and maybe there’s some safety to experiment. Whereas in America, it’s more about entertainment. Like, ‘impress me.’ Which is also necessary because if you can impress people from New York then that means something.

How did your childhood inform your musical career?

M Well I’m Jamaican, and I’m Black, and I feel like the environment I grew up in kind of shaped my sound. I really believe in environmental influences. From being around church, to all the international people I grew up with, I got a lot of different perspectives. It’s interesting, I saw an interview with Vince Staples and someone asked, ‘When did you fall in love with hip hop?’ And he said it was a strange question because he grew up in the culture of it. I feel similar to that, because I’m a product of my environment. My father’s Jamaican, he was going to church. From Virginia to New York to Georgia, they’re just very Black cultural places.

Is the influence of church music something that you still consciously or subconsciously incorporate into your sound now?

M I feel like church never leaves you. It’s an approach and a feeling. I think anybody that I respect passed through the church in some way, because it’s a community. It’s being a vessel versus doing it for business. It’s a genuine thing if it’s done correctly. So I think the church is kind of how I approach life.

What drove you to pick up instruments as a kid? 

M The truth is, I had a crush on this woman who was a lot older than me, so I did some research on what I could do to impress her. She was into saxophone players, so my new goal was to be a saxophone player.

And did it work?

For the time being she thought I was cute, but she didn’t entertain me because I was a little young.

What musicians did you look up to during those formative years? 

M Not any big names, just more local people that I thought were cool, people from the neighborhood. I think the best musicians are not the famous ones, and that’s kind of how jazz music goes. The people that are amazing, they’re not trying to be famous for it. So people in my neighborhood, people just around the way, were cool to me.

How did you coin your musical genre as trap-house-jazz?

M I was 15-years-old and I just found something that felt right at the time. I think it’s more so these days my approach to music, how I combine. And trap, house and jazz are just three separate genres, but to make it work in one song was the initial approach and challenge. Today I’m still trying to mix genres up and keep it interesting.

Romance is a central theme in your music. Why do you think that inspires you more than other subjects?

M It’s a real thing. It’s palpable, tangible, it’s powerful. I think we gravitate to things that are meaningful. And it’s something that you probably didn’t expect or choose to affect you in that manner.

"Fame to me is just people wanting you to entertain them. It's an excuse to be able to get into your business or harass you." Masego

Some of the lyrics in your 2023 album, Masego, discuss what it’s like to become famous. How do you feel about that now – are you comfortable with it, or are you still working through the motions? 

M It’s not as cool as I thought it would be. I think notoriety is cool, when people respect you and they just know your work. But fame to me is just people wanting you to entertain them. It’s an excuse to be able to get into your business or harass you. Fame seems kind of annoying, but I like to be respected. Fame is people assuming things about you, and wanting to take your privacy away.

Do you feel the need to be a cultural ambassador and move the needle with your music? 

M I do a little bit, because I don’t think there have been many international superstars in the last 10 years. And not to say that I want to be that, but I feel like there aren’t enough examples for kids of how far you can take it and how to move and how to be. I think being an artist, you’re trying to be what you think is missing in the world. I like the idea of stars from the ’70s, ’80s or ’90s because the way that people would look at them, they would be inspired. They would just want to be something better.

What’s your relationship to fashion like, and do you think about it in regards to your performance?

M I like clothes for two things. One, when you put a certain outfit on, you can become or embody the character of that outfit. It can give you more confidence out of nowhere, if that’s what you’re lacking at the time. or it can make you feel nostalgic if you’re looking for that, or make you feel comforted. And I think it’s a part of community as well. If somebody is wearing the right T-shirt or whatever from a different part of the country, it can kind of open up a deeper conversation. And what I’m wearing definitely will influence the way I perform. Every outfit would add or take away from whatever plan I had for that night.

You call yourself an aspiring polyglot, tell me more about that.

M Once you learn instruments, you start to see how much of a language it is, and then you naturally pivot into language itself. I think it started off with just wanting to sing in different languages, and then it goes into how people light up when you speak their local language, or you get to think differently when you speak in a different language. It just became something that was related to a lot of the shit I’m into: communication, community, and connection. So I aspire to be one of those people that speaks all languages and plays on all the instruments. It just feels more like a World Citizen.

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