Fill out a free member profile for the dating offers, the celebrated TV host and budding musical artist, took his side gig a step further this year, when his song, “All Is Forgiven,” closed the season premiere of “House of Lies,” the Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell series on Showtime.
It was the third time one of Masekela's songs, recorded under the moniker “Alekesam,” which also includes his cousin, the producer Sunny Levine, was featured in a TV series. But it was the first time Alekesam was spotlighted in such a big way, and the placement led to more than 170,000 plays on Spotify, Masekela said.
Not that he basked in its glory. Before the show went on the air, he headed off to Cuba for two weeks — the ultimate mike drop.
“That was absolutely not my intention,” Masekela said, but “it was a trip, not to know. Like OK, I wonder how people are reacting or not reacting to it. And come home and see the way [the song] has been received — I mean, I don’t have a label. I don’t have distribution. I don’t have any promotion other than what I get from [Los Angeles public radio station] KCRW and the amazing love that we got from ‘House of Lies.’ It’s nuts.”
Alekesam released their debut album in 2011. It caught a spark on music blogs and with tastemakers, like KCRW. Since then, the duo have been working on more tunes, between Masekela’s trips for his job, as host of Friends united dating co uk schools on NBC and the Girl seeking man 25 years for dating festival livestream on Red Bull TV. We caught up with Masekela on his return from Cuba.
Listen to "All Is Forgiven" by Alekesam
One of my favorite movies is “Buena Vista Social Club.” Did you meet any legendary artists like those in Cuba?
I did. We found this club by our house, by our hotel, by the Hotel Nacional, which is just filled with, every night, two or three incredible, legendary Cuban singers. And one night this woman, this 97-year-old woman came out and performed for like two hours and blew everyone’s mind.
Oh my God.
And she reminded you of like a — she was like a Celia Cruz type, like the energy and the passion. It was pretty mind-blowing, beyond mind-blowing.
I’m imagining this woman too with all this colorful dress.
Oh, yeah, full pageantry, man. Full pageantry and colorful dress. Everything that you’re saying. She had an announcer before she even came out who did a tribute to her in Spanish for probably about five minutes. And then she came out, and it was one of those moments where you see this teeny little old lady who’s singing and shaking herself, and yeah, man, it was nuts. Her name is Juana Bacallao.
OK, I gotta look her up.
Yeah. That was incredible. And we experienced a bunch of that. I had a friend who was there and who happened to be working on a job for this New Zealand company. At the very last day of his shoot, the woman who’s the longest-running acting agent in Cuba, in Havana, she had a party at her house, and it was a Tuesday. So you figure it’s going to mellow, whatever, like a little dinner. They hired the local band in the neighborhood, and it was a dance party till 4 or 5 in the morning with people from the neighborhood there. This basically was our own little mini-Buena Vista Social Club moment.
So what was your feeling coming back to the U.S.?
It took a lot to readjust back to life, of fast-moving access to everything. In Cuba, I had no cell service, and I had no Internet, basically, 'cause their Internet’s really, really, really slow, and hard to get reception in most places. So I just resolved to be off the grid.
Now you’re back. The song dropped. It must have been strange coming back, especially since it was so high profile, having been in "House of Lies." How did that all come about?
Chris Douridas, of KCRW, was a real staunch supporter of Alekesam, and really championed the first album. We got a [sync] on that first album, on one of the final episodes of “Entourage,” as well as a Season 2 episode of “House of Lies.” But that was, it was small. Neither one of those, as great as that was, neither one of those were the ender, closing song, and they sure as f--k weren’t the season premiere. So when I heard that we were going to get another “House of Lies,” I was like, oh, cool. Then my cousin Sunny was like, "You know that we’re closing the season premiere, like we’re the ender?" And I was like, "Get the f--k outta here." That’s crazy.
I was like a baby rattlesnake that discovered its fangs. You don’t want to get bitten by the baby rattlesnake, because they don’t know how to control the poison, so I let it all out.
My favorite part about it is that people have to listen to the music first, and then if they dig deeper, they have to find out it’s me. And you know, people who don’t know who I am like the music, and people who know who I am have to deal with the fact that it’s me, and then they still like the music, which is cool. It’s very easy for people to not even want to give it a listen because they don’t like to think of you doing something outside of your box. And so I feel like the first record, as proud as I am of it, I think people felt uncomfortable with the idea that it may or may not be good, and who was I to think that I deserve to make music? And I get it. I mean, I’d look that way at people who I thought might be suspect, or wondered what their motives might be when they step outside of their lane. But this one, this has been cool, to have a song where people sort of are sucked into it, and then have to find out what it is, has been really fun to watch, and it’s been cool to react, the reaction that people have had. And it’s fun right now to be making new fans, more than anything.
Do you think this is something that you’re going to have to fight for a while? I mean, obviously you think about it.
Yeah. I totally think it’s going to take a while. It’s taken a while. I mean, I’ve been at it now for, this will be four years solidly, and it’s still taking a while. And that’s OK. I mean, people whose sole objective it is to make music, and subsist off their music, have had to work for far, far, far longer to get what I’ve got in a short amount of time. That’s how I look at it. Like yeah, ultimately would I like this song to blow up, and for it to be national, and to be able to get distribution for the music? Yeah. But I have no problem earning it, 'cause I know that the music that we’re making is resonating with people, and it comes from a place of wanting to make great music, not to be famous for something else. So I’m OK with it. I’m totally OK with it. And if anything, it makes me work that much harder, and focus that much harder to not just try and make something just for the sake of making it, but to really craft something that comes from inside, that people feel like, oh, I get this. I feel this.
Artistically, it seems like you’ve taken, I don’t want to say a progression, because that just means like [step forward], but stylistically it’s different than the first album, a little bit, and there’s more of a groove. Am I right to say, like conceptually, it seems a little bit more unified?
I think that the first album was like, I was like a baby rattlesnake that discovered its fangs. I mean, you don’t want to get bitten by the baby rattlesnake, because they don’t know how to control the poison, so I let it all out.
I’ve never heard that. I’m going to use that, though. That’s good.
Yeah. And so I just felt like I had to put it all out there. And I think the first album is a body of work, but it definitely is, it’s me exploring different directions of music, and trying to find my sound, and what I feel. But I wasn’t afraid to take chances to figure it out. And this album is definitely, aims to hit a mark, a little bit more of a mark, and it definitely, this album’s going to be something that is an ode to some of the pure aesthetics of early ’90s hip-hop, groove-wise, and that was part of the theme for me, for us, for Sunny and I, was like, we were inspired by music that we grew up loving in that 1992 to ’95 range of sound, and then giving it a fresh take, relative to what has been, I guess, our sound.
Last summer, you had a chance to talk to so many musicians, and just from the festival livestreams that we did, multiple times. Was there something like after you experienced, that you took away from that experience, more than just even professional, but just creatively, inspirationally?
I think the greatest thing that I took away was when I met the lead singer of Phantogram. And she came onto the set and we started talking, and I introduced myself, and I’m like, "Oh, I’m Sal Masekela," and Sarah [Barthel] is like, "Wait, are you the guy who used to be on the X Games and makes music called Alekesam?" And I was like, "Yeah." And she’s like, "I f--king love you."
I was speechless. She was like, "'It’s Not You, It’s Here,' that’s my jam." She’s like, "Shaun White introduced me to your music, and I was just blown away. It’s like so cool to meet you, like keep making music." And that was one of those things where like, wow, that’s crazy. I’m here celebrating other people’s music, and here to interview them, and she took that moment before we even started to give me mine. That was cool. But being around that much music last summer, and being able to just be bathed in music at the two festivals [Lollapalooza and ACL Festival] was awesome, and I had never heard Jungle before Lollapalooza.
Yeah, me neither. They’re so good.
And they changed my life. I got their album that night, listened to it nonstop, and they were — I would be lying if I said that Jungle wasn’t an inspiration for some of the stuff that made me feel like, "OK, well I’m making music in the right direction if this exists in the world and people are reacting to it this way." 'Cause it’s not genrifiable music, you know? Like Jungle’s an amalgamation of lots of rad s--t.
You’re still locked in a lot of sports, and doing the Signature Series and all that. Do you find a balance in that with the music? Is it refreshing to go from one to the other?
Yeah, it’s great. It’s perfect. I mean, I love it. I love showcasing these sports and showcasing this lifestyle. I mean, it’s what I’ve been doing for 20 years. It’s, to me, those sports are the most sort of artistic form of athletic expression in the world. So I feel like it’s pretty musical and creative being in that energy and watching what guys are capable of these days. And it also puts me in a space where I don’t have to f--king be obsessing about making it as a musician. I have a job. And it literally fuels, [this industry] fuels and supports my creativity. Figuratively speaking and financially, it allows me to pursue my hobby, which is making music, which I’m passionate about, but I don’t have to — I’m not chasing making music, and it probably takes the pressure off of trying to really have to kill it. You know? I just make what I want to make.
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