Maségo – singer, dancer, ‘mu­si­cal ac­tor’ – is hav­ing a break­out year, but will the fame get to his head?

The Sunday Independent - - MUSIC - | The Wash­ing­ton Post

WASH­ING­TON – Maségo slipped into a silk but­ton-down to go with his vi­brant Vivi­enne West­wood pants and vel­vet Gucci san­dals. It was his se­cond sold-out show of the night at U Street Mu­sic Hall. He waited a se­cond, let­ting his TrapHouseJazz Band take the stage, be­fore saun­ter­ing over to play the in­stantly recog­nis­able sax­o­phone riff from his hit Tadow. The crowd, which be­gan lin­ing up out­side be­fore he had fin­ished his sound-check six hours ear­lier, broke into a roar.

The Ja­maican-born artist, whose par­ents are South African, is in the coun­try and is per­form­ing in Joburg at the Fly­ing Fish Flavour Odyssey, to­day.

Maségo calls him­self a “mu­si­cal ac­tor” and his live show makes that clear. At the mic, he’s a singer, a wom­an­iser, a stand-up comic, a freestyle beat-maker and a dancer – al­most all at the same time.

Be­fore per­form­ing Wife­able, he in­spired an au­di­ence-wide swoon as he pon­dered aloud the pos­si­bil­ity of his fu­ture wife be­ing at the show. On Sego Hot­line, he spelt out why he should be any woman’s No 1 choice – “My text mes­sages ain’t green baby!” – in ref­er­ence to the long-stand­ing An­droid vs iPhone de­bate.

He broke into a smoothly chore­ographed two-step with his backup dancers while his band played the outro to Queen Tings.

And when he got thirsty in the mid­dle of it all, he stopped to hy­drate and then got the au­di­ence to sing along to a song he made up on the spot about drink­ing wa­ter.

The multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist (he says he plays 16 in­stru­ments at the last count) is hav­ing the most suc­cess­ful year of his bud­ding ca­reer. His de­but al­bum, Lady Lady, came out in Septem­ber to over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive re­views.

That the 25-year-old has no for­mal mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion – save for “YouTube Univer­sity,” as he calls it – makes his as­cent even more no­table. He can’t read mu­sic (and has no plans to learn) and re­called be­ing de­nied a schol­ar­ship to Old Do­min­ion be­cause of his dearth of mu­sic the­ory knowl­edge.

With­out a tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion, he’s guided him­self by try­ing to strike a sonic bal­ance be­tween “ig­no­rance and el­e­gance”, a mis­sion in­spired by the count­less jam ses­sions he had with ship­yard work­ers and neigh­bour­hood guys grow­ing up in New­port News, Vir­ginia. Those ses­sions birthed his TrapHouseJazz sound, a con­cept he de­scribes as a mash-up of two gen­res – jazz and trap mu­sic – that rep­re­sent South­ern black cul­ture but rarely in­ter­min­gle.

“When I don’t know all the rules, I just break them all,” he said. “And it be­comes like a higher level of mu­sic be­cause of that.”

His ig­no­rance, or in­dif­fer­ence, to the rules, has shaped his ca­reer.

He once down­loaded a cou­ple of songs from Soulec­tion, a pop­u­lar mu­sic col­lec­tive, then played sax­o­phone over them and posted them on­line with the mislead­ing ti­tle, Soulec­tion x Masego, in the hope that the pub­lic would think it was a col­lab­o­ra­tion. The track has since been deleted, but soon af­ter it went up, Soulec­tion’s co-founder Joe Kay reached out and booked Maségo to per­form in Los An­ge­les.

He met Soun­wave, the Grammy-win­ning pro­ducer be­hind Ken­drick Lamar’s big­gest hits, af­ter un­know­ingly flirt­ing with his girl­friend on In­sta­gram. Soun­wave ul­ti­mately pro­duced the ti­tle track for Lady Lady.

Up un­til his lat­est project, Maségo’s free­wheel­ing, whim­si­cal style of cre­at­ing and per­form­ing had come to de­fine him.

“If you put me on a track, you kind of don’t know what I’m go­ing to do,” he said. “You know there’s go­ing to be sax­o­phone, prob­a­bly. And I mean, there’s go­ing to be some very like, haunt­ing har­monies. But ev­ery­thing else is just how­ever I’m feel­ing that day.”

For Lady Lady, he took a step away from his TrapHouseJazz sound to­ward some­thing more ma­ture, a shift aided by his col­lab­o­ra­tions with Kojo, a Nige­rian pro­ducer Maségo met in Los An­ge­les, who ended up ex­ec­u­tive­pro­duc­ing the project.

The al­bum, Maségo said, marked the first time he’d ever taken time to re­write his verses.

“If I re­ally wanted to, I could just drop some­thing ev­ery day,” he said. “But I felt like for this par­tic­u­lar project, I wanted to just think ev­ery sin­gle bit of it through even more, where like for years you could just feel all the lay­ers.

“I’m go­ing to have to per­form these songs a mil­lion times – I bet­ter love it.”

To Maségo, Lady Lady is a “con­ver­sa­tion about mod­ern re­la­tions” and is in­spired by his re­la­tion­ships with women. It ex­plores an in­her­ent con­tra­dic­tion within him­self – the de­sire to find an ev­er­last­ing love, which he sings about on the ode to his fu­ture wed­ding day, Black Love, and the ego and temp­ta­tion that come with fame, as de­tailed on Lav­ish Lul­laby.

“To be able to be at the level that I per­form on­stage, I have to em­body ev­ery­thing I’ve made my mu­sic about. Which is me,” he said. “But you’ve got to keep peo­ple like my band around me who will bring you back down to earth… There might be women who are like, ‘Oh, my God, I need him’, but then the two ladies on my (tour) bus will def­i­nitely joke on me for be­ing ashy,” he said, laugh­ing.

“I just like to bal­ance it out,” he said. “That keeps you a nor­mal hu­man be­ing.”

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