Father’s Day x Juneteenth

A Conversation with Selema Masekela

This year, Father’s Day falls on Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the day that word of abolition finally reached enslaved African Americans in Texas. In honor of this rare and beautiful convergence, we connected with Selema Masekela, the creative force behind Alekesam, philanthropist and the voice of action sports — an icon in his own right and son of anti-apartheid activist and jazz great Hugh Masekela. 

Our Global Creative Director Rajiv Lahens and Selema discuss Hugh’s involvement in the American civil rights movement, tagging along on tour and what it’s like having “the father of South African jazz” as your literal dad.

RL: It's impossible to talk about you without talking about the man who’s responsible for you being here: Hugh Masekela. We know what he means to the world, but let’s talk about him as a father and his influence on you as the man and creator you are. 

SM: When I think about my dad, I think about his relentless curiosity for human beings and culture. I think about him as a storyteller, an incredible storyteller. I think about him as someone who loved to laugh. All the times I remember with him involve massive amounts of laughter. That's what we did best together — and we got to do it all over the world.

I think about how my father didn't shake hands. If he was introduced to someone, he hugged. He’d say, “I'm sorry, man, but I'm a hugger. Are you okay with that?” He would challenge people's distance. My dad was all about having the best moments that he could with human beings.

“He used his platform to stand up and be a voice.”

RL: We’re telling your dad's story on the convergence of Juneteenth and Father's Day. So much of what your dad knew was struggle, but he chose to combat that with art and beauty. 

SM: My dad had no patience for people being marginalized and oppressed. Because of the racist apartheid system in South Africa, he had to flee his home country for 30 years.

When my dad got to America in the beginning of the civil rights movement, he learned what was going on and firmly inserted himself into the fight. He used his platform to stand up and be a voice. And that's how my dad was anywhere he went in the world. He figured out who was “catching hell,” as he called it, then spent as much time as he could with them — eating their food, listening to their music, learning their stories and doing what he could to amplify them. 

As a kid, my dad worked hard for me to understand what it meant to be of South African descent, even when I was perhaps too young to comprehend. He wanted me to understand what it meant to be a young Black American in this country: what the challenges were, what the ancestral journey has been for us. So it’s difficult for me to stand on the sidelines and be quiet or safe when there are so many marginalized people across the landscape. I try to have empathy, then lend compassion to that empathy so I can do what I can with what I have. And that's the way that I try to honor my father's legacy in that space. I’ll be thinking about this very much, especially at this intersection of Juneteenth.

RL: You've talked about him essentially being homeless. Or maybe he had a place to live but he was homeless in the fact that he couldn't go back to his home. Can you talk about what that meant in his life?

SM: I think about the absurdity of the immigration conversation that we have in America, where people are made to feel as if people who come here from other countries are here to take from them. It’s not some sort of luxury to leave one's home to go someplace where you don't know the language or culture, where you can't taste the food, listen to your music or be amongst your family. You do all those things to survive. It's crazy that people can be made to fear what they don't know about immigrants. 

When he came here, my dad was 19 years old and it was the dead of winter. All he had was his trumpet and a coat, he'd never even seen snow before. He arrived with a trumpet and belief that he had something to give to the world. 

RL: Obviously, you're a reflection of him. One of the best quotes I've ever heard somebody say about their dad is when you said, “I didn't know my dad was famous, I just knew he was amazing.” I can't stop thinking about that. Take us through what it meant to be a first grader in these jazz clubs with your dad and his friends. 

SM: My father was my best friend. He was far more the homie than he was my father in that my relationship with him was based on us hanging out and doing extremely cool shit together. My earliest memories with my dad were going on the road with him at a very young age, watching him perform. I spent a lot of time kicking it with his friends, usually other musicians, poets, artists, sculptors, writers and activists. I got to learn about the world through the lens of people who cared about it. And cared about it with their soul and with their being, with their talent, with what they were putting into the world.

“It's crazy that people can be made to fear what they don't know about immigrants.”

RL: You’ve come full circle. It's almost like a wave. Let’s talk about the time you two went on a road trip through South Africa to make a documentary with ESPN for the World Cup.

SM: I'd been to South Africa before, but to go and see the entirety of the country — that was truly powerful. We even went to places that my dad hadn't visited before. We really sank our teeth in and were amongst the people, telling stories in vignettes that played throughout the World Cup. To have the whole world engaged and learning about South Africa through our story during the World Cup was better than any time we spent together on tour. It was the best thing that we ever got to do together, I won't ever forget it.

I thought I knew everything there was to know about my dad up until that point. That trip revealed so much more and allowed me to truly appreciate what it was like to be ripped from your home for 30 years and unable to go back for fear of dying. It allowed me to appreciate how much he loved South Africa and how much it hurt him that I didn't get to go for the first time until I was 19, when I finally met my sister and my grandfather for the first time. So to go and do this thing 20 years later, with ESPN writing the check, was a magical experience.

“I try to have empathy, then lend compassion to that empathy so I can do what I can with what I have.”

RL: How did your relationship with your pops evolve with time?

SM: As I got older, my relationship with my father was of him as a supporter, an advocate for my work and talents. I never thought that I’d get that from my dad because he was such a big person and personality. I was rooting and cheering for him, but when he realized my passions, he turned that attention on me and was my cheerleader and was there to support me. Knowing that my dad had my back and believed in what I had to give played a very big role in my confidence.

I wouldn't even have tried to find my way into the surf and snowboard industries if my dad hadn't really held my feet to the fire. Up until that point, I was just passionate about doing the thing and never thought that I could possibly be a part of it, let alone make a difference and one day be the voice of an entire culture to the world.

RL: The thing that you learned to love — the outdoors, water, skateboarding, snowboarding, all that — where did that come from?

SM: I was on tour with my dad in Australia, sitting on a bench in Bondi Beach and I was blown away. It was like breakdancing on water. Just in that one moment, I was like, “This is the most amazing thing I've ever seen.”

The first time I caught a wave on my chest… that feeling of getting picked up by a wave was so foreign. It was like weightlessness, but in the ocean. The experience of being propelled down the face of the wave with such force and speed had me in awe. I managed to pop up and stand for like maybe four seconds, but in those four seconds it seemed like time stopped. The feeling was like nothing I had ever felt before. It was my first and most spiritual moment. While surfing, I just got to be. It was the purest way that I could express myself and learn how to dance and harness the rhythms. It's just energy that moves through the water and it's endless. It's infinite in what and where the possibilities lie.

RL: It's just been so special connecting to you — talking about your father, witnessing you and the guy that you are in the world, and how you show up for people. It's a side of masculinity that people don't really dwell on. Your dad was imperfectly perfect, perfectly imperfect.

SM: Exactly, and we all are. My dad stayed joyful, curious and loved to collaborate to the very end and I hope I can do something that resembles the same as I move into my next phase.

In the first picture, Selema wears our Striped Tee Shirt and Jean Cut Pant. In the next he’s wearing our Camp Collar Shirt and Pleated Easy Stretch Khakis.