Alekesam is the musical moniker of Sal Masekela, the famed ESPN commentator-turned-singer/songwriter. The film, and to an extent Sal’s music, tells the the story of how he bristled against the legacy of his father (South African jazz giant Hugh Masekela), and how he eventually found his own musical voice.
The documentary, which debuted in New York at the Tribeca Film Festival this past April, had it’s West Coast premiere at Hollyshorts. Director Jason Bergh describes the film as a “beautiful, perfectly timed accident.” What began as a promo reel for Sal’s new album, The Sound of Alekesam (available for free on the band’s Facebook page), grew into a larger bio-doc spanning the life of Sal Masekela, Bergh’s friend, from the fraught relationship he had with his father – who was exiled from South Africa in the wake of apartheid – to the California countercultural roots that have shaped his current identity as Alekesam.
The short film, in some ways, seems a confessional for Sal. In this new chapter of his life as a musician on his own-some (Sal has previously worked as a producer) he’s ready to open up. He talks candidly about living in the shadow of his father, a former drug addict, and the difficulties Sal faced as a burgeoning black athlete.
Sal arrived at Sonos that night with short hair, without his characteristic dreads, as if to announce this next phase in his life as Alekesam. The intimate space at Sonos allowed for an up-close-and-personal performance, also aided by the attendance of many of Sal’s close friends and family members. Sal performed most of the songs off The Sound of Alekesam, including album-closer “Black Cowboy,” where he announces he’s a “black cowboy riding a dolphin.” Such a weird lyric is typical of Sal, who consistently finds new ways to express himself musically and otherwise (otherwise being everything the man has ever done, which is virtually everything).