THE floor at Paris venue Le Trianon, somewhat concerningly, has a habit of shaking.
At multiple points during Masego’s show in September, the crowd is moving and grooving so vigorously, it seems as though future soul’s new poster boy might literally bring the house down.
Masego, 25, has swag. His hair is styled into a Sideshow Bob-esque afro, he wears a tribal print silk shirt and round black sunglasses (at night) and in between seductive stretches on his saxophone and creamy crooning, he banters with his bandmates, alternately showering them with compliments and ribbing them.
The artist born Micah Davis is riding high after recently releasing his debut album Lady Lady. It’s an ode to all the women in his life and a mature step forward. Masego’s previous release – 2016’s Loose Thoughts EP – leaned further towards the trappy end of his sound. (He describes his music as “trap/house/jazz”.)
Attracting plaudits from the likes of Pitchfork and establishing its creator as a unique, multifaceted voice, Lady Lady is taking Masego’s profile to a whole new level.
When I chat to him he’s in the middle of his biggest European tour to date, a 21-show run that follows summer appearances at festivals including Field Day in London and Secret Solstice in Reykjavik. In February 2019, he’ll return to Australia and New Zealand with Laneway Festival, and will perform sideshows in Melbourne and Sydney.
Masego has a particularly big following in France, mostly likely due to a duet performed with French multi-instrumentalist French Kiwi Juice (FKJ) that has racked up 69-million views on YouTube at the time of writing.
Called ‘Tadow’, the song was completely improvised and the title refers to a scene in Fresh Prince of Bel Air where Will Smith’s character explains to his father the moment he is blown away by a girl: “It was like, ta-dow!”
Micah took saxophone lessons so seriously, he started swimming lessons to build up his lungs.
It’s not hard to understand Masego’s widespread appeal. He’s a fly guy with soul, a romantic and a smooth talker, an old-fashioned entertainer with jokes aimed at a millennial audience. He’s funny on social media too, having set up a Twitter account for his Zimbabwean-born saxophone Sasha.
He produces, sings, plays the sax and drums. His sound is at once fresh and comfortingly nostalgic, and right now, there’s no one out there quite like him.
MICAH Davis was born to a Jamaican father and American mother. The family moved around a lot during his childhood due to his father’s work in the military.
His musical education started in church in Virginia, US, where his parents were both pastors and where his family settled when he was around eight years old.
The name Masego, in fact, is partly derived from Micah’s nickname at church, which was “blessing”. His family has roots in South Africa and in high school he came across the Tswana language word for blessing: masego.
In church, a young, “antsy” Micah observed that the musicians were the ones having the most fun.
“I was like, these guys are really joking and laughing and I’m sitting here in this hot suit,” he says. “I wanted to do something during service so it really helped me out to play drums.”
In middle school, he took up the saxophone to try and impress a substitute teacher, one of the many influential ladies in his life. She was a fan of the jazz saxophonist Najee.
Micah took saxophone lessons so seriously, he started swimming lessons to build up his lungs.
He never considered himself a singer, though. Up until his late teens, the only music he’d really been exposed to was gospel singing, and his voice didn’t sound like those voices.
“Mom had a huge collection of gospel CDs so we would always listen to those. She was big on words of affirmation so we were listening to sermons and motivational speakers … She was really big about what you are putting into your body musically.”
At senior high, Micah’s musical universe expanded. “I was playing a lot of catch up because I couldn’t even tell people I was experiencing Outkast for the first time or all of the hip-hop greats,” he says.
In part, you can thank Micah’s somewhat sheltered musical childhood for the old/new sound he specialises in today.
While childhood influences were the gospel singer
Once introduced to contemporary music, Micah was quick to make up for lost time. He already knew his way around a synthesiser thanks to his mother, who gave him a Roland XP-80 when he was 10 years old.
The next step was teaching himself how to use Ableton and FL studio production software. He spent a couple years at university – “I said, ‘What’s the easiest major where I can focus on my music?’ and they said, ‘Communications’” – but dropped out.
"As soon as I get off [stage] I’m the nicest guy you’ll ever see as well. I love cartoons and fruit ... I’m really harmless, you know.”
Micah remixed a track by Jamaican artist krs., who reached out to him on Soundcloud. krs. connected him with other producers who were looking to work with instrumentalists.
One of those producers was Philadelphia’s Medasin, with whom Micah made
It also attracted the attention of producer Jazzy Jeff (most famous for his collaborations with Will Smith aka The Fresh Prince) who played the single
“That was the first time that I realised my music could go farther than Virginia,” Micah says.
Jazzy Jeff ended up inviting Micah to spend a couple of weeks with him at his place in Delaware.
“He didn’t want me to pay him for studio time, he wasn’t trying to take my youth and use that for inspiration, he just really wanted great music to be created, so he kind of upgraded my superpowers,” he says.
“The best keyboards ever, he has them. Every drum machine known to man is in his house.
“He gave me all this great software and put all these talented people around me just to share stories and teach me stuff,” he continues. “He made me food, there was catering every day. And he still hasn’t asked me for anything! That taught me you should just have jam sessions and create the best music possible.”
Of his transition from beatmaker to songwriter on Lady Lady, Micah says he’s simply grown up.
“I’ve gone through relationships, love and everything in between, honestly, so I just feel like Pink Polo was me exactly how I was then and Lady Lady is a perfect depiction of how I am these days.
“I feel like my increased love for strings or chords or the happy sadness throughout the tape, It’s just who I’ve become through life, travel and the people I’ve met.”
ON Lady Lady, Masego praises the various female figures in his life while grappling with the contradictions of his character.
He sings about wanting to meet his “lady lady” (and eventually, his wife on ‘Black Love’) but on
“I’m just as much ‘Black Love’ as I am ‘Lavish Lullaby’. I’ve had both of those thoughts and it just depends where I am in my life which path I’ll take. I feel like that honesty allows me to be a free human rather than get invited on The Today Show for being Gentleman Of The Year,” he says.
“I was raised by my mother and two sisters so there’s always this momma’s boy gentleman that’s in me, but I’m also in the world. I’ve given into temptation before and I have certain thoughts and I have plenty of rapper friends and I have money and I have clout and all that. So I think being honest is the best way to move so you can tell people, ‘Listen I’m not perfect, this is me.’”
Well, it’s more or less him. Micah reveals during the interview that he doesn’t drink — “It’s just not something I enjoy,” he says — and has never smoked weed, which is surprising given that his lyrics suggest he does both.
When trying to explain the more gangsta-like, less gentlemanly aspects of the record to his conservative parents, he tells them to think of him as a “musical actor.”
“Though I don’t smoke weed, all my friends do. I’m Jamaican, I know plenty about weed,” he says. “Describing it like acting made it easier for my mother and father to understand what I was doing. Even on stage, I’m as close to a pimp as you’ll ever see. But as soon as I get off I’m the nicest guy you’ll ever see as well. I love cartoons and fruit … I’m really harmless, you know.”
Masego’s band has been a grounding influence for him, especially on the road.
“They don’t care how much silk I wear or who’s crying when they see me, they’re still joking on me when I get on the bus. And I feel like that’s the balance that’s needed,” he says. “Even when I watched the Quincy Jones documentary [which Micah was invited to feature in] they said, ‘Ego is just overdressed insecurity’, so I don’t need the ego.
“You’ve got to keep on striving for something larger while appreciating what you’ve accomplished so it keeps you humble,” he continues. “It’s like, ‘Okay beautiful, 50 million plays on ‘Tadow’, wow, but there’s no need to walk around like everyone’s a peasant. So I’m thankful of that, I feel good, I might have a moment where I brag about it, but let’s keep on moving.”
"My big goal is to have this large house ... and make it a free area where my musician friends can come and create for as long as they want."
For now, moving means continuing to tour the world. He hopes that one day he’ll have a bit more time to stop and smell the roses, but the self-described “king of to-do lists” has his eye on other prizes, too.
“My big goal is to have this large house, similar to Jazzy Jeff, and make it a free area where my musician friends can come and create for as long as they want,” he says.
“I also want to be able to continue to tour whenever I want and stay in places for as long as I want. I don’t want it to be this thing where it’s like 60 cities in five days.”
There are benefits, of course, to the constant touring. Micah is in Austria when our call is connected, and that morning was floored when he saw a group of local singers perform a cover of
“I was like, I’ve never been to Austria but they know my song front to back,” he says. “I think it’s always easy to see who the music has touched. I can’t travel as fast as my music and it’s always cool to see who it’s reached.”