Selema Masekela, famed action sports commentator and son of iconic South African jazz composer Hugh Masekela, loves surfing. He especially loves African surf culture and that’s why he’s spent a lot of time working on Mami Wata, a surf apparel brand with a mission to “be a creative force for good in Africa”. In an interview with InsideHook, Masekela discussed the brand and his latest book called AFROSURF:
You’ve been into surfing for a really long time. What was it like to be creating this brand at this stage in your life and career?
It was always a dream for me growing up as a kid, in So-Cal with So-Cal brands — I never saw anything that was reflective of me in the marketing and storytelling of surf culture. And everything that I experienced as far as how people reacted to me as a surfer was very much novelty. This idea that I was some sort of outlier Negro who liked water. People patting me on the back like, “You’re different. You’re more like us, rad.”
It’s interesting to have a passion for a thing like surfing or snowboarding that affects you, and it’s your place to express yourself and to find peace, and also have to constantly be dealing with people looking at you strangely or wanting to comment that you’re even there in the room. Or dealing with the micro and less micro aggressions towards you even being there in the first place. And then nothing to back up your presence in any of the storytelling around the thing that you love the most. So I always dreamt of being able to build a brand that storytold it from another perspective.
I used to draw logos for a thing called Ebony Waves. That was my dream brand. And Ebony Waves didn’t come to pass, but Mami Wata became this opportunity to make Ebony Waves a reality of sorts. And to be able to do so from the depths of my heritage on the largest, most surfable continent on the planet, and African peoples and their relationship with water and the ocean. Gone is this idea of us being outsiders in the space. This is our history.
It’s really been a blast to continue to develop it and to take my experience from my years and years of work in the action-sports industry and work in brand building, and apply it to something like Mami Wata. My father had a song in 1975 called “Mami Wata,” beautiful song. My dad was fascinated with the story of this mother ocean, Mami Wata, this goddess of the ocean. And so to be able to suddenly find yourself in a place like, “Whoa, here I am.” A little over 40 years later, I’m telling that story with different musical notes.
What’s exciting about it is that it’s taking modern African design and graphics and storytelling and applying it to a thing that everyone’s familiar with, which is the ocean and surfing. It just happens to be through an African lens. We in the West have been doing a great job of making our brands appealing and aspirational to people all throughout our country, and we make it so that in other countries, that’s the only way that you can have recognition in the streets is to wear shit that comes from this place that defines your cool, right? I would just say that Africa is entering the chat. You know what I mean? We’re entering the chat, we’re expanding the WhatsApp group, if you will. And the cool thing for the consumer is it’s an opportunity for discovery, for a continued discovery through this lens.
And then just how all of what we make and how we make it and how it’s packaged, etc. is done 100% in South Africa. Made of African cotton and made from raw, sustainable African materials with African creators. And that is something that is an immense source of pride. And that’s never going to change.