Masauko is a Malawian-American singer/songwriter, born in Los Angeles while his parents were in political exile. His primary instruments are the acoustic guitar and the voice. Masauko’s sound is a unique mixture of Southern African traditional music with jazz, folk, funk, hip hop and reggae. Although his music spans many genres, the common denominator are strong songs and a great vocal range. His audiences often find themselves singing along from the beginning to the end of his live sets.
As a child growing up in LA, Masauko was part of a large exile community from Southern Africa and the Caribbean. His first musical influences were the legendary South African husband and wife duo, Caephus Semenya and Letta Mbulu, who lived nearby. The Semenyas used their music as a form of activism in the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa. From the very beginning of Masauko’s musical journey, he understood songwriting was the medium to give voice to people struggling against inequality.
Masauko’s first visit to Africa was in 1996. He spent nearly a year studying traditional music in Malawi. He then moved to South Africa in 1997, hoping to re-connect with the Semenyas, who had returned to South Africa post-Apartheid, and ended up forming the now-famous acoustic duo, Blk Sonshine with Neo Muyanga from Soweto. The duo blended the music of Southern Africa with hip hop and jazz in acoustic form.
Blk Sonshine went on to share stages with artists from every genre, including Stevie Wonder, Joan Baez, Gil Scott Heron, Bonny Rait, Mary J. Blige, Dead Prez, Susana Baca, Ernest Ranglin, Hugh Masekela, Ismael Lo, Queen, India Arie in the USA and Africa. By 2005, Blk Sonshine was a household name in South Africa. That year, they performed at the Nelson Mandela’s 46664 concert in front of thousands of fans. Blk Sonshine was featured on the Putumayo, South Africa release in 2010 and performed for the FIFA World Cup. Masauko was nominated for a South African music award (SAMA) in 2010 as part of the group Blk Sonshine.
As a solo artist, Masauko has performed acoustically at New York´s Carnegie Hall. He has recorded with Grammy Award-winning hip hop artists, RZA from The WuTang Clan and Ladybug Mecca from Digable Planets. Currently residing in Costa Rica with his family, Masauko has completed his first solo album, Masauko, for the Come to Life Record label. The label was started by the Guayaki Yerba Mate company. The album was recorded in Cape Town, South Africa in May 2017 with some of Malawi’s top young musicians. The album will be released June 16th, 2019. This was the day of the Soweto Uprising in South Africa in 1976. It is now known as Youth Day in South Africa out of respect for the many children who died protesting for the right to have a real education in their own language.
Masauko´s current collaborations include a band in Costa Rica comprising of musicians from all over Latin America, a true testament of the diversity of his musical palette. In April of 2019, Masauko began working as a DJ for 95.5 jazz in Costa Rica. It is the premiere station for jazz music in Costa Rica. He is curating a show called, Connections which introduces jazz-inspired music from around the globe at 5pm on Thursdays. He was recently in New York performing at the Shared Interest Gala hosted in the Edison Ballroom for their 25th anniversary. Awards were given to Dr. John Kani (from the movie, Black Panther) and Thuli Madonsela. Masauko has been performing in support of Shared Interest for several years now. They are an organization that gives loans to small businesses in South Africa to heal the economic inequalities of the Apartheid Era. With upcoming shows in Los Angeles and New York along with several production projects, Masauko continues to produce world-class music with an activist vision.
This short music documentary about Masauko Chipembere was made during a two-week journey to Southern Africa sponsored by Come To Life Music/Guayaki in the summer of 2017. Even though Masauko was born in exile in Los Angeles, his ancestral homeland is Malawi. For years, he had been traveling there to work with Ernest Ikwanga and Sam Mkandawire, two of the most respected young musicians in the country. Sadly, Malawi had no real studio spaces. The country has never had a chance to fully invest in the arts, because Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. However, there are other types of wealth in this world and it is apparent that Malawi is culturally rich. Masauko believes this documentary attests to this. Malawians are a people who have ancient traditions that connect humans to the earth, the sky, the wind, the trees and the ancestors. This album is the product of all these elements coming together.
Three years ago, Masauko was invited to a jam session on Salt Spring Island, Canada. Guayaki decided that during the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, they should gather artists to prepare for the next spiritual cycle in North America. The artists were there, in many ways, to deal with the coming of the new regime in the U.S. and to remind themselves that they could battle the destructive nature of the new political reality with creativity through art. They sang, they chanted, they cried and testified. At the end of a particularly beautiful jam session, Masauko was standing with David from Guayaki and Daryl Chonka, who was the sound engineer for the event. David said, “We should start a record company.” Masauko simply agreed and said something like, “you should, because the music industry lacks the moral stance that Guayaki has put forth in the business world.” He never dreamed that Daryl would call him a few months later and say, “We are starting the record company we talked about and you are the first artist we want to make a record with.”
Come to Life Records is now a reality. Masauko’s record project has been a blessing. He has produced an album with Daryl Chonka that captured the richness of why he believes people call Malawi, “the warm heart of Africa.” The visual magic was captured by Syd Woodward from Come to Life, who Masauko believes films him better than anyone else has before. Syd was willing to let Masauko take part in the editing process and he gave him the tools to tell his own story.This video gives a glimpse into the studio sessions in Cape Town where Masauko recorded the album and formed life-long bonds with the other musicians. The entire project captures the story of how a boy from Los Angeles, who spent years trying to find his African identity, finally made it home.
July 6th Masauko returns to Brooklyn to release his self titled album on Come to Life Music at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. This will be part of the First Saturday @ Brooklyn Museum. The show begins at 5pm and vinyl and CDs will be available to purchase. July 6th is Malawian Independence day.