Selema Masekela launches South African surf brand Mami Wata
By Kamala Kirk
The first time Selema Masekela visited South Africa was for her father’s return tour in 1991 after apartheid ended. Son of South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela, Selema remembered he wasn’t sure if he wanted to go at the time.
“Until then, my father had been in political exile for 30 years and had not been allowed to return home,” Selema said. “Then finally, as things started to crumble, the South African government began to invite exiles to return home without having to fear for their lives or risk being thrown in jail. It was a moment that my father had fought and waited for all these years. He called me and asked me to be a road manager on his tour, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to go because there was a lot going on at the time. South Africa was going through a great transition and it was dangerous.
An avid surfer, Selema knew South Africa had good waves. Over the years he had seen the results of various surfing competitions that had taken place in Jeffreys Bay and he had watched footage of surf movies which sparked his desire to ride the waves there.
“The laws had just changed a few months before my visit and the white beaches were suddenly open to everyone,” Selema said. “I took this trip with my dad and by the time we got to the coast I went to a surf shop, bought a board and went surfing in Durban. No one had seen one. person that looked like me surfing there before and after day four the cops tried to stop me. It was a crazy experience to say the least. I also met many of my family for the first time – uncles, aunts, grandparents and all those people of this fabric of who I was as someone who had been denied to me because of the unfair and crazy apartheid system. I fell in love with the South Africa and have been going back ever since. In 2019 I was commenting on the World Surf League event in Jeffreys Bay which I never imagined. Now there are a lot of kids like me surfing and embracing the culture of surfing after a hundred years of being denied that right, it’s very powerful and amazing.
In 2017, Selema was visiting South Africa to help care for her father, who was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. While there, Selema’s friend and South African fashion designer, Maria McCloy, told him about a group of guys in Cape Town (Andy Davis, Nick Dutton and Peet Pienaar) that he needed. to meet who had a store and a surf label called Mami. Wata. They had made a short surf film called “Woza” which told the story of an African surfer.
“I was blown away because the movie had a black protagonist as a surfer and that was normal, not new,” said Selema. “It was so crucial for me because it was something I never thought I would see. I contacted the guys, we hooked up and started talking, and then when I went to Cape Town to hang out with them we all hit it off. I was really impressed with their brand and knew it would be successful in America so they hired me as a co-founder and we’ve been working together ever since.
Dutton added: “I met Selema in Cape Town right after the brand’s launch, we had mutual friends and connections that brought us together. We knew then that it was a meeting of minds and ambitions. His experience of global surf culture and the United States, as well as his world view of the role the brand could have, led to a long and exciting discussion, the only conclusion of which was that he had joined the brand as as co-founder. The collaboration between the four of us is very productive. We each have very different skills and experience that come together to create what Mami Wata is. What we have in common is the ambition of the brand and the company and alignment around our vision to be a creative force for good in Africa.
In West African Pidgin English, Mami Wata means “Mother Ocean”. Coincidentally, Selema’s father wrote a song of the same name in 1975. Although the brand was founded in 2017, it recently made its US debut earlier this fall.
“Much of the surf lifestyle and culture narrative has been dominated by places like Southern California, Australia and Hawaii,” said Selema. “Most of the aspirations of what it feels like to be a surfer have been through this limited lens, but the irony is that there are more surfable coastlines in Africa than anywhere in the world and their surf culture. Historically dates back to the late 1600s. Mami Wata is a brand that celebrates ocean and surf through a uniquely African lens and has been incredibly well received in the United States.
Dutton said: “People like a range of different things… the mission, the designs, to challenge a very tired category and maybe more importantly, to challenge the culture of surfing and what it means to be a surfer. The response in Africa has been fantastic, especially from black and brown surfers. African surf culture largely has a diversity that is as energetic and meaningful as Africa, so when people see a brand sharing the culture on a global scale, they are pumped and proud.
In addition to surfboards and accessories, Mami Wata offers a line of clothing made in Africa with local and sustainable raw materials. Their Spring / Summer 2022 collection features colorful and unique designs like dice paired with contemplative sayings sewn onto labels such as “Money can’t heal death”.
“I love the way people can take this in different directions, something as simple as a picture of the dice can mean something to one person and something else to another,” Selema said. “I also love the way the posts make people stop and think about what each saying means to them. I hope that when someone chooses one of our pieces to wear, it will go up in the air. moral.
Originally, the plan was to be launched in the United States in 2019, but after COVID-19 hit, the group had to pivot and change plans while maintaining momentum. During the pandemic, they created and published ‘AFROSURF’, a 320-page coffee table book that features stunning photographs, profiles and stories of African surfers, writers and photographers who explore and showcase the unique culture of 18 countries. coastal areas of Africa. The book was also named the number one coffee table book holiday giveaway by the New York Times.
“Our book defied all expectations and it’s crazy how people digested it,” Selema said. “It shows surfing through a very diverse lens. It gives you a taste of what modern African culture looks like across the continent and how it fuels the creation of this different surf culture experience than most people have seen.
Also committed to giving back to others, Mami Wata donates 100% of the book’s royalties to support two African surf therapy organizations, Surfers Not Street Children and Waves for Change.
“Surfers Not Street Children is an amazing organization in Durban that helps street children and children at risk by giving them a place to live and learn, and they are able to bond with the ocean and the surf,” said said Selema. “It changes their lives and they boost their self-confidence, pride and joy. Waves for Change helps communities build real relationships with surfing, helping people cope with different types of trauma, as well as those facing emotional challenges. People are learning to make this space their own and to see the ocean as a place to go to heal themselves. “
Selema, who has been surfing for 33 years, found solace in the sport when her family moved from the East Coast to Carlsbad during her freshman year of high school. Feeling out of place, he took to surfing and immediately became addicted to how it made him feel.
“It was the holiest spiritual experience I have ever had,” said Selema. “When I got up on a wave at 16, I felt like time had stood still and the sky had parted. I didn’t see it as a hobby, it became an immediate obsession for me and completely changed my direction.
Selema has pursued a successful career as a TV host and correspondent, doing announcements at live events and working for big networks like ESPN, HBO and MTV. His work has taken him across the world, from surfing competitions in Tahiti to the Winter Olympics in Sochi. He has also had the opportunity to surf around the world and some of his favorite surf spots include Jeffreys Bay, Toberua Island in Fiji, the Maldives, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua and the Mentawai Island chain in off the west coast of Sumatra in Indonesia.
“Surfing has allowed me to see the world and bond with people who, despite our cultural differences, share this common thread and have become a family,” said Selema. “It breaks down language barriers and it’s really an amazing feeling to share with others. “
In 2004, Selema moved from San Diego to Venice Beach after his career started to take off and he needed to move closer to LA for work opportunities. He was drawn to Venice for its courage and the diversity of its people and cultures.
“Venice is one of the few places in LA where I can come out of my house and see whites, browns and blacks of different economic levels all in the same block,” said Selema. “The people who live here accept that nothing is perfect and good all the time. In other parts of LA, people want to show that their life is perfect every day, but that doesn’t serve me. I also love the relationship I have with the ocean here, and there are some really good little surf windows so I enjoy it a lot more and I am very grateful on the days when the waves are good.
Looking ahead, Selema is excited about Mami Wata’s future. The brand has two special collaborations planned for 2022 and 2023, and he also raised the possibility of the book “AFROSURF” becoming a docuserie.
“We continue to build relationships with distributors and boutiques across the country, places that are proud of and that support the telling of our story,” said Selema. “I love that this brand is a Trojan horse for discovering Africa and we are moving into a greater awareness of what is happening on the continent and changing the narrative of how people view it. Africa. I was recently at a book signing in Brooklyn for “AFROSURF” and was amazed at the number of people in line who told me that a brand like ours with images that look like them has done so much. for their confidence when struggling to find others to identify with. They feel they can walk differently and have a sense of pride now. I am immensely proud of where we have come to and where we can go.
Surfers not street children
Waves for change