Friday, April 20, 2012

Tribeca ’12: Alekesam (short)

South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela survived Apartheid and drug addiction. Though the musician was often something of an absentee father, his son Selema more-or-less had to survive them too, by proxy. Their complicated musical father-and-son story is told in Jason Bergh’s short documentary Alekesam (trailer here), which screens as part of the Triptych program at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival.

Anyone who reads Masekela’s memoir Still Grazing might easily get the sense he remains nostalgic for his hard partying days. Regardless, according to his son (often known as “Sal”) his father could not have withstood much more substance abuse. Fortunately, Masekela got clean, with the help of lifelong friend and producer Stewart Levine, who is still close to both Masekelas.

Alekesam focuses somewhat more on the son, who grew up with an unreliable father. Yet, he was able to make his own way in the world, becoming a well known surfer and extreme sports commentator. Following his father’s recovery and reconciliation, the junior Masekela has also made his way back to music, as a vocalist. In fact, he has a smooth, appealing voice. Nonetheless, most fans will want to hear more of the senior Masekela’s invigorating yet easy-going trumpet work they know so well from his soulful records.

Bergh elicits some honest reflections from both Masekelas and gets several amusing soundbites from Levine, a natural raconteur. However, he seems to give short shrift to the younger Masekela’s mother, considering the critical role she played during his formative years. Frankly, Alekesam could have been much longer than its manageable thirty-four minutes, without risk of overstaying its welcome, which is ultimately quite a compliment.

It is nice to have a documentary end on a happy note for a change. Alekesam is a rather uplifting testament to the power of family and friendship—with good music, of course. Recommended for fans of Hugh Masekela’s jazz-pop-African fusion blend and Sal Masekela’s extreme sports set, Alekesam screens again as part of the Triptych shorts block tomorrow (4/21), Wednesday (4/25), and Sunday (4/29) during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.