It’s hard to imagine a band getting more exposure than by playing at the opening ceremony of the World Cup. With the eyes of the world on South Africa last Thursday, the nation’s own BLK JKS delivered what was arguably the best performance of the night.
At the heart of their music is a tenacious fidelity to afrobeat, a mélange of traditional African styles with progressive Western ones like funk and jazz. However, the BLK JKS have upped the ante, casting the elements of afrobeat in the unlikely mold of alternative rock, while referencing such disparate genres as dub, prog, and psychedelia. Incredibly, the combinations, transitions, and contrasts never sound forced with these guys – that’s because all four BLK JKS are also really smart composers. Their new album Zol! showcases this talent, particularly on “Paradise,” in which the band moves from dystopian guitar riffs to sun-soaked Afro-Cuban interludes in the blink of an eye.
BLK JKS wrote the title track from Zol! as an unofficial World Cup anthem. It’s a joyous song, and easily the most “traditional” track on the album. So it was surprising when they chose to play the more aggressive, politically-charged “Mzabalazo” at the opening ceremony instead. But I’m not complaining: it’s my favorite song on the new album. It’s also a more fitting one to share with the world, as it shows just how BLK JKS mix the heaviness of Western rock with the musical vocabulary of Africa.
When Studio 360 recently caught up with the up-and-coming BLK JKS in Los Angeles we stumbled onto a bit of a musical scoop. Hanging out “back-stage” with the South African band before their show at the LA Natural History Museum, we were fortunate enough to hear a brand new unreleased song from their forthcoming full-length (expected this summer).
Buthelezi went on to say, “it’s about zombies, a corrupt priest, which president to vote for in South Africa.” Band mate Mpumi Mcata chimed in, “Man of God who now walk unafraid, man of God who now walk unawares.” We’re unaware of exactly what that means, but we like how it sounds, especially live and unplugged. Special thanks to sound engineer Claes Andreasson for the hi-fidelity recording. And make sure to check out the complete interview w/ host Kurt Andersen which includes a live unplugged performance of their first single “Lakeside.”
When I visited Johannesberg a few years ago, I was startled by how much, townships aside, it reminded me of southern California — the topography, the sunniness, the freeways, the shiny Americanism in general. So the other day when I interviewed the delightful founders of the cool South African rock band BLK JKS, Mpumi Mcata and Lindani Buthelezi, before their gig at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History, I asked, a little nervously, if they agreed. Yes! They also thought it was cool (and, um, ironic) that they were about to perform next to ethnographic dioramas depicting indigenous Africa. The interview — and exclusive acoustic performance! — airs (and becomes podcastable here) starting Friday.
After the interview, I headed west to Santa Monica, where I snapped this picture of the heavenly sunset from my car, and then had dinner with four uncannily beautiful and accomplished women (Kerry Washington, Cecelia Peck, Tricia Brock, Anne Kreamer) and three guys.
Thursday I’m off to Santa Barbara, where I’m having lunch with my pal Pico Iyer, who is more like an angel than anyone I’ve ever met.