BLK JKS defy description. With a wrecking crew rhythm section, debonair vocals, and guitar concoction of one part shred and two parts soul, BLK JKS shoot an African music sensibility through the tenets of rock. On one hand it is easy to politicize BLK JKS; as seen on the cover of Fader, here is a band that is instantly young, black and fly even as they reclaim styles that have been stolen, watered down, and regurgitated for generations. And yet to get caught up in anything but their sound is to sell this phenomenon short, because as musicians--as artists--BLK JKS simply cook.
The band's fresh, forward rhythm, layered harmony and elliptical guitar vernacular reveal the urban Zulu blues of mbaqanga that is the center of BLK JKS songwriting. Teaching themselves guitar on the same block where they both grew up, childhood friends Linda and Mpumi formed the band in 2000, and early BLK JKS shows garnered attention for their stacks of guitar drone and head-nodding beats. After the band's current lineup took shape with the addition of bassist Molefi and drummer Tshepang, both of Soweto, they embarked on a heavy touring schedule throughout South Africa that earned them a national following.
At the Electric Lady studio lock-in with producer Brandon Curtis of the Secret Machines that resulted in the MYSTERY EP, they started by considering specific tones, which they played nonstop for hours before recording. As songs began to take shape, material was saved and added to the cauldron of coolness and confusion that defines the EP. It opens with a retooled version of "Lakeside." From the opening cardiac pulse its music goes further into enigmatic visions. In one telling, the song wonders what would happen if a UFO crashed in your town and no one believed what you witnessed. The eerie flashes in Linda's lyrics and Tshepang's refrain flow on into "Mystery", a song originally inspired by a Carlos Garnett spiritual jazz classic. Linda ponders plainspoken about the meaning of existence before his bandmates usher in cyclones of sound and tribal voices decrying the state of affairs for a generation devoid of opportunity. The polyrhythmic beat in "Summertime" has the spirit of that season--but again something is not quite right as birds have fangs and the sun brings cancer, not suntans. As "Summertime" rises to the EP's emotional apex, Linda cries out "whenshaleyi!", pleading in Zulu for his taxi driver to stop. The Mystery EP simmers to a close with the township blues of "It's In Every Thing You'll See", an intimate solo performance from Linda that leaves the listener unsettled, craving more vibrations from the first African music story of the 21st century.
(SC196 released: 03/10/09)