Having started in 2000 in Johannesburg, South Africa, and only releasing an EP (Mystery EP, recently reissued by Secretly Canadian in March) the BLK JKS (pronounced “Black Jacks”) have built up quite a substantial buzz stateside in the recent months in anticipation for their debut album, After Robots. After several listens to After Robots I have to tell you, that buzz was justified.
BLK JKS will initially be compared to The Mars Volta, but to write them as a prog-rock doppelganger would be unfounded. Sure, the frenetic pace of the music is there, but the guitar work of Lidani Buthelezi and Mpumi Mcata is way more focused and stable than Omar Rodriguez-Lopez could ever hope to be and Buthelezi’s vocals is an even mixture of Tunde Adebimpe (TV on the Radio) and Nick Urata (DeVotchka) rather than the caterwauling of Cedric Bixler-Zavala. (This paragraph just won Scrabble)
Having lived in Africa (Nairobi, Kenya and Mwanza, Tanzania, specifically) for a considerable amount of time, the beats and rhythms showcased by BLK JKS encapsulates the frenzied lifestyle that exists most major metropolitan areas on the continent: it’s dirty and hot, but vibrant and alive. In the songs ‘Molalatadi’ and ‘Banna Ba Modimo’, I can see the streets of Nairobi, with heavily armed police officers and feel the tear gas stinging the back of my throat. These songs are punctuated by the 9-piece Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (Mos Def, Erykah Badu) which adds an extra layer of urgency.
The other seven songs in this collection run the musical gamut from jazz (‘Lakeside’) to dub (‘Skeleton’) and even hints of folk (‘Tselane’). Throughout these changes in style one thing remains constant: joy. These songs are played with a verve that, I assume, could only come from group of individuals that grew up with the specter of apartheid looming throughout your country. These nine songs have a spirit not found in the majority of the music we easily label fresh and groundbreaking, they feel like they were poured out on to tape not because a new record was due, but because they had to be. Music needs more of that.
Between the success of District 9, Charlize Theron’s appearance on Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis and the release of BLK JKS After Robots, South Africa is having a pretty good month.
You can also catch these guys live October 12 @ Emo’s. Tickets for that show will be sold at the doors for $10.
Download: BLK JKS – Molalatladi [MP3]