Gonjasufi, Hip hop’s answer to Captain Beefheart – by John Robb
The sad death of the brilliant Captain Beefheart left many wondering if such a maverick spirit could exist in these modern times.
At Louder Than War we have heard many who fit the bill but perhaps the closest is desert neo-rapper Gonjasufi working with the great Flying Lotus amongst others seems to have somehow been infused with some of the great Captain’s restless desert spirit.
Gonjasufi has that lived in voice that can slip and slide across the songs, painting weird and wonderful paintings. That same sort of innocence and wonderment at nature but this time put through the sieve of crackling, soupy, tripped out funk that nods at the genius George Clinton. There are hints of Ethiopiques and other esoteric sounds all put through the post modern deconstruction of music into the beats and loops of hip hop.
If Beefheart had waved his hands around and described his brilliant musical vision to his band of freaked out local musicians, then the 21st century version utilises shit hot local producers who use the hi tech of computers to create the same sort of feel.
It’s rare in modern music that you get to hear anything startlingly original. There’s loads of great stuff with it’s own distinct twist but to hear something you can’t quite bag up is a rare and thrilling treat.
Gonjasufi is a great example of cut and paste, post everything, music. A post hip hop mash up of backpacker beats, psychedelia and soul but far more twisted than that simple equation.
Even his background gives everything and yet nothing away.
A rapper for the past decade, Sufi or his real name Sumach Ecks, aka Sumach Valentine, was born to a Mexican mother and an Ethiopian father in 1978. Originally from San Diego his currently lives in Las Vegas. He hit pay dirt with his collaboration with the equally mystical might of master mixer Flying Lotus. Living out in the Californian desert, looking like an outer space hobo and making his living by being a yoga teacher, Gonjasufi is one part new millennium holy man, a trip hop Sadhu and a digital hipster.
Even at young age he was on the San Diego hip hop scene, hanging out with local hip hop crew Masters Of The Universe. Cutting edge UK label, Warp records, picked up on his rarified talent when they heard his vocal on the Flying Lotus track ‘ Testament’ and released his debut ‘Sufi And A Killer’ album during March of this year. We would have made him the hottest new musician on the planet at Louder Than War if we had existed then but we didn’t so we will have to make do now- a slip on time and space that you somehow get the feeling the disjointed Gonjasufi would somehow approve of.
The album is a remarkable work. With beats provided from the likes of the aforementioned Flying Lotus as well as Gaslamp Killer, and Mainframe that let his remarkable voice free. When I say voice I mean series of different voices that slip and slide out of the ether with a wild and thrilling imagination. He is hoarse and wild, like a dusty hobo prophet in the cactus stubbled, mercenary chin of the endless desert night.
Sufi himself understood his dislocated presence well.
Ecks said of the album: “I didn’t want it to be too easy for the listener. I wanted it to hurt a little bit. I wanted it to get into a spot in the head that hasn’t been hit. The Sufi side of life has helped me with my killer side so I try not to attach myself to any label. There’s a Sufi and a killer in everybody, man, and I’ll be whatever I have to be just to make it through”.
On tracks like ‘Ancestors’ the moods change and your mind is pulled all over the place by Mark Pritchard’s cut and paste rhythms that hint at late sixties post Barrett Pink Floyd. There are odd time changes that allow the rapper space for his most haunting of vocals. Vocals that in their fragile and haunting style nod to some deep spirituality that you don’t get on a lot of records in these times. ‘Cowboys and indians’ is brilliantly suffocating in its mind altering twists and its strung out funkiness and the rest of the tracks morph and shape shift with a brilliant intelligence and stoner fascination. You can hear a blur of hip hop, tripped out magic mushroom weirdness here and even Ethiopiques on Gaslamp Killer’s ”ËDeath Gate EP’ where Gonjasufi lends his vocals to ”ËWhen I’m In Awe’.
There is a team of hipsters with good ears at work over various projects here.
Restless and innovative, hopefully this is the first in a series of great albums from a collection of rare talents.
For now, along with Flying Lotus’s releases, Gonjasufi is one of the best albums of the year.