Here's a seriously weird and talented dude I'm happy to have discovered: Gonjasufi.
His given name is listed variously as Sumach Ecks or Sumach Valentine, and Wikipedia describes his heritage as Mexican, American, and Ethiopian. Gonjasufi is described as many things, among them: devout Muslim, musician, DJ, MC, music producer, Bikram yoga teacher, modern mystic, desert dweller, seeker.
And all that eclecticism and hybridity is reflected in the particular genius of his music, which fluidly combines more influences than the average listener could identify. Gonjasufi attributes his considerable ability to control and project his voice to yogic techniques and practice. Reviewers have drawn vocal comparisons to everyone from Leadbelly and Nina Simone to George Clinton and Captain Beefheart. But probably nothing captures Gonjasufi's distinctive vocal quality better than the much-quoted description of his producer, Flying Lotus: "timeless, incredible filth."
Gonajsufi's first album, A Sufi & A Killer, was produced by Los Angeles DJ The Gaslamp Killer. Released earlier this year, it has garnered very positive reviews from many quarters. (For this article, I read more than a dozen reviews and couldn't find a single negative one.) Of the record, Gonjasufi said, "I wanted it to hurt a little bit. I wanted it to get into a spot in the head that hasn't been hit." And it does. His music has the sensibility of not just the dervish, but the shaman and the sadhu, too, all wrapped up in one evocative, addictive package.
The strong response to A Sufi & A Killer inspired a remix album called The Caliph's Tea Party, which was just released last week. (These are two of the best album titles I've heard in ages--especially A Sufi & A Killer.) The story behind the title of the remix, according to the website for his label, Warp:
Like the Caliphs of the Ummahs of the 7th century, orchestrating affairs from their palaces, Gonjasufi has assembled a collection of artists in his musical world and invited them to exchange ideas. In this spirit, the symbolic and musical centerpiece of the album, as well as its namesake, is the result of the mutual admiration formed between Gonjasufi and Broadcast and The Focus Group.
While waiting for Amazon to send my copy of A Sufi & A Killer, I've been listening to tracks on YouTube and wherever else I can find them. "Kowboys and Indians," a song that is nowhere near long enough, is my favourite. Here it is:
(If you have any trouble with the video player, click here to watch it in a new window.)
Check him out. As Jeff Weiss wrote in his LA Times piece on Gonjasufi, "It’s the sort of album that jars you on first listen, but eventually wears itself into the grooves of your synapses, alternately bizarre, baleful and beautiful." Yeah.