Band of the Day

2011.11.08

BLK JKS

An intense whirlwind of progressive rock and jazz from South Africa
It was a skeleton inside your closet that looks like me, through the leaks and the floorboards you couldn't see, you're on your own, and I'm right between your sheets.
lyrics from Skeleton

BLK JKS (pronounced "black jacks") is an afro-pop fusion rock band from the township of East Rand in Johannesburg, South Africa. The group was formed in 2000 by Lindani Buthelezi (vocals, guitar) and Mpumi Mcata (guitar), who grew up learning guitar together as children, and also features Molefi Makananise (bass) and Tshepang Ramoba (drums). Seven years after forming, they released their debut limited edition CD EP, which quickly sold out, and later released a 10" vinyl only record entitled Lakeside. Limited to 500 copies and sold only at the world's finest record shops, Lakeside brought BLK JKS international fame, positive press reviews and a list of high profile fans such as Diplo and MIA. Secretly Canadian quickly signed the group and released the Mystery EP in 2009 along with their successful debut LP entitled After Robots later that year. Their most recent recording, the Zol! EP, was released in 2010 and supported by an international tour.

Sometimes musicians try to do too many things at once, and the music has no core, or personality. South Africa's BLK JKS pump a hodgepodge of sounds, textures and styles into their music, and it just sounds more their own. Formed in 2000 in Johannesburg, South Africa by Lindani Buthelezi and Mpumi Mcata, the band creates a progressive whirlwind of rock influenced by everything from South African styles to jazz and reggae. Though they had already amassed a respectful following in South Africa, BLK JKS was first brought to American attention by DJ/producer Diplo (best known for working with M.I.A. and being half of Major Lazer). BLK JKS songs tend to be pretty dense, packing in a variety of sounds and instruments in a cerebral swirl. “Molalatladi” kicks off their 2009 album After Robots with a thunderous wave of percussion and dark splashes of jazzy guitar. The songs seems to be steadily speeding up and increasing in intensity as the percussion becomes more fiery and guitarist Mpumi Mcata  bursts into a blistering guitar solo. It's tough to place what time period BLK JKS' sound comes from. On the one hand, their prog-y, impassioned side brings to mind 70s groups like The Mahavishnu Orchestra, but there's plenty of contemporary touchstones at the same time. “Lakeside” is another tightly packed rocker with atmospheric backing vocals and layers of guitar playing off Buthelezi's charismatic voice. The band shifts into party mode for the chorus, slinging bright guitar licks and what sounds like a rapturous tribal chant. “Skeleton” brings out the reggae with steady, off beat keyboard stabs and a reggae meets jazz drum beat. They layer on horns and dueling guitars as drummer Tshepang Ramoba goes into frenzy mode, helping flesh out an excitingly chaotic rush of music. BLK JKS flits between genres effortlessly, combining them into a uniquely big and intense sound. It's always a surprise where they're going next, and never a disappointing one.