Your yoga teacher may do the best Downward Dog this side of Park Slope. But can he (or she) make music like FP’s favorite yoga teacher Gonjasufi?
On his latest record, A Sufi and a Killer, Gonjasufi teams up with the Flying Lotus entourage for a medley of hip-hop, blues, and Indian music with equal parts haziness and fierceness. Gonja chants, growls, and slurs his way through 19 tracks, most of which are less than three minutes in length. Often muffled behind distortion, his talk-rap style recalls both G. Love and M. Ward, or rather the bluesmen whom those first-initialed retro guys channel. And when Gonjasufi sings, his voice cracks and warbles with shades of Cat Stevens and Billie Holiday.
Born Sumac Ecks, Gonjasufi has made music since the early 90s (his cousin is Ishmael ‘Butterfly’ Butler from Digable Planets). Appropriately, tracks such as “Change” seem like the reincarnation of Cypress Hill. Yet the music on A Sufi and a Killer digs deeper into the past, thanks to the production trio of Gaslamp Killer, Flying Lotus, and Mainframe. The samples are heavy on minor-key guitar runs and organ swells once embraced by such psychedelic blues rockers as The Doors and The Animals. And the instrumental intro honors “Bharatanatyam,” one of India’s oldest classical dances.
In some ways, the record reflects Gonjasufi’s yoga practice and enthusiasm for non-Western culture, as in several songs with an Indian troupe of female background singers. Lyrically, Gonja treads more universal ground. Tales of loneliness and love complement celebrations of life and the natural world. And despite his name and the album title, Gonja makes few overt references to spirituality. One exception is “Sheep,” where he sings “you’re my shepherd, babe” and then wishes he were a sheep, not a lion, so he wouldn’t have to kill animals to eat. Sunday School never sounded so funky.
While his famous cousin Butterfly has a new group, Shabazz Palaces, Gonjasufi has dreams of a future
collaboration with Jack White. Not that Mr. Raconteur Dead Weatherman needs another side project, but if he gets restless, we sure wouldn’t mind if he experimented with the Gonj.