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Interview: Blk Jks


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Sitting in a dark booth in Start The Bus, Lindani Buthelezi, the singer and lead guitarist of South Africa's BLK JKS, shirks the striking urgency of his band's playing, commenting lightly on their volatile sound;blk jks

"All of us as individuals coming together, we had a feeling of what we had to do. So it was a matter of getting it out…and that release happened, with a frenetic sense". Whilst singing, Lindani slips from English into several African dialects, using his linguistic range to pair his intonation with the band's music.

"African speech is very rhythmic, with a cadence. What comes out of the mouth can be translated to the guitar and vice versa, giving a circle between the guitar and our dialects and all the tunings we have.
In short, the results are exotic, fluid and exigent. BLK JKS represent an epochal South Africa but have found a muse in Western styles.

The four-piece spent 2009 relentlessly touring the US and Europe, supporting their debut album After Robots (which, I'm told, is a local phrase said to signal a cab to stop after traffic lights, and not a reference to a post-post-apocalyptic future).

Lindani's feelings of the touring experience are expectedly jaded. "It's been really enlightening to find out how much the human body can take…it can mess with anyone's mind, you have to be above the fatigue and the confines."

Despite attrition, the burgeoning series of explosive gigs have won over inquisitive newcomers. At home, crowds received BLK JKS with confusion (black bands dabbling in white music being a scarcity) and the band seemingly had a task ahead to impress Western audiences.

"The undertone [in crowds] has generally been curiosity, and from that they deduce their own conclusion as to what they think. We are super comfortable with what we do…and it stems to the general audience. But there is curiosity lingering about".

As to whether the band sees well-worn comparisons (TV on the Radio, Mars Volta etc) as unwanted pigeon holing, they're pretty nonchalant. "We're at peace with everything that follows…if they are comparing us to such bands, we're cool. Definitely we don't sound anything like them. But I guess it makes it easier put bands into little compartments. It's easier to write about it." But Lindani agreed that categorisation could be a catalyst for popularity: "if it gets people through the door, so be it".

To dispel curiosity and stamp their identity on crowds, BLK JKS play intoxicating shows that jump and jitter in pace. It was well encapsulated that evening during 'Skeleton', with guitarist Mpumi repeatedly uttering "start the bus…" as an ominous, dirty instruction over slinking ska tones, before the song built to a grandiose chorus. Throughout the show, they played a thick mesh of jams, which never veered towards self-indulgent.

Lindani emphasises the need to return home, to re-adjust in Johannesburg and get back to recording in the first quarter of 2010, while they "still have that energy inside".

BLK JKS' global reputation is growing, and Lindani embraces the fact that their next album can be borne out of Africa, but refined anywhere in the world: "It's a new age, hence the song 'Cursor'. Anything can happen." That's the real allure.

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