The story of BLK JKS reads like a veritable rock’n’roll legend. For a couple of years around the end of the 00’s, the enigmatic South African rock quartet was the darling of the underground scene. Apparently “discovered” by Diplo in South Africa, they went on to meet and befriend everyone from The Mars Volta to TV On The Radio, two bands they were often compared to. They jammed with The Roots, snapped pics with Pharrell Williams and hung out with Lou Reed at the SXSW festival in Texas. They played double bills with Squarepusher at the Southbank Centre in London and with Femi Kuti at the fabled Irving Plaza in NYC. Recording an EP aptly named “Mystery” by chance at Jimi Hendrix’s iconic Electric Lady Studios. This and a Fader Magazine cover feature in March 2008 then led to the band signing with indie label Secretly Canadian in 2009.
Their debut album ‘After Robots’ went on to blow down the walls of rock’n’roll Jericho with its heady yet seamless mix of post-apocalyptic African funk rock, jazz, kwaito, folk, renegade dub, psych prog-rock, tv channel hopping, internet surfing, mbaqanga, soul and pretty much everything else in between. Confidently pushing one golden envelope through another the band began captivating a cult following for their music worldwide.
Foo Fighter Dave Grohl declared ‘After Robots’ his favourite album of 2009. Thanks to a killer live collaboration with Alicia Keys at the 2010 Football World Cup Kick-Off Concert to an estimated television audience of two billion and their hit song “Lakeside” being synched on EA Sports’ FIFA10 soundtrack, the reviews were glowing and global audiences growing – case in point, Rolling Stone Magazine championed the BLK JKS as “Africa’s best new band”.
But just as quickly as they arrived on the international scene, BLK JKS disappeared.
The years of international touring had begun to take its toll. By 2011 the band were back in South Africa and continued to play the festival and nightclub circuit. But Johannesburg or Cape Town isn’t New York or LA. A hiatus where each member pursued their individual creative muses was inevitable and necessary. Fans and critics alike doubted whether BLK JKS would ever record again.
Yet while they flew largely under the mainstream media radar, for the next five years the three remaining members continued to work together. After opening for Foo Fighters in 2014 at Dave Grohl’s request, he inspired the band to forge on. More experimentation and collaboration would become key. They jammed and recorded with Malian guitar royalty Vieux Farka Touré and hip-hop revolutionary Money Mark. In January 2018 they recorded a bold, brassy, beautiful re-envisioning of trumpet legend Hugh Masekela’s 70’s
hit “The Boys Don’ It” shortly after his passing, as a tribute to their late friend and mentor. The song featured Hugh’s son Selema of Alekesam on vocals and a certain Tebogo Seitei cutting a firebrand trumpet solo through the heart of the track.
BLK JKS couldn’t help but to invite young trumpeting virtuoso Tebogo Seitei to complete the quartet. They then hit the rehearsal room running. Spending their winter weeks and months of 2018 in the studio … or rather the Soweto Theatre Orchestra Pit which they rebuilt into a studio and locked themselves into re- imagining a guitar-and-brass-driven, widescreen African Diasporic roots rock sound. They got it down. But the studio was burgled and the hard drives on which the songs were saved wound up stolen. Bummed out, bent out of shape by existential questions, they refused to be broken, so the band went back into the studio, a year later, recalibrated, and re-recorded the album in only three days! A rock’n’roll phoenix, rising from the ashes.
Now, it’s the year 2021. We are here in the future, where BLK JKS finally re-enter the musical fray with their long-awaited new album ‘Abantu / Before Humans’. They see it as a prequel to ‘After Robots’.
‘Abantu’ is a surreal journey of an album, beaming with laser-like vision and power… that in parts possesses an almost hauntingly vulnerable beauty.
The band believes “There is a lot of important information stored and needing to be restored or preserved in this kind of narrow sonic crevice we are mining.” – Mpumelelo Mcata (guitarist).
It’s this commitment to cultural activism that encodes the musical DNA of ‘Abantu / Before Humans.’
The band declare as much on the new album’s manifesto – we see on the vinyl cover art a text that reads: “A complete fully translated and transcribed Obsidian Rock Audio Anthology chronicling the ancient spiritual technologies and exploits of prehistoric, post-revolutionary afro bionics and sacred texts from The Great Book On Arcanum by Supernal 5th Dimension Bound 3rd Dynasty young Kushites from Azania.”
Wait up, what to make of such an arcane, unabashedly literary, sonic fiction? Simple. Back in 2009 BLK JKS had foreseen the future with ‘After Robots.’
In 2021 with ‘Abantu / Before Humans’ this present has a fiercely retro-futuristic fresh moniker: Afropunk. These brothers just want to jam. To say BLK JKS poured gas on the fire down below or lit the flames that created the soundtrack for the nascent Afropunk movement in their home country of South Africa especially… would not be too far off the mark.
The band are often cited as key influences on artists like Spoek Mathambo, Nakhane, Petite Noir and Urban Village. They’ve also helped bring to life ideas like growing young Johannesburg indie record label Mushroom Hour and others who are starting to make waves internationally. It’s an influence that has spread further than just music too – quietly influencing young diasporadical visual artists, photographers, writers and filmmakers alike globally.
BLK JKS’s universal artistic appeal and approach to their work can be seen and felt clearly in their latest cover art collaboration with formidable fine artist Nandipha Mntambo. She is a brilliant peer and an inspired match.
To celebrate the 10yrs+ anniversary of their genre-traversing and trailblazing, award-winning debut ‘After Robots,’ BLK JKS are amped to announce that they are scheduled to drop their new album ‘Abantu / Before Humans’ through an exciting new partnership with We Are Busy Bodies (North America) and Glitterbeat Records (worldwide).
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