Blk Brothers get it together

The first time I saw the Blk Jks on stage was at the Assembly, a live music venue in Cape Town. This was circa 2009, right about the time of the swirling build-up around the band’s debut LP After Robots and shortly after they’d been featured on the cover of New York’s Fader magazine and signed with the indie record label Secretly Canadian.

The Jo’burg foursome, made up then of rhythm guitarist Mpumi Mcata, drummer Tshepang Ramoba, bassist Molefi Makananise and lead guitarist Lindani Buthelezi, had been gigging for a few years but that summer they were on everyone’s lips.

“Those black dudes that play that weird music,” as Eddie Houghton wrote in Fader, or a slight variation of that sentence, seemed to be the catch-all phrase that accompanied the genre-defying quartet, descriptions that had more to do with race than the aesthetics of their music.

To have seen them then was to have understood Sun Ra’s cosmic musings: “There are other worlds (they have not told you of).” Siyabonga Mthembu, lead vocalist of the performance art collective the Brother Moves On, says: “It was magic, you know. There’s that part of you that knows that there are ­amazing and truly special things happening out there and then you get to see them and it affirms this belief you have that the world is made of magic. That’s how I felt when I first saw the Blk Jks.”

In recent years and for a number of reasons – side projects took off and frontman Buthelezi left the band – the Blk Jks’s wave seems to have crested but a host of “brown bands” have emerged in the wake of their success. This is perhaps one of the least heralded contributions of the Blk Jks to South African popular culture – shifting the emphasis of the conversation from “freedom from” to “freedom to”. They sparked something of a revolution.

But that hasn’t stopped the Blk Jks from pushing boundaries and searching for new musical frontiers. For their next project they’ve linked up with like-minded musical mavericks the Brother Moves On to present “Blk Brother”. The idea was brokered when the two bands were billed for the same gig in Paris.

“We were hanging backstage and joking around about being foreigners in a strange land and how difficult it is for a line-up like this to happen. So we decided to promote and build this idea ourselves rather than wait for a promoter to come and step in,” says Mthembu. “It’s a no-brainier,” Mcata says about the collaborative project, adding that they worked on something similar in the past with Malian guitarist and singer Vieux Farka Touré and his band.

The first instalment of the Blk Brother not only features new compositions, the band will also be joined on stage by a number of musical compadres including Thandiswa Mazwai, Nonku Phiri, Moonchild Sanelly and João Orecchia from Motel Mari.

“For us it was vital,” Mthembu says in response to a question about why they decided to come together. “People love creating the idea that the Brother and the [Blk] Jks are competing for a space when in actual fact we reverberate from the same core. A core that is about music from this soil, celebrating its identity in the global space.” This then is what the revolution is about.

Blk Brother performs on Saturday, February 28 at Monchhihi, 23 Fox Street, Marshalltown, central Johannesburg

Subscribe to the M&G for R2 a month

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

And for this weekend only, you can become a subscriber by paying just R2 a month for your first three months.

Related stories

‘Abantu: Before Humans’: The BLK JKS tread new turf

The second album from BLK JKS captures the band’s strengths, weaknesses and sonic vision

Finding Your Niche with K.O

Rapper K.O speaks about his creative process, his intentions with Skhanda and South African hip hop losing its identity.

BLK JKS find life after robots

Their single blends Leraba’s famo vocals and nostalgic memories of the 2011 Hifa festival

Janet Jackson, Radiohead, The Cure enter Rock Hall of Fame

The inclusion of Janet Jackson comes as the Hall of Fame increasingly expands its definition of rock to include the likes of R&B

The new accordion cowboys

Morena Leraba and Kommanda Obbs draw upon deep roots in creating the new Sesotho sound

Queer fantasies flow seamlessly on ‘Hive Mind’

The Internet paints sonic pictures that communicate millennial romances through a mash-up of funk, neosoul, and trip-hop.

Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: Frank Chikane on the rainbow where colours never...

Reverend Frank Chikane has just completed six years as the chairperson of the Kagiso Trust. He speaks about corruption, his children’s views and how churches can be mobilised

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

More top stories

‘Where the governments see statistics, I see the faces of...

Yvette Raphael describes herself as a ‘professional protester, sjambok feminist and hater of trash’. Government officials would likely refer to her as ‘a rebel’. She’s fought for equality her entire life, she says. And she’s scared of no one

Covid-19 stems ‘white’ gold rush

The pandemic hit abalone farmers fast and hard. Prices have dropped and backers appear to be losing their appetite for investing in the delicacy

Al-Shabab’s terror in Mozambique

Amid reports of brutal, indiscriminate slaughter, civilians bear the brunt as villages are abandoned and the number of refugees nears half a million

South Africa’s cities opt for clean energy

Efforts to reduce carbon emissions will hinge on the transport sector

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…