There are uncanny similarities in names between God Sons and Daughter and Gypsy Sun and Rainbows. The latter is a short-lived post-Experience Jimi Hendrix experiment while the former is a post-BLK JKS Linda Buthelezi-fronted group that, since its debut in 2012, has remained enigmatic at best.
For their leaders, at least, both projects symbolised a return to Earth, after the space race of fame, having only partial control of their creative direction (or their senses) and the pre-packaged pyrotechnics of the three-minute rock song.
But of course, 1969-era Hendrix and post-2010 World Cup BLK JKS are worlds and philosophies apart, such that Buthelezi considers the comparisons merely a fortuitous coincidence.
After having fronted the BLK JKS for all of its existence, and then disappearing from public view, Linda Buthelezi informally released a clutch of songs under the moniker of God Sons and Daughter (Gsand) in 2012. The lineup then contained Sello Skhalo Montwedi, who had played drums for Sankomota, Spanish Fly on bass, Lady Sintu on saxophone and Buthelezi on vocals and guitar.
Buthelezi sung a large number of the material in isiZulu and, instead of the overwrought lyrics typical of JKS material, restricted himself to the cyclical repetition of a few phrases.
The shift was gargantuan. While being frontman of the JKS, Buthelezi sang to himself, more or less; obscuring his face at every opportunity and generally eschewing the showmanship associated with his role. In the roughly mixed songs he presented later, he sang with the air of a ghostly presence coming to stake his claim among the living. Buthelezi sang as if his whole being was propelled by the wind or some supernatural force, yelping for dear life while escaping the valley of the dead. Buthelezi only seemed to be after the emotional wellspring of the songs, reprising his lines for varying effect and relying less on fuzz and distortion towards that end.
After some sessions at the SABC and the buzz the dispersal of those songs generated, Buthelezi vanished again, leaving the rumour mill to speak on his behalf. There was talk of domestic violence and substance abuse, or as his former bandmates put it, not showing up for rehearsals.
In between the mayhem, there were shows. Sometime in 2014, a slightly off kilter Buthelezi showed up for a series of ramshackle acoustic shows that showed promise in reprising the material in the public domain but little else.
At the time, a woman named Buya Simonde purported to be his manager but even her enthusiasm netted little in actually locating Buthelezi outside of the furtive appearance. Indeed, after the BLK JKS, Buthelezi seemed to have acquired more phone numbers than songs.
The biggest change in his re-emergence, this time around, is that he is most confident about it. There is also a solid nucleus developing around the band as a revolving cast, including drummer Smash and the twin, interchangeable bassists Spanish and Trio Mofokeng.
At a recent show in Johannesburg, the awkward frontman was there, but there was also a quiet, knowing confidence. Smash, the drummer played a lot of deliberate rim shots, while bass player Trio burrowed deep into an incessant groove. The music had a hypnotic, haunting feel to it reminiscent of desert blues more than the raw, muscular power of the BLK JKS. Moreover, it seemed to be springing from a subconscious, as opposed to an intellectual place.
“We have recently realised that less is more,” says Buthelezi, hankering for a cigarette at a Westdene pub. “If you look at your James Browns and your Busi Mhlongos, they are [specialists in] one-liners. One-liners are really open because they no longer become one-liners, in a sense. Our formula right now is repetitiveness, and then letting it sit and stick.”
Smash says, “That’s why our songs are long because we are in search while doing the music.”
Buthelezi has been calling a recent cluster of shows the group has played The Xulu Diaries (pronounced Zulu), in reference to the guitar style he is exploring. “On a personal level they [the songs] are diaries to our daughters,” says Buthelezi. “What I really plugged into after the previous band, even up to today, is the Zulu style of guitaring. Of all the music that we have checked, it is really lopsided in terms of approach. They play feeling, hence them tuning their guitars to the vocal.” He counts Phuzekhemisi among his favourites, “not really in his style of guitaring but in his aura and presence. Busi Mhlongo’s Urban Zulu is quite visual for me as well.”
For all his fidgety demeanour in front of the microphone, Buthelezi was destined to being the centrepiece of any musical movement he partook in. He was pushed into singing by the BLK JKS’ initial bassist, Sifiso Khanyile, on the logic that his mother, the late Buhle Thembekile Buthelezi, “found herself in different choirs over the years.
“They used to have all-night things where they were just practising vocals. But it was my teen years when I decided to try this thing. If you listen to [our song] Strange Love, that is her vocal tone exactly. It’s a Busi Mhlongo vocal tone.”
Perhaps it’s her passing that has breathed new life into Buthelezi, who seems beyond the point of self-pity. “It’s not the decisions that you make, it’s how you stick by them that justifies the universe giving to you,” he says. “It’s not how I’ve hurt you, its how I apologise and how you receive that that makes matters greater and bigger.”
Whatever’s fuelling his fire, one hopes it never leaves, so he can write more songs, and overturn that phone number-to-song ratio.