“Raw, Otherworldly, & Surprising”: BLK JKS Roar from South Africa on “Abantu / Before Humans”, a singular second album
Back after 12 long years with ‘Abantu/Before Humans’, South Africa’s BLK JKS are many things at once – capturing the heart of punk, the fever of rock, the soul of Africa and the open-mindedness to jazz and art-rock in their jaw-dropping, jaw-dropping second album.
Stream: “Harare” – BLK JKS
It now feels like a time in our history as human beings where it would be good to remember that there was a time before humans.
IIt doesn’t seem fair to categorize BLK JKS into a single genre or style: the South African band are so many things at once, capturing the heart of punk, the fever of rock, the soul of Africa and the openness to jazz and art-rock in their music. Epic in the truest sense of the word, BLK JKS’ sophomore album is a jaw-dropping roller coaster of moving, cinematic sound: over a decade in the making (and well worth the wait), Abantu / Before humans effortlessly transcends continents and cultures delivering a set of songs that, above all, captures the dynamic and passionate artistry of this unprecedented phenomenon.
Released May 21, 2021 via Glitterbeat Records (Worldwide) and We Are Busy Bodies (North America), Abantu / Before humans arrived last spring as the highly anticipated second album from South African quartet BLK JKS. It is perhaps one of more long-awaited follow-ups to an acclaimed debut LP in modern memory, yet most music fans would be forgiven for not fully understanding Why it’s the case. Pronounced “Black Jacks”, the band currently consisting of bassist Molefi Makananise, trumpeter Tebogo Seitei, drummer Tshepang Ramoba and guitarist/vocalist Mpumelelo Mcata first gained international acclaim in the late 2000s,
They recorded their first EP in 2009 Mystery at Electric Lady Studios, and followed at the end of the year with After the robots, a critically acclaimed feature film that received praise from none other than Dave Grohl himself. All this and more has led to rolling stone declaring BLK JKS”Africa’s best new band“, and after a whirlwind of touring and appearances throughout 2010, the band retired in 2011.
While it’s not entirely fair to say that BLK JKS “then reappeared” ten years later, that’s the essence of this children’s comeback story – and a tale that the band itself is happy to accompany.
“With about 12 years between our first album and this second LP, I would say our outlook has changed,” Mpumelelo Mcata said. Atwood magazine“Never mind the fact that we lost a band member and our first real finishing pass! The record was stolen from the studio we built at the Soweto Theater – basically in many ways what we thought we could stylistically be our Child A has become our Love, and fortunately, I like these two albums in the same way.
Mcata pauses to do the math here, reflecting on “12 years condensed into 3 days of 6 hour studio sessions, 2 hours per song, 9 songs. The album is finished…it’s so fresh, it’s scary,” he says. “I don’t think I’ve ever listened to as much stuff as we recorded, so that’s new. [It’s] a reintroduction for me, of course.
Abantu / Before humans is the stylistic and conceptual “prequel” to After the robots, finding the group delving into questions of existence and belonging, purpose and meaning of life. “Tonally, it feels like our first pass at After the robots, and some of the songs and ideas are from that time or before,” says Mcata. “Also, the stories we tell and the way we tell them on this album [make this a fitting prequel] – take for example the start of this record relative to the start of our first record.
The term “Abantu” is the Zulu word for people; BLK JKS Hope Album Title Abantu / Before humans not only adds context for listeners, but encourages them to open their minds a bit and think more critically about this time in our species’ history.
“It was awful to be called that, just based on the aforementioned prequel qualities,” Mcata notes, “and of course now seems like a time in our history as human beings where it would be good to remember that there was a time before humans.
The album also comes with its own manifesto written on the cover: “A complete Obsidian Rock audio anthology fully translated and transcribed chronicling ancient spiritual technologies and exploits of prehistoric and post-revolutionary Afro bionics and sacred texts from the Great Arcane Book by Supernal 5th Dimension Bound 3rd Dynasty young Kushites from Azania.“
“There’s a lot of important information stored that needs to be restored or preserved in this kind of narrow sonic crevasse that we’re mining,” adds Mcata, doubling down on the urgency and activism of BLK JKS’ music.
Abantu / Before humans deserves to be fully felt from beginning to end: how else to discover the breathtaking inimitable singularity that is BLK JKS?
The world enters “Yela Oh!” and the adventurous nine-minute “Mmao Wa Tseba – Nare / Indaba My Children” is exhilarating and expansive, full of soaring solos and roaring drums, searing vocals and dramatic climaxes of charged emotion and radiant energy. “Running/Asibaleki” is unapologetic in its fervor and drive, with heart-pounding guitars and drums joined by a boldly expressive horn section; “iQ(w)ira – Machine Learning Vol 1.” churns with a darker sonic palette that quivers and shakes with undeniable gravity – a heavy, intense metallic weight.
“‘Yo-yo!’ is definitely one of my highlights on the record,” says Mcata, “just because after years we weren’t quite sure what to do with this little idea we had. It blew up precisely when we needed it. , lyrics and all! I could almost bring tears to my eyes just thinking about it. Lyrically, he cites the song “Human Hearts” as having one of his favorite lines:
I’ve seen it happen, to friends of mine, they see it in other people, but never in their own lives: we’ve become beasts.
Ultimately, Abantu / Before humans is a majestic and unique affair. BLK JKS are in a league of their own, marrying disparate worlds into an exciting arena where rock, jazz, punk, soul and other musical elements come together in a pan-African melting pot of influence and inspiration. Yet it’s not just the way they play that makes this South African band so special: their songs have great meaning. Vulnerable and intimate, yet so full of colorful passion and power, BLK JKS’ second feature holds nothing back as it puts the naked human spirit on full display in all its pain and richness, fracture and beauty.
We hope not to wait another twelve years to album three, but if we do, it will once again be worth the wait. Discover BLK JKS’ Abantu / Before humans via the link below, or listen wherever you access the music.
“I hope the album brings people closer to that human voice inside of themselves,” Mcata shares, “away from the noise of the modern world and all the algorithmic stuff that is capitalism. would like them to do. I hope this helps us all cope, helps us see, connect, live, and rock better.
Stream: ‘Abantu / Before Humans’ – BLK JKS
— — — —
Discover new music on Atwood Magazine
📸 © 2022