Sumach Ecks aka Gonjasufi is an interesting character, to say the least. The rapper/singer/producer saw his first real taste of widespread attention after appearing on the track “Testament” from Flying Lotus‘s first full-length after signing to Warp Records, Los Angeles. Ecks‘ warbling vocals were made for the track, gently brushing the thick warm bass tones, buoying through the smooth syrupy beat. His weathered voice possessed a quality not unlike that of Billie Holiday, yet equally unique. From that simple contribution alone, It was clear Sufi had something special to offer and the artist would soon himself with a record deal of his own from the UK label known for turning out seminal work from legendary electronic powerhouses like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher.
2 years later, Warp released A Sufi And A Killer. Sumach‘s debut, which featured a liberal amount of production work by The Gaslamp Killer, showcased an endless number of sounds pastiched together in a manner that was infinitely intriguing and equally as difficult to categorize. Less song-based than a presentation of one beautifully crafted vignette after another, the album was dreamy, psychedelic, gut wrenching, and sentimental, all at once. Smoky crackling blues, lo-fi eastern melodies, sensual grooves accented by hallucinogenic tracers, spaced-out disco-funk, pulsating blips, and lean-soaked hip hop beats all melded together into something that, collectively, was not quite like anything else. Front and center was Ecks‘s chameleonic vocal style. His ability to adapt and take on the colors of any beat in front of him is so fluid and organic that it can only be second nature; something that he feels with his entire being. Enveloped by sound, Gonjasufi existed within those tracks as if the music itself was swaddling him like a pupa growing directly out of his heart chakra. At once both abrasive and soothing, regardless of what he’s singing about or how he’s delivering it, his voice never loses that trademark grit that rests just below the epidermis.
A Sufi And A Killer was quickly followed by a remix album, which was then followed by the free 4-song/9-minute, The 9th Inning EP, the following year. The mini album, MU.ZZ.LE, came after that, in 2012, and featured Ecks taking the production on solo, while moving into what he described as a darker more personal direction and turning to slightly less “experimental” song structures. In 2013, he had 2 songs featured on a split 7-inch with Ras G, but for the most part, it’s pretty much been crickets, while fans wait not so patiently for the followup. Next month, that wait should be officially over. His new full-length, CALLUS, is slated to hit shelves in late August. And if MU.ZZ.LE was supposed to be darker and more personal, this one looks primed to out do it on both fronts.
Like I said, Gonjasufi is an interesting cat. If you attempt to look up interviews with him, you’re likely to find a rough looking character with an unkempt beard and dreadlocks expounding upon any number of subjects from extraterrestrials to basic terrestrial human interactions and everything in between. A surfer and yoga instructor, he’s on a hunt for basic truths as much as the profound. What minor details you learn about him will likely have to be cobbled together from whatever he lets slip, while attempting to express who he really is on a much more abstract and deeper level — you’ll just have to genuinely listen and let go of whatever questions you have to get an idea of what that means. What I’ve gathered is that he’s both a human and a conduit for knowledge beyond himself (as we all are). He’s a man that loves his children. He seems like someone that respects beauty and innocence at it’s core and, very well, might be willing to crack you with a lead pipe to protect it. He’s an animal engaged in a battle between the extremes of his own inherent nature (as we all are). He’s somebody that doesn’t really want to explain himself in layman’s terms, because, to him, the purpose of creating this art isn’t for his own ego, but so that others may use it to feel something and understand themselves.
Of course, this is just my impression. His press releases are, often, the opposite of those abstract tangential interviews that I’ve seen; typically, just a few relevant details and that’s it. With the latest for Callus, Ecks offers up the following insights.
“That’s the callus. How can you not be in pain? It ain’t about getting past that shit. It’s about growing into it.”
“I peeled through all these layers to get to the core.” “I channeled all the misunderstanding and misery and torment—that’s what it is, torment—into this.”
In the past, Sufi has spoken about the importance of running straight into anything that scares him. That’s a approach that requires embracing a certain level of aggression and, I would imagine, a semi-regular recalibration of emotion, if not simple regular maintenance to ones mind state. From what he says in the press release, this appears to be his next step in his own personal evolution as an individual on this plane, not simply as it pertains to being a recording artist. If anything, the music that comes out of it is just a byproduct, the soundtrack to that process. Fortunately, for those who’ve been waiting 6 years for the next proper Gonjasufi studio album, Ecks just happened to hit record.
Here, listen to this doomy sample of what’s to come in the form of the first new single, “Maniac Depressant.”