If I had to describe Gonjasufi’s output over the last year in a single phrase—his music, appearance, quotes and so on—I would probably go for “under the influence”. And I’m not just refering to drugs but also to his mishmash of spiritual ideas and musical styles. From what I understand the guy is an ex-user, even though the music still sounds very stoned. For me, his almost dialectical take on drugs is an indication of some kind of inner struggle—one that clearly manifests itself on MU.ZZ.LE. It’s hard not to have the impression that this is a score to something semi-auto biographical; a would-be spiritual quest involving lots and lots of crate digging and various forms of psychedelicism.
But every album has—or at least should have—a story to tell. And sometimes that story is rooted in a mythical backstory, which is the artist’s persona as marketed by professional labels. My approximation of Warp’s biographical selling point for Gonjasufi’s first album is: “If Gonjasufi wouldn’t be making music, he’d be a killer.” In the past, appealing to listeners by scaring them has proven lucrative. MU.ZZ.LE marks the next chapter in the Gonjasufi story and is a vehicle for the artist’s intoxicated “wisdom”. The muzzle is usually a metaphor for concealing truth, which, of course, Gonjasufi cannot do. But “truth” certainly isn’t what the album conjures up for me.
Gonjasufi says that he doesn’t judge music by when it’s from or who made it—which explains his foundational eclecticism, combining golden age hip-hop with ragadriven Hindu music and Persian sounds. But African-American musical traditions seem to be at the album’s core: Sun Ra, Rammellzee, and On the Corner-era Miles Davis are maybe the best examples of the kind of retro afro-futurism MU.ZZ.LE radiates. Drexciya, Dopplereffekt, and Underground Resistance are also good comparisons—less because of the music and more because of the ideology. But I get the impression that even though he wants to follow in the footsteps of the great African-American truth tellers, his vanity and drug use somehow get in the way.
Gonjasufi produced MU.ZZ.LE on his own, which is maybe why it doesn’t sound as light on its feet and advanced as A Sufi and a Killer. As the title suggests, the latter was produced by friend and collaborator The Gaslamp Killer and had more lo-fi rock in it, as well as aspects of dubstep and hiphop. It also placed greater emphasis on sound design. With MU.ZZ.LE Gonjasufi plays with all of these aesthetics but generally gives them a rougher finish. It often feels like he’s preaching, which is underscored by the “street riot” megaphone effect on his voice.
Word has it that yoga brought Gonjasufi to a permanently higher state of mind. Born a Coptic Christian, he began studying the teachings of Islam before eventually turning to Sufism. Clearly, the man is on a journey. But he still seems to have a ways to go. ~
Alexandra Droener is a longstanding activist in the Berlin club scene and part of the dj team Sick Girls.
Gonjasufi – MU.ZZ.LE released on Warp Records, January 20th.
Full album stream below: