Forget all that Josh Homme, Arctic Monkeys desert rock stuff; Gonjasufi is the desert, sand runs in his veins. How do I know this? Simple: He lives in a cave, in the Mojave Desert on the outskirts of LA, but he’s only ventured onto the strip once!
Ok so I made a bit of that up. He probably doesn’t live in a cave, but that’s the great thing about Gonjasufi and his story; it’s got just enough of the mad and the mystery to let your imagination run, and let’s face it who doesn’t like a good rock and roll legend? Legend in the fairy tale sense that is, I think I’ll save judgement on the legend status until after the show.
By the time I turned up the main room was packed, there was anticipation in the air. The kind of anticipation that only comes from an audience buzzing, in the knowledge that this is a one off; they are the chosen few who get to witness the special “Live Show”. On to the stage stepped a man, with a tape recorder no less. After a quick nod to the sound man he went into some elaborate mime work, praying to the crowd, a waft of frankincense wouldn’t have felt out of place. The tape started to play, bursting the sounds of ‘Bharatanatyam’, the album’s introduction. Right about now I’m thinking “this is special”. From there sadly I think the whole experience went downhill, what looked set to be a show deteriorated into essentially just a gig. That sounds like a strange thing to say, sure I can appreciate that, but the songs and the performance bore no relation to the album. The set-up, with bass, drums, guitar, tried to strip the songs back to a more rock orientated core, an odd decision possibly for an artist whose body of work is based more on hip-hop and African influences.
The set was all improvised intros and punk guitar riffs, the songs bearing no relation to their recorded counterparts. Let’s take a second here to look at a couple of ideas. The first is general, there is of course the school of thought that a song is never finished, that it’s always a work in progress evolving as its performer does, a recording being just a snapshot in time. Sounds good sure, but not for an artist who only has one barely toured album. The second is this: that in the case of Gonjasufi it’s the album which is a mis-representation of him, being over-produced by the likes of Gaslamp Killer and Flying Lotus. This is possibly alluded to in the album title; A Sufi and A Killer. Gonjasufi and Gaslamp Killer perhaps?
Right; now I’m going to lay it down, neither of these arguments holds with me. With just one album out – that album is the reason people are here – it’s that body of work that has gotten people interested in Gonjasufi, that’s gotten people to buy tickets and come down to the show, no one is here because they think “ahh Gonjasufi is back, I wonder what he’s up to?” Some artists are at that stage in their career, Gonjasufi may well be there himself in a few albums time, but my point is he’s not there yet!
There was quite a lot of crowd interaction throughout the gig, with Gonjasufi constantly asking what people wanted to hear, the resounding answer always ‘Cowboys and Indians’. Sadly what people were here to hear and experience as I’ve already mentioned didn’t seem to match up with what the band on the stage were there to play. In the same way as all the sounds and style that brought the crowd here were omitted from the set, so too was the song everyone was calling for. Why? Who knows?
The end of the set was a big improvement on the rest, the more interesting sounds came out and Gonjasufi’s undeniably incredible voice came to the fore, but it was too little too late. The whole thing seemed a bit self indulgent to me. Personally it wasn’t really what I wanted to see, I’m sure I’ve made that pretty clear, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. Gonjasufi isn’t an artist you just stumble upon, for most people it takes years of accumulating musical tastes to appreciate his style, it’s not the kind of gig you see loads of sweaty teenagers at. The problem with that is that everyone in the room will have taken a different musical journey to get there. People like me who come at it from a more rock-based background can kind of appreciate it, but it definitely doesn’t work for everyone in the room.
There is a massive epidemic in music at the moment, which owes a lot to the 90’s dominance of guitar and rock bands, of a “live show” consisting of guitar, bass, drums et al. This is a lingering “tradition” that it appears that many of the new innovative artists coming through now appear to be struggling to work within. Until people start to have a serious re-think about what it can mean to be a “live show” reviews like this will continue to be written. Reviewers will continue to say that the gigs were ok, but just a bit dull. Gonjasufi is an interesting guy and for as long as he keeps producing interesting records I’ll keep listening, but until he can work out how to give people what they want live he has a big gaping hole in his arsenal.