Gonjasufi GonjasufiThe Caliph's Tea Party
As I have this new release, “The Caliph’s Tea Party” (don’t get confused; it’s not a new Gonjasufi album but a collection of “A Sufi And A Killer” (2010) remixes), in front of me, I think it’s the perfect time to refresh our memory about that admirable original album. How strange it still sounds! True, it’s a recent record, only released in April, but I seem to remember it from much longer ago. Why that is, I honestly don’t know. No other contemporary album takes me on the mental voyage this one does (except maybe “Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age”, last year’s joint effort of Broadcast and The Focus Group) which might be why it sounds like a different era: because it’s raw material also come from another time, from a golden age of psychedelica that The Gaslamp Killer and Flying Lotus have been able to skilfully put together in order to create the bases the mystic heterodox had at his disposal. Gonjasufi, as is widely known, is a kind of spiritual globetrotter and poet with a beggar’s voice and a spiritual leader-like message over rhythmic constructions built from old psych-rock, dub and ethnic music samples. It’s a different world and therefore in my head it could be an ancient world, because not all heads work the same. To you it may sound futuristic, or it might horrify you. The reaction, whatever it is, is what all different records achieve.
This reflection is what made me understand why I don’t really connect with “The Caliph’s Tea Party”. The original material is so singular that, when it’s touched, it loses its virtues. To remix is to touch, touch deeply until something changes from top to bottom: many times modernising it, sometimes re-contextualising it. But Gonjasufi’s album should be kept in a display cabinet, out of reach of light and air. To remix it is to denature it. This album is also how the same original could have sounded had other producers worked with the man. Gonjasufi’s impact would probably not have been the same. He would have been perceived as an eccentric or a crazy person, but he wouldn’t have been signed by Warp, possibly. It’s not that the remixes are bad, but they offer an incomplete version of the Gonjasufi I admire. For me, hearing his Tom Waits-like broken voice is not enough. What I want is that voice with those chunks of heavy and surreal psychedelica that suit it so well. For example: “She’s Gone”, remixed by Oneohtrix Point Never. The voice is reduced to a filtered grumble, the musical accompaniment is turned into a kind of pseudo-jazzy prog-rock with guitars that could come from an Air record: I don’t hear any OPN here, it sounds like something resembling his other project, Games– nor do I hear Gonjasufi. And it sounds very good, make no mistake, but it doesn’t sound like the oasis that is “A Sufi And A Killer”. The foundation has been removed entirely and restored with more recognisable patterns: Bibio makes it funky ( “Candylane”), Dam Mantle makes it dubsteppy ( “Ageing”), MRR and Shlomo make it hip-hoppy ( “Holidays”, “Change”), Bear In Heaven make it synth-poppy ( “Love Of Reign”). In some cases, the original mystery wants to be prolonged with unnerving ambient developments or by distorting the voice so that it’s even more terrible than it already was, or by looking at the intoxicating beatmaking of The Gaslamp Killer. But it doesn’t amount to a new Gonjasufi record – it amount to simply “another record” with a very similar preacher’s voice.
So my advice is: forget about the original and listen to this one without the other one in mind. There’s no other solution. Then “The Caliph’s Tea Party” will change and get better. It turns into another rarity separated from the present on which the en vogue producers, beatmakers with swing and a carefully selected set of lysergic and dreamy samples help to define a new type of urban blues. Its impact isn’t devastating nor does it beat every other record, but it’s a good start to this scrapping and rebuilding operation. Although there is one moment where the real Gonjasufi comes to the surface: when Broadcast & The Focus Group (of course!) remix “The Caliph’s Tea Party”, working the rhythms as if they were affected by time, with oriental melodies, pauses, sounds from nature, progressive folk and baroque music, and creating the same unusual effect: that of being transported to an alternative, ancient reality where different musical rules and aesthetics apply. The rest of the remixes are very good and give form to a record that is an adventure in the margins of the present electronic music, but what Broadcast & The Focus Group is the experience of the perfect surreality, which is really the only thing to which this record owes it’s right to existence.
Richard EllmannGonjasufi - Candy Lane (Bibio Remix)