There’s plenty to scream about in this timeline. But what of those not being heard? What of those who, under the gravity of life, barely have room to breathe, let alone scream? We needn’t approach this as some sort of abstract lost-in-space metaphor; we don’t have to venture that far. It’s happening right here, on Earth, and has been since time immemorial.
This is the premise at the heart of Zulu’s latest EP My People…Hold On. A faithful offering to the gods of powerviolence – short, sharp bursts of distortion-tinged rage; a bone-shaking audible assault. But it’s not simply the songbed that makes My People…Hold On the heaviest record of the year – though that alone could have got it there – it’s the unblinking, unflinching dissection of a life under systematic and social oppression.
“I wanted to do a band that was in that powerviolence sort of thing,” Zulu main man Anaiah Lei tells Blunt Magazine of the band’s origin story. “Being from LA, it’s a big thing over here. I wanted to do something like that. Something sporadic, something that wasn’t traditional to hardcore standards.”
No doubt this is a common attraction for most to hitch their wagon to the genre – an inherently freeform explosion of organised aggression. However, from that point on, Zulu diverges from their genre’s largely homogenised milieu. With My People…Hold On, Anaiah has made the brutal reality of racial inequality the record’s centre piece.
Having clocked up some considerable hours writing, recording and performing music with various bands across Los Angeles, if there was anyone who could seamlessly alloy the subject matter to the sound, it was Anaiah.
He manned all the roles in the band from instruments to lyrics to production. Indeed, it’s his first time performing front and centre not only with a mic but with a guitar. But as a drummer, having absorbed the basics watching on from the back of the stage over the years, the instrumentality on My People…Hold On wasn’t the tough part. Instead, it was the challenge of condensing such a sprawling uncontainable issue into the pace that powerviolence demands.
“I wanted to have a project that was talking about being black. The toughest part was trying to figure out how I could fit it in a song that’s going to be, like, 30 seconds? How can I condense all this stuff that goes on? I only got a few lines, so you got to really make those lines count.”
Anaiah doesn’t feature on the record alone, with multiple spoken-word guest features, not to mention smooth jazz interludes and samples.
The record begins with a poem performed by Anaiah’s friend Aleisia Miller A.K.A Leelee, which speaks to the double-edged plight of Women of Colour, confronted by both racism and sexism. It is perhaps the most raw and chilling album opener from the powerviolence space, ever.
You can turn off your speakers, mid-track even, but there’s no silencing this message.
“She’s a great writer”, Anaiah says of Lili. “I didn’t even know what I wanted. I just was like, ‘It would be amazing if you were on an interlude or your voice was on it somehow saying something’. She came back with this amazing poem about being a black woman in this society. I was blown away. This has to be the first thing. The very, very first thing that’s on the record, straight out the gate, no playing around.”
Closing the record is another spoken word guest feature, this time by Anaiah’s mother. Left unpolished in its original voicemail format, there’s an unavoidable urgency, a palpable anxiety even, to its reality, in that it’s fucking real. “It’s something that if you weren’t black, your parents probably didn’t tell you. But if you were black, you probably heard this exactly.”
Anaiah continues: “She just said what she said, stuff that I heard growing up. Stuff that a kid shouldn’t have to hear coming out from their parents, but it’s just some real life stuff about survival and about knowing we live in a place where you are judged how you look and you got a target on you. And that’s scary, but that’s the reality of it.”
Obviously My People…Hold On isn’t a form of escapism. That was never the point. It aggressively addresses the real world issue of racism. But at the end of the day, Anaiah is a musician, not an educator. “I don’t think you should look towards the black people to be educated on being a decent person and knowing about our struggle. But I’m still going to talk about myself. I’m going to talk about the people around me and have them talk about themselves too.”
“These topics aren’t new at all. I tell it every time someone asks me about it. I’m just like, “Yo, we can talk about music. We can talk about all that. But the content of the lyrics and stuff…that’s been happening.”
“I can’t say I’m mad at that because I’m glad. Some people just literally aren’t exposed to this stuff. You know what I mean?”
My People…Hold On by Zulu is out now.