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Introducing ZULU And The Importance Of Representation In The Alternative Music Scene

The powerviolence band ZULU is reclaiming its well deserved space in the hardcore music scene.

ZULU photographed by Austin Durant

We will never cease to address the importance of representation as it is a necessary aspect in building the formation of an individual from a very young age.

When it comes to visual arts and music, representation very often tends not to differ and expand as it mainly focuses on solely one type of identity. This identity then becomes rooted in mainstream society, taking over every aspect of media and communication.

This issue goes back to the beginning of arts as a form of expression in the Western society, where people of color were never really represented publicly despite their undeniable contribution to historical movements and events throughout the centuries.

It is imperative to call this an historical erasure of mostly marginalized communities.

A very obvious example of this historical erasure it’s the history of rock and roll music, a genre in which often persists the idea that black participation is some sort of novelty or anomaly.

Photo by Matt's Music Mine

Evolved in the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s, rock and roll is a genre of music originating from Deep South black American music such as gospel, jump blues, jazz, boogie woogie, rhythm and blues from the early 1920s.

The main pioneers of the genre are Little Richard himself, a young Ike Turner, Bo Diddley, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Chuck Berry.

"There wasn't nobody playing it at the time but black people — myself, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry. White kids started paying more attention to this music, white girls were going over to this music, they needed somebody to come in there — like Elvis." - Little Richard told Time in 2001.

The genre became more and more popular and white musicians started adopting the sound and soon made it their own. The racial segregation and discrimination at the time played a big part in white musicians taking over rock n roll as their music was not banned from radios and tv shows like their counterpart black musicians. They could also travel all over the States to perform live without any worries of being persecuted just for existing.

In fact, when Elvis Presley appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, rock n’ roll was never really a Black art form again.

Photo by Slam Jameson

Soon, within only 20 years, black people in rock had become outliers and to this day black people have been so thoroughly erased from rock that it’s even considered “white music” by our own community.

“The night Jimi died, I dreamed this was the latest step in a plot being designed to eliminate blacks from rock music so that it may be recorded in history as a creation of whites. Future generations, my dream ran, will be taught that while rock may have had its beginnings among blacks, it had its true flowering among whites. The best black artists will thus be studied as remarkable primitives who unconsciously foreshadowed future developments.” - Margo Jefferson in Harper’s Magazine (1973)

Thankfully the creation of punk music in the early 70s brought back the spirit of rebellion and community which gave birth to a wide array of black alternative bands that kept the spirit going to this very day.

Bands such as Bad Brains, Pure Hell, Death, Bam Bam are the forefathers of all black punk musicians in the 21st century and we were able to talk with some of the new incredible talents that represent this movement by keeping it alive and strong.

Photo by Nich Santana

The band Zulu is a powerviolence band from Los Angeles who is taking the world by a storm with their hardcore and “in your face” straightforward message.

They have been touring throughout the USA gaining immense respect and recognition from all over the country while creating a safe space for all the black kids that have been waiting for this for a long time, whilst keeping their message open wide to any type of demographics and culture.

This is exactly what music is supposed to be; a safe space for everyone to enjoy and come together while sharing a positive energy, and Zulu definitely never fails to do so.

In the year 2020, the band released their latest EP “My People… Hold On” via Flatspots Records and it is a 5 song fast project containing strong empowering and relatable messages for black folks.

We discussed with Braxton, the band lead guitarist who gave us an incredible in-depth point of view of the scene, what brought the band together and the constant “pressure” of representation.

Photo by @cuhhrissee

What's the story behind the band name Zulu? Back in 2018/19 we were brainstorming names and the idea of a one word band name stuck with us. Anaiah chose the name because when you think of the word “Zulu” you automatically think of something Black. I can’t exactly speak for him but that’s my interpretation.

Tell us about your backgrounds, where do you come from, and what brought you together? Well as far as I’m concerned, musically I grew up loving glam, jazz fusion, blues and funk but when it came to aggressive music I always loved thrash, death metal grindcore and punk. I live in an area of Southern California called the Inland Empire and I would always go to metal and punk shows in high school. It was my love for all the crazy genres that led me to random hardcore shows in LA and being amongst the only Black people there at the shows, Anaiah and I met and after 2 years of knowing each other, he approached me with the idea for Zulu.

When did you start playing guitar and who was your biggest inspiration? I started playing guitar seriously back in high school! My dad had a guitar laying around and throughout the years I dabbled but it wasn’t until high school where I started taking it seriously. My dad was a big inspiration for me because I picked it up from him. As I started developing my style, I grew very fond of Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Prince! Dimebag Darrel, Slash, Randy Rhoads and Warren DeMartini were also big favorites of mine.

Do you remember the first time you ever saw someone like yourself, on stage or on screen, and do you remember how that made you feel? It started when my dad showed me Jimi Hendrix. I was probably 5 or 6 and that had a lasting impact on me. As I got older, seeing Prince, Sly Stone, Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy and Living Colour also made me feel as if anything was possible.

Photo by @cuhhrissee

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened on tour? Maybe it’s escaping me right now but I can’t really think of anything too crazy on the Zulu tours just yet. A lot of crazy stuff happens but nothing out of the ordinary for us.

What is your favorite song to perform live? My favorite songs to play live are “ I Sit Alone In My Four Cornered Room Staring At Candles,” Things Ain't Gonna Change” and “52 Fatal Strikes.”

How would your bandmates describe you and your work ethic? Everyone knows I just wanna play music and party on tour but ultimately they all know I have my priorities in order. There have been times where I’ve walked to practice or taken $100+ Ubers just to get to shows so when it comes down to it, I’m definitely dedicated. On top of it all, I’m in several other bands and always make the time for Zulu.

Who would you most like to collaborate with? I really wanna do stuff with Death Grips! I feel like it’s definitely possible at some point.

As a black punk-hardcore band of this new generation, how do you navigate reclaiming your deserved space in a genre that it’s still widely white-dominated? I don’t even know where to start with this one. It's definitely an uphill battle. At some points I just want to give up because of the utter lack of respect from my peers and “allies” in these spaces. People will claim to be allies but will exemplify some of the most anti-Black behavior I’ve ever seen. I navigate through all the negativity and disrespect and just continue to be positive and put on for my community. At this stage in my life I don’t care about dressing or acting the part because I’ve been involved in metal, grind and punk for 12 years so I can emphatically take up as much space as I want.

Photo by @cuhhrissee

Tell me about your best performance: Personally my favorite performance was in San Jose, California this past summer. We had only played like 5 shows as a band before that and we headlined in the bay after not playing a show for over a year. It was the first show since the pandemic restrictions were a little more lenient and there was just a different feeling in the air that day.

Tell me about your worst performance: I honestly don’t want to say but it was rather recent and all the band members would probably agree. Some things weren’t really in tune but we still killed it and had fun. Close friends of ours were wondering why we were bummed out backstage and told us that they saw nothing wrong with the set and that the crowd was going absolutely nuts regardless.

Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians:

My advice for aspiring musicians is please don’t give in to the negativity. Some people will smile in your face as if they’re your friend but in actuality will have nothing positive to say about you when you’re brought up to other people. Trust me, I know. And also don’t forget to stay humble because I’ve seen way too many guys in bands think they’re the coolest person on earth and completely forget to treat people with respect and common courtesy.

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