Following self-issued solo releases as Sumach and a mid-nineties period with Masters of the Universe, the first track credited as Gonjasufi was featured on Milan Records’ compilation, From LA With Love. Produced by The Gaslamp Killer and included on this debut album, Kobwebs exposed a growing audience of beat fanatics to the off-kilter acid warble of Sumach Valentine, now known as Gonjasufi. The compilation was also for many their first introduction to Flying Lotus, the LA beatsmith who invited Valentine to feature on his most recent long player, hooked him up with Steve Beckett from Warp, and offers guest production on A Sufi And A Killer.
The numerous producers don’t detract from the album’s solidarity though, with Gonjasufi’s fragile vocals, sometimes buried and sometimes screaming high above the mix, giving each of the nineteen tracks a cohesive thread. Mixed while bemushroomed through the same desk that Dilla used for Donuts, the abrasive fuzz that opens Kowboyz and Indians makes way for stirring Eastern wails, while the lilting swing of Change and delicate sway of Dust offer moments of serene introspection amidst the grating intensity of Stardustin’ and Suzie Q.
Gonjasufi’s croaky timbre is an unintended but gratefully received side effect of teaching yoga. Learning to project his voice from his stomach and holding several classes each day developed this gravelly tone. Scornful of yoga’s commodification by the West and clearly indebted to its transformative potential, the depth of Valentine’s spiritual practice is apparent throughout the album. A return to innocence is explored in Ageing: ‘As I’m getting older / I’m feeling so young / Breathing in the air / Life like just begun / Once a man / Twice a child,’ and the value of following one’s inner wisdom is laid out in Advice: ‘It’s your only life / So it’s only right / To take your own advice.’
Although the comparisons to late-period Coltrane are premature, A Sufi And A Killer holds up as a sincere document of self-transformation, complete with moments of relapse into carnal habit. Yogic practice has helped calm Valentine’s flagrant temper and in a recent interview he recounts the story of a man throwing a rock at his car window. Happily he tells how he shrugged the incident off, whereas in the past he might have reacted unpleasantly. In Sheep, he longs for this mild temperament: ‘I wish I was a sheep / Livin’ so humbly / Sympathetic with harmony’ then as the mood flips and the tempo gathers pace, he reverts to his former fearsome self: ‘I’m a lion / Feeding off the sheep that graze / I have everyone afraid / Roaming free so no-one’s safe’.
Although we’re warned that he’s ‘far from a fucking saint’, this debut album, like its creator, has an enticing warmth that seeps through the fog of its heady distortion and dirty haze.