I love heavy music. And as someone who is far from a genre purist, I love heavy music that experiments with the “hardcore” label. Music that challenges what hardcore can be is extremely special to me.
I’ve talked about bands that subvert the archetype of “hardcore” before. In November of 2023, I covered Agabas, a band that blends the chaos of metal with jazz.
This week, I’m covering a band that not only fuses genres, but is doing groundbreaking work to elevate the Black community in the hardcore scene.
The Future of Hardcore
Zulu is a black-fronted hardcore punk band from Los Angeles. Formed by multi-instrumentalist Anaiah Lei, the band takes a leaf out of the powerviolence playbook, presenting a raw and aggressive distillation of hardcore punk.
What makes Zulu different from other hardcore acts, however, are the samples of funk, soul, reggae and spoken word woven into their music.
For example, the track “For Sista Humphrey” features a heavy guitar-drum duo and guttural vocals before abruptly transitioning into a soft soul melody. In “52 Fatal Strikes,” rage gives way to serenity as a brief classical instrumental jumps in.
While the contrast sounds jarring, it works.
By injecting black-pioneered genres into their music, Zulu imbues their sound with a distinct and unwavering identity. This is especially important when one considers that Zulu’s lyricism is all about elevating Blackness and empowering Black individuals.
You see tension, aggression
I see peace
Black joy is divinity“Our Day is Now” – Zulu
However, as Lei said in an interview with Kerrang! in 2022, the band’s connection to Black culture shouldn’t stand as their only defining feature.
“…when it comes to bringing in a band where all of us are Black, that is an important thing but also people make it a lot bigger than it is,” Lei said. “I guess only because it’s not the norm, and that is what’s the issue. It should be very normal.”
Zulu’s central aim, according to Lei, is to experiment freely within the scene and create a space for others to do the same.
“The one thing I wanted to do with this project was be myself entirely,” Lei said.
Both EPs feature a melange of rigorous hardcore interspersed with samples from speeches, spoken word, rap, soul music and other historically Black genres.
Zulu’s first full-length album, “A New Tomorrow,” came out in 2023. The album features several singles the band released in 2022 and early 2023.
The album’s opening track, “Africa,” features a bright classical arrangement before the proceeding track, “For Sista Humphrey,” fades in with a hellish guitar and vocals. A similar pattern continues throughout the album, with hardcore tracks contrasted with peaceful, slow-moving melodies.
Thematically, this poses an interesting narrative. As the band’s lyricism suggests, this contrast illustrates the dual narratives surrounding Blackness: the imposition of an aggressive, violent nature versus the reality of peace, community and creativity.
I’m looking forward to seeing the direction of Zulu’s future projects
and seeing them live, since I missed their last live show.