Oct. 26 2012 12:00 AM

San Diego-bred singer talks about yoga, the MPC, Elvis Presley's ghost, and more

Photo by Alex Rapada
Sumach Ecks, aka Gonjasufi, has a remarkable voice. When he raps, he sounds like he'll rip your head off. When he sings, he's like a wise elder speaking via satellite from another planet. In an hour-long phone interview, he launches into energetic monologues and lets expletives fly, only to suddenly become solemn and serious. ---

Born and raised in Chula Vista and now living in Las Vegas, Ecks has gained notoriety across the globe since Warp Records released his critically-acclaimed 2010 album, A Sufi and a Killer. In the time since, he's been reaching out to many of his old friends from San Diego, hatching plans to reissue long-lost gems by artists like rapper Orko Eloheim via Ecks' own label, A1R.

Gonjasufi recently went on tours of Europe and the U.S. with local duo Skrapez, and he's playing in San Diego for the first time in a while at Kava Lounge on Saturday. In time for the show, I talked with him about managing his anger with yoga, falling in love with the MPC sampler, and being haunted by Elvis Presley, among other things.

You just got back from a 10-date U.S. tour. How did it go?

It was hectic, man. I've never been through the South and through the Midwest and shit, so it was an eye opener. In some parts, man, it felt like the 1800s. Driving through that land, you can sense a lot of ghosts just lingering. It's beautiful countryside, but as far as the energy, it's just kinda haunted. Like, we had a show in Memphis, man, in Elvis' drug den.

Is that what the venue was called?

I forget what it was called, but it was in Memphis. It was a drug den. I ended up getting dragged out of the venue by the promoters, by the owners of the bar. I got back into the hotel; I was chilling with Psychopop [a member of Skrapez] and I asked him, ‘I wonder if Elvis was in the building.' As soon as I said that, the light bulb went out, man. It just shot out [makes popping sound]. And from that moment on, I could just feel like Elvis was trying to fuckin' follow me or some shit, and like ask me to tell God [to] let him into the Kingdom of Heaven or some crazy shit. And since I'm back in Vegas, every single day I've been driving my car, these Elvis songs keep fuckin' popping up on the radio.
That's crazy!

Yeah, bro. Some crazy shit.

Wait, so why did you get dragged out of the venue?

This is what happened: When I performed, I kicked the mic stand down. I guess I broke the mic stand, so the sound man came up to me, was pissed, tried to tell me I had to pay for the mic stand. I told him, ‘Show me the mic stand.' He set it up. I said, ‘Well, what's wrong with it?' He said it's tilted to the side. And I said, ‘Fuck that mic stand, man, I'm not paying for shit.' Then I grabbed the mic stand, threw it back on the ground. The bartender grabbed a pool stick and started swinging at me. The crazy shit about that was, when they dragged me out, everyone that was in the crowd-the few people that were there, sitting down-applauded while they dragged me out of the venue. It was humiliating, man. I couldn't believe it.

What made you think it was Elvis' drug den?

It was, man. That was his old drug den. They actually had a picture of Elvis above the bar, kneeling with some Shaolin monks. You can tell he's all wasted in the picture.

When you played in the South, did the audience come to the show knowing what to expect? Were they fans?

They were fans. I don't know what they expect anymore, man, to be honest with you. I think anyone that's listening to my music at this point-[who] has been listening to it from the first time I dropped on Warp-pretty much knows that you show up and expect anything from me. The first couple years, that's what I had to deal with. Dealing with a lot of peoples' disappointment because I didn't fulfill their expectations as a yogi. People don't really understand the concept of yoga. They get offended when they hear me cursing. When they see my intensity, they mistake it as anger and hatred. They don't understand that I use the yoga in order to keep me grounded-that I'm really just a wild card. Yoga has kept me from retaliating, like at that Memphis spot. You know, as soon as I got outside… I thought, go to the nearest-get some gasoline, pour some gasoline. I was going to light that shit up. And I really thought, ‘This thing deserves to be burnt to the fucking ground.' These are the voices going on inside my head. But then, because of the yogi in me, I said, ‘Nah, we're chill.'

With a lot of your music, there's a tension between violence and peace. Like in that song "Sheep," which has the line: "I wish I was a sheep / Instead of a lion." Did you have that internal intention in mind when you wrote those lyrics?

That's pretty much what I was going through and still going through-trying to tame the lion in me, finding more humility and compassion for others. This is my personal account, but [there's] like two voices going on in me. There's this one that's in my head that's just hard to fucking control that just goes and says the craziest fucking shit ever. And then there's another one in my heart. So I'm trying to completely get rid of this voice in my fucking head, man, and just listen to the voice in my heart. And that's what that story is about, silencing that voice in my head and letting the lion out of my heart.

When I hear you sing, it sounds like you've really lived, like you've gone through some hard stuff. When you started singing, did you realize you had this special voice, or was it something you worked on developing?

I've always heard that what you call a special voice-because it is a special voice, and it's this voice that I'm hearing in my heart. And then I've heard this other fucking voice trying to convince me that what I'm hearing in my heart isn't special. So it's just getting in touch with my heart and speaking from that space.

Is there anything spiritual you're trying to channel when you sing?

Just truth, man. Honesty, man. Pure honesty. Honesty is pure, and the mistake is to see what's honest and judge it for what you think it should've been, what the truth should've been, and think it's unpure because it's not painted in fucking rainbow colors. It's OK to knock over the bottles and kick the fucking speaker out. Don't be afraid of that. That's part of the joy, you know what I'm saying? Nature does that. Nature sends floods and tornadoes and rips shit out the fucking ground and throws it across the plain, because she has to do that. So, you know, it's only natural.

When you were rapping under the name Sumach, how did you get your beats? The beats on the rap records you put out, in the years before A Sufi and a Killer came out, are something else. I don't know where they came from, but they're pretty cool.

[laughs] That's funny. Thank you, G. I don't fucking know, man-just fucking smashing on my shit. We plug some fucking cords in, making sure the shit is on red, press record, and just taking the credit. I love that shit, man.

Were you just making beats with the MPC?

Yeah, man. My MPC-she never turns off. I just keep her on, man. There's, like, a love affair going on between us. I'll beat the shit out of her. You know, you want to hit your girl, I'll just BAP BAP! Pound the shit out that shit, man, and if some beautiful shit comes out, then I'm like, ‘OK.' Sometimes I'm mad at her. We won't talk for a week. Even a month will go by, and I just look at her with disgust like, fuckin', ‘Get away from me.' I go pick up my drum set and get my sticks and make love to those.

Most listeners know your for your singing. Have you been working on any rap lately?

Fuck yeah, bro. Me and [Kennuf] Akbar [aka Aki Kharmicel, a San Diego hip-hop artist] have been working on fucking heat for fucking years, man. We got a vault of records that are ready, man.

Right now, I'm digging through my old era sessions that I did, like '99 to 2001 of me and Complex shit when I was in Chula Vista, before he got locked up. That shit, bro, is the hardest fucking shit I've done. Even today I feel like, How the fuck did I do that shit? I feel like throwing my MPC and breaking the fucker when I hear that shit, 'cause I'm like, You're not even working anymore! So I'm having fun, trying to find these CDs and old sessions and shit, and two-track mix these fuckers, because it's the sound.

When I hear my shit, my old shit, to me I feel like, Fuck, that's the fucking sound I've been looking for. Isn't that crazy? Holy fuck! That's fucking crazy! That's some crazy shit. That's why I go to all these artists I know [from] that era, and go, Give me all that shit right now. Just give it to me. Trust me. Let me put that shit out. Watch what the fuck happens. It's back to the future.

Gonjasufi plays with Crimekillz, Skrapez and Batwings at Kava Lounge on Saturday, Oct. 27. More info here. This interview has been edited for length.


See all events on Friday, Oct 21