BLK JKS: Hometown Heroes take Center Stage at the World Cup
Like most boys growing up in Johannesburg, the members of experimental-rock quartet BLK JKS once imagined making soccer their profession. “For any kid in South Africa, Africa—or, I guess, anywhere in the world—to be a sportsman or a musician or a superhero is the way to go,” says guitarist Mpumi Mcata. “These are the things you dream of, the things you want to do.”
But as “professional athlete” and “caped crusader” began looking like unrealistic career options, the would-be footballers turned their attention toward music. Earlier this summer, they combined at least two of their early ambitions, playing the opening concert for the 2010 World Cup, on June 10 in their hometown, joining Black Eyed Peas, Alicia Keys, John Legend, Angelique Kidjo and Amadou & Mariam.
For many South Africans, hosting the ultimate soccer tournament means more than the promise of economic stimulation or a boost to the nation’s infrastructure. The country was expelled from most international athletic competition because of apartheid, but since the national team stopped segregating in 1992, South Africa has made up for lost time. They qualified for the 1998 and 2002 World Cups, and won the African Nations Cup, which they hosted in ’96.
“It’s hard not to look at it romantically and politically in a grand fashion,” Mcata says. “For a young nation, it’s like the stamp on the idea of progress and the fact that we’ve worked our way into being the so-called first world. It’s kind of the cherry on top, but it of course doesn’t mean it’s the end of our problems.”
For the four musicians of BLK JKS, each from a different South African tribe, there’s a personal parallel to this feeling of arrival—they’ve already made an impact playing music, but nothing compared to the World Cup stage. “We’re so young and we’ve been working at it for a while,” says Mcata. “This is, we feel, our biggest moment.”
And for that moment, they have “Zol!,” a song that could become a national rallying cry. The title track of their new EP, it’s an ecstatic call-and-response tune based on a traditional street rally. “When that song happened, we were in Paris and kind of missing home,” Mcata says. “As usually happens when you’re away from home, you sing struggle songs from the revolution or traditional songs to remember home. This song, we sang while we were there, on the tour buses. We want to preserve or document—things like that shouldn’t go by. It was a song for the people by the people, and we felt like it should be put down because it hasn’t been before.”