Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

Ceremonial Worship: Gonjasufi’s Favourite Records

Before the singer, DJ and producer releases his third album, Callus, this week, he talks to Elizabeth Aubrey about the 13 songs and albums that have had the biggest impact on his life, emotionally and spiritually

Having carefully checked UK-USA time differences, I start my telephone interview with California-based Sumach Ecks, better known as Gonjasufi, feeling a little worried. I begin with an enthusiastic, "How are you?" before Ecks wearily tells me he’s "tired and shit". I panic, thinking I’ve got the time zones wrong and that 7pm in Manchester is in fact 3am in Joshua Tree, California. Thankfully, I’ve got them right and his tiredness is not down to my ineptitude. "I’m always tired… I’m just talking to my wife and I’m wondering if I’m dying and shit." Having seen that two of Ecks’s Baker’s Dozen choices are about artists reflecting on death, I now start to worry about the cheery and apparently entirely inappropriate questions I have planned.

Happily, this is a light-hearted joke and it turns out that the tiredness is nothing to do with either time differences or death, but in fact the exhaustion after spending four hard years working on his new album, Callus, the follow-up to the acclaimed A Sufi And A Killer from 2010 and MU.ZZ.LE, two years later. And as if making a new album wasn’t exhausting enough, Ecks and his wife are also expecting another child in just a few weeks. It’s no wonder he’s tired.

"It was exhausting making the record, man. It was probably the hardest piece of art I’ve had to work on," he tells me. In a marked change from his earlier recording style, gone are the samples that Ecks liked to reinterpret and rework, instead replaced with a highly original, dark instrumental style where Ecks plays guitar, drums and piano, creating a sound that is uniquely his, one that he hopes "other people will one day sample themselves".

Callus is an eclectic mix of influences that date from his childhood – jazz, psychedelia, hip-hop and blues – all woven together with the "pain and suffering" Ecks has experienced in his life, whether that be through coping with mental health issues, dealing with crippling self-doubt or managing all-out anger with America’s manifold political troubles. "America needs to hear that fucking record," he tells me. "So now it’s finally pressed up, it’s a little bittersweet. I feel like there’s some things on it I wish I could change but, y’know, I’m just looking forward to how the world responds to it. If I can leave some art in this world that helps other people, deep inside their soul, to find purpose in this life, I’ve lived a life worth living."

As his Baker’s Dozen choices illustrate, Ecks’s listening habits span continents: born to a Mexican mother and American-Ethiopian father who played him a range of musical styles from their respective backgrounds, he also came of age as a DJ and musician on San Diego’s culturally diverse hip-hop scene, where he was introduced to Turkish psych-pop and Ethiopian jazz by fellow DJs such as The Gaslamp Killer.

As such, was it difficult to choose just 13 records? "It’s always difficult to nail it down to like ten songs… It was just me saying, ‘This is it’ for songs that affected me the most, emotionally and spiritually. The hard part was nailing these 13. But you could have given me a hundred songs and I would have easily given you a hundred!"

Callus is out on August 19 via Warp. Click on his image below to begin scrolling through Gonjasufi’s choices, which run in no particular order

First Record

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