Zulu have no time to waste. In the five-second gap after “Africa,” the reverent orchestral introduction of their debut album A New Tomorrow, but before the forceful drop-tuned power chord buzz of “For Sista Humphrey,” the Los Angeles-based powerviolence quintet raises a quick question: “Ayo, it’s Zulu in this bitch, what y’all niggas on?” The music drives forward, anchored by drummer Christine Cadette and bassist Satchel Brown, who back a chugging riff played by guitarists Braxton Marcellous and Dez Yusuf. Then comes a death metal growl from vocalist Anaiah Lei, and the band’s full-length debut A New Tomorrow takes off on a trajectory that cannot be predicted or contained.
Lei is a multi-instrumentalist who got his start as a teenager alongside brother Mikaiah Lei in the indie rock band the Bots and went to play in California punk bands DARE and Culture Abuse. He founded Zulu in 2018. Two early EPs, 2019’s Our Day Will Come and 2020’s My People… Hold On, solidified the band’s signature style: blastbeats and mosh-worthy grooves injected with samples of classic soul and reggae artists who sing of fortifying Black community. If the EPs were experimental studies, then A New Tomorrow holds nothing back, sounding confident and all-encompassing. The record has a mind and a memory that examines all angles of Black legacy while working to define the future without fear or strife.
In a recent interview with NPR, Lei expressed disinterest in writing lyrics that only address suffering. “When people think about the pain of exclusion, they think about Black people. And then we end up getting tokenized one way or another,” he said. A New Tomorrow confronts prejudice, alienation, and anger on its own terms. “52 Fatal Strikes,” updated from Our Day Will Come, is two-stepping hardcore that speaks of racial injustice: “I’ve done nothing/I just exist/Don’t front/I know you wanna kill me.” The lyrics are forward and fluffless, even on softer tracks like “Crème de Cassis,” a spoken-word critique of a nation that fixates on Black people’s pain without providing space to celebrate their resiliency. “Why must I only share our struggle/When our Blackness is so much more?” asks vocalist Aleisia Miller over piano accompaniment by Precious Tucker. “We’re favored by the sun from the moment we’re created.”
The dynamic force of powerviolence isn’t the loudest part of A New Tomorrow: It’s the way the album juxtaposes the sludge and the shrieks with songs performed in styles popularized by Black people. At times it is poignant and reverent, like the tearful little prayers of the layered voices that ask “Must I only share my pain?” on the mid-album interlude of the same title. Zulu are at their most confrontational in this mode, revealing vulnerability while daring hardcore purists to try to enforce a distinction between Lei’s guttural roar of protest on “Music to Driveby” and the sampled croon of Curtis Mayfield that follows. By refusing to be flattened, Zulu make clear that working within genre lines is far less meaningful than a commitment to the history of Black music, Black love, and Black might.
A New Tomorrow is a record surrounded by infinity mirrors, seeing the traumas of Black people for generations past and present while choosing to rejoice in the rich culture that has sustained the soul and spirit of its communities. With their debut, Zulu position themselves firmly within that legacy, reifying the connection between icons like Mayfield and Nina Simone and peers like Soul Glo’s Pierce Jordan, who appears alongside Playytime’s Obioma Ugonna on “Where I’m From.” “Won’t ask for what’s mine/I’m anointed,” they howl. At the heart of A New Tomorrow is the purest form of joy and unwavering strength. In her autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road, Zora Neale Hurston writes, “No, I do not weep for the world. I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.” A New Tomorrow trades the oyster knife for brutal guitars, double-kick drums, and hands cupped around a microphone. For Zulu, joy is heritage and heritage is resistance.