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Artist Spotlight: Zulu brings hardcore to new levels 

Hardcore punk has long been an exclusionary genre. Traditionally, anyone trying to get into the vast world of headbanging rage that makes up their respective hardcore scenes had to fall into a certain demographic — i.e., white men. 

The genre was founded in the '80s with the band Black Flag, formed on the shoulders of major punk forefathers like Sex Pistols and The Clash. Since then, hardcore has branched into new territories of musical exploration. 21st century hardcore acts like Drain and Gulch have taken the genre in incredibly innovative directions. 

However, all these bands are composed of white men. This discrepancy is where Zulu steps in.

Zulu, an all-Black hardcore band hailing from Los Angeles, was founded by Anaiah Lei in 2019. Lei was introduced to the world of heavy music by his father, who was involved in the LA punk scene in the '70s and '80s. Zulu was originally a solo project for Lei, as he wanted the group to be all-Black, but could not find other Black musicians who wanted to make hardcore music.

Lei has been open about how intimidating it is to play hardcore in a space dominated by white people. American media publications have long associated the early punk movement with skinheads, and people in the late '70s and early '80s even donned swastikas to further the idea that they were "countercultural."

However, Zulu does not tone down its message for white audiences. On the critically acclaimed "Our Day Will Come," speeches from Malcolm X and Nina Simone are sampled, incorporating themes of Black pride into music that has long been focused on white voices. The band's social media handle, @blackpowerviolence, further pays tribute to the movements that inspired its creation while also representing the hardcore subgenre of power violence.

Zulu's lyricism also covers serious topics that are often ignored or trivialized in the world of punk music. On the track "Do Tha Right Thing (And Stop Fronting)," Lei sings, "I see you watching / They beat me down / You turn around and / You keep walking," lambasting police brutality and the complicity of witnesses in the violence against Black people.

The band also takes significant inspiration from the music of other major Black artists. Zulu's sound often incorporates elements of Bob Marley's reggae music, taking a traditionally upbeat genre and putting a heavy spin on it. In addition, Zulu utilizes indigenous African music throughout its discography and often incorporates elements of contemporary Black music like jazz and R&B into its songs.

Zulu's vision is highly unique for a hardcore band. With a particularly radical philosophy, the band has taken the punk world by storm. Lei and his creative direction have shaken up the hardcore world — the band sells merch with the phrase "abolish white hardcore" printed in massive red letters — and a much-needed discussion on race. Despite being relatively new, Zulu's impact has been massive, and the coming years will be exciting for hardcore because of it.


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