On paper, Zun Zun Egui are the kind of band who risk coming across as intensely irritating. For one thing, there is their name: an apparently meaningless, just-exotic-enough moniker that could be derived from any number of languages. (It’s in fact a Basque word that the band chose because it sounds like the Japanese words for ‘fast fast weird’. Admittedly, that explanation doesn’t cause the band to seem any less irritating.) Then there is the way their music tends to be described: the word ‘eclectic’ gets bandied about, and jazz and funk sometimes crop up in the space of a single sentence.
And indeed, Zun Zun Egui do play an eclectic style of music with nods towards jazz-funk; and indeed, they sometimes play fast and sometimes sounds weird. But give them a listen and it becomes clear that they are far from being artsier-than-thou poseurs. Their oddness seems to derive from their energy; their reluctance to forge a monogamous relationship with any particular genre is the result of a genuine and wide-ranging curiosity.
If their 2011 debut album Katang was a statement of their uncompromising intent, Shackles’ Gift is comes across as its consolidation. In the meantime frontman Kushal Gaya has released another viscerally exciting record with his other band Melt Yourself Down, and along with the rest of Zun Zun Egui, travelled to his native Mauritius.
Mauritian music is one of many influences on the album’s sound. Zun Zun Egui was formed in 2008 by Gaya and Japanese keyboardist Yoshino Shigihara, and their music is the kind of multilingual, conceptually confusing but sonically thrilling stuff that can be placed within a lengthy line of immigrant-created sounds.
African Tree is perhaps the most accessible song, with its big rock guitars, but martial drumming gives it an intriguing edge. Soul Scratch is based on the Mauritian hybrid form a seggae – as its name suggests there is reggae in there, but also traditional sega music. Ruby, meanwhile, is driven by dub-like bass and a just funky enough feel that’s reminiscent of TV On The Radio. I Want You To Know is the standout track, with riffs that are both massive and soulful, and some hyperactive guitar soloing as you get deeper into the song.
The common thread between all of the tracks is the intense, almost electronic, percussion, which Gaya has said was inspired by the rhythms of industrial plantation machinery and their influence on Mauritian worksongs. However, the fact that Shackles’ Gift was produced by Fuck Buttons’ Andrew Hung might have something to do with it.
This is a difficult album to find fault with – not only on an immediate, aesthetic level, but also on a more considered, objective one. To do so, one would have to have numerous global styles of music, some obscure and undiscovered, and one would also have to feel qualified to comment on how sensitively and effectively they are woven in to the broader tapestry of the record. It’s clear, however – on an aesthetic level, again – that everything slots together neatly and enjoyably. You don’t ever start to feel bored, but the leaps between moods and genres are never too abrupt.
If there is one immediate, aesthetic fault, it’s that some of the wild jams don’t go on as long as they might. These aren’t three-minute pop songs, and Zun Zun Egui certainly aren’t afraid of letting tracks go up to and beyond the six-minute mark, but at times, such as the closing section of I Want You To Know, it feels as though there is scope to go even longer, further and wilder. That’s the trouble with a band as exciting as this: they leave you wanting more.