Roni Zulu, the man behind Zulu Tattoo doesn’t need any introduction. Voted as Best Tattoo Artist by LA Weekly and leaving his sacred marks on Janet Jackson, Queen Latifah, Debra Wilson, and many more, the LA based artist has come a long way establishing Zulu Tattoo on a transcendent altar and penetrating skins with custom and tribal work. Enough said; meet the artist himself.
TattooBlog: Let’s start with your first rendezvous with the art. When did it started and how?
Zulu: I began tattooing in 1993. I had to teach myself because there was a lot of racism in the field of tattooing and no one would apprentice me because I was black.
TattooBlog: Who is your idol and influencer?
Zulu: I’m not influenced by any tattoo artists…most of them are ego maniacs, I am influenced by master painters such as Michelangelo & Alphonso Mucha. I’m also very influenced by master musicians such as Mozart…these were people who’s passion was their craft and their art moved the human spirit.
TattooBlog: Where do you place the sublime art of tattooing if we compare it with other art forms like painting, though it’s on the moving canvas?
Zulu: It is as important as painting & sculpting, it is a fine art. Unfortunately it has gotten a bad name from various outlaw bikers, gang bangers, prisoners and more bad elements of society. Most people don’t realize that tattooing was/is as spiritual in its original conception as the art of the Renaissance.
TattooBlog: How do you recognize the ‘sacred markings’ and ‘bring them to the surface’?
Zulu: I hold a consultation session with all my clients before tattooing them. I have to do this because all my work is custom & original. There is no flash in my shop (I hate that stuff) I have a 4 month waiting list to be tattooed, during that time I get to know my client and establish a relationship with them which allows me to look deep within them to bring the mark out.
TattooBlog: What triggered the idea of Zulu Lounge and your tryst with cello?
Zulu: Zulu Lounge is our parties used to raise monies for various charities. I came from a very poor family and I know what is like to have nothing. My tattoo carrier has blessed me with the financial ability to give back to my community and to help those less fortunate than myself.
TattooBlog: Don’t you think that this awe-inspiring art is spreading languidly around the globe? If yes, what would you like to do in the coming future, if given a chance, to make it a global phenomenon?
Zulu: Yes, tattooing is becoming a popular occurrence around the world, much more accepted these days. My participation would be to educate people and make sure they get tattooed for the right reasons.
TattooBlog: What would you like to change about this industry?
Zulu: A few things I’d like to see change; There are a lot of ignorant tattooist out there who have no artistic skills and their execution of the craft is pathetic…they should not be tattooing. There are many tattooist who don’t give a damn about the client, all they want is money…they should not be tattooing. I don’t care for tourist trap tattoo parlors that just pick anything off the wall and slap it on whatever drunk client walks in the door. I think you see what I’m getting at…I’d like to see a respect for the craft and the client be of the utmost concern.
TattooBlog: How far would you like to take your tattooing? What is your ink dream, if you will?
Zulu: I’m already living it.
TattooBlog: Do you have any suggestions for the aspiring artists?
Zulu: When you apprentice with someone, don’t let them treat you like shit and send you for coffee and doughnuts every 5 minutes…that type of apprenticeship is degrading and has no value. Ask the tattooist what his methods of teaching are, what is expected of you, what will your responsibilities be. There are too many idiots out there who just want someone to kiss their ass and run their errands. Find a teacher who will respect you and who will pass on the craft with honor and dignity.
TattooBlog: Tell us something about Lantz. How is it been working with him?
Zulu: Lantz is the only tattooist, out of many, who has remained with me. He has the same respect for the craft & clients as I do.
TattooBlog: What fuels the fire within you to keep going on and on? What sense of fulfillment do you get after finishing the work?
Zulu: When you have changed someone’s life for the better, when you have helped someone fulfill a spiritual quest, when people from all over the globe come to see you and a bond is made, when the day comes to a close and you feel you have truly helped your fellow man along his spiritual path…well…isn’t that enough.
TattooBlog: Which is your favorite piece? And please tell us who inked you?
Zulu: The moko on my face is my favorite tattoo. It was done by Tattoo Master Leo Zulueta.
TattooBlog: What kicks you more: Giving ink or receiving ink?
Zulu: Giving is the biggest rush, when my body is full and no more room exists for more tattoos, the excitement of giving ink will still be an amazing thing!!!
TattooBlog: And finally, wed’ like to know your comments and views on TattooBlog.
Zulu: I’m very happy to see an educational forum as opposed to the typical rantings of inflated egos. Keep up the good work; it’s people like you who have the power to bring tattooing back to its spiritual origins and out of the negative stereotypes.