Roni Zulu's Spiritual Tattoo Artistry

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Roni Zulu and his wife, Khani, at their Los Angeles-area tattoo studio.

Roni Zulu and his wife, Khani, at their Los Angeles-area tattoo studio. Brakkton Booker, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Brakkton Booker, NPR
Ekkaette's full-back wings.

Ekkaette's full-back wings. "Her artwork always reminds her that her spirit can overcome any situation," Zulu writes. hide caption

itoggle caption

Roni Zulu is a Los Angeles-based tattoo artist who's done work for stars including Janet Jackson, Queen Latifah and Debra Wilson. But he's not your typical tattoo artist. He sees all his art — including the celebrity tattoos — as sacred work.

"I identify myself as an urban shaman," he says. "I’m a tattooist, but people come to me for more than just getting tattooed. They’re coming to me for spiritual reasons. People are coming to me to get spiritual markings."

His tattoo studio is as much a shrine to the spirit as a tattoo parlor. Zulu takes his spritual approach to inking clients very seriously, beginning with a daily prayer and offerings for both himself and his clients.

"My job is never to put a mark on you – it’s to bring the mark out of you," he says. In everyone there’s this ancient ancestry, there’s this certain pride that’s in you, and if you dig down, you’ll find what it is.

"And that’s my job – to help you walk that path, go through that journey and help pull it out."

Zulu, also a film composer and an expert cellist, is proud to be a success in a field where there are few non-white artists. "It is very important for me to be an inspiration," he says. "If I can make the path a little easier for those that come after me, that would feel really good."

This report was produced by Christopher Johnson.



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