Album reviews

Sons of Kemet – ‘Black to The Future’

Sons of Kemet – Black to The Future

(Impulse Records. Album review by Graham Spry)

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Shabaka Hutchings stays true to the traditional practise of artists on Impulse Records, such as Charles Mingus, Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane, as he seeks – and finds- novel and imaginative solutions to the challenges arising from his creative striving. And what is remarkable is that he does this as leader of not just one but three excellent bands with very different line-ups and musical styles: The Comet Is Coming, Shabaka and the Ancestors and, of course, Sons of Kemet. Hutchings’ latest challenge is to voice the anger that followed the death of George Floyd and given visible and tangible expression by the Black Lives Matter movement; a challenge further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The latest album by Sons of Kemet, Black to the Future, is a concept album, like the award-winning Your Queen is a Reptile, that similarly addresses the concerns and perspectives of the international Black community. The structure of the album, whose titles make up a short poem when read sequentially, is a coherent entity in which the individual songs nonetheless stand alone. The core line-up of Sons of Kemet—Shabaka Hutchings (Woodwinds and Tenor Saxophone), Theon Cross (Tuba), Tom Skinner (Drums) and Eddie Hick (Drums)—is accompanied by a wide range of guest musicians and vocalists. The style of music remains the Caribbean-inflected, percussion-heavy sound with infectious beats that characterises Sons of Kemet.

The album opens with Field Negus in which Joshua Idehen orates a manifesto for the album that communicates his rage about the outrageous police violence in the final summer of Trump. Poets and vocalists Moor Motherand Angel Bat Dawid draw attention to a historical perspective on the contemporary Black struggle in the lyrics of the urgent and exhilarating Pick Up Your Burning Cross; which is followed by the lyrical and joyfully swaying Think Of Home mostly led by Theon Cross’ tuba and evokes Hutchings’ memories of his Barbados childhood.

The single taken from the album is the lilting Hustle with vocals provided by rapper Kojey Radical and singer Lianne La Havas (and can be seen in the excellent video directed by Ashleigh Jadee: Grime artist, D Double E, provides the vocals on the danceable For the Culture, whose sound is bolstered by the enlarged horn section of Ife Ogunjobi (Trumpet), Nathaniel Cross (Trombone) and Cassie Kinoshi (Alto Saxophone). The first half of the album closes with To Never Forget the Source whose African rhythms are evocative of Shabaka and the Ancestors.

The next two tracks, In Remembrance Of Those Fallen and Let the Circle Be Unbroken, both feature a rapidly insistent birdsong-like flute that Hutchings plays along with a muscular saxophone. The latter tune descends into relative chaos before leading into the spooky, tropical jungle sound that opens the relatively calm Envision Yourself Levitating in which the subdued rhythm of Kebbi Williams’reflective tenor saxophone fits the title. This leads to the more urgent Throughout the Madness, Stay Strong that begins with a playful interplay between the two percussionists to which the other musicians join as the tune progressively builds in intensity. The album closes with Black which like the opening track features Joshua Idehen on vocals and has a similar feel.

Black to the Future is a significant forward-looking statement of Black identity which continues the tradition of jazz confronting the community’s political and social concerns. Although the title is clearly a pun on the 1980s film series, it makes the serious point that black culture is as much about the future as it is about its troubled history.

LINK: Black to the Future at Impulse Records

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