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Soweto Kinch: Resident Artistic Director at SFJazz, San Francisco (19-22 May 2022)

Soweto Kinch is heading off to San Francisco, where he will be Resident Artistic Director of SFJazz for the four days from 19 to 22 May. Preview feature by Tony Dudley-Evans.

The Black Peril at the 2019 EFG LJF. Photo by Emile Holba supplied by EFG LJF

Two of the highlights of recent EFG London Jazz Festivals have been commissions for Soweto Kinch. The Black Peril was premiered in 2019; White Juju was premiered in 2021. (Links to reviews of both performances below).

Soweto now has the opportunity to recreate both projects at the SFJazz Center in San Francisco where The Black Peril will be performed on 19 and 20 May. White Juju will be performed at the Center later, in 2023 (*).

On 22 May Soweto will be guesting with the SFJazz High School All-Stars.  All these concerts will be in the Miner Auditorium.

The SFJazz Center is a freestanding building designed for both jazz performance and education; it is the first such building on the West Coastof the US.  To quote the centre’s website, the venue will need to play multiple, distinct roles: ‘attract exclusive, high-level performers, support local musicians and school groups such as the SFJazz High School All-Stars and celebrate the legacy of the city’s Fillmore District’. 

The Miner Auditorium is a 700-seater space specially designed acoustically for jazz performance. Chris Potter is currently overall Artistic Director.

The invitation came about as a result of Soweto playing in the venue in 2018 while on tour on the West Coast.  The director of the centre, Randall Kline, was intrigued by Soweto’s combining of jazz and rap, and many follow up Zoom discussions during lockdown led to this invitation for a major residency in the centre performing the two major works.

Photo: SOWETO KINCH PRODUCTIONS

In discussion with me, Soweto mentioned that both projects relate to aspects of history that came after a dramatic event that brought about seismic change and a feeling of consensus that society could not return to its  previous ways, and that there needed to be a ‘new normal’. The Black Peril project came at the end of the First World War and focussed on attacks on the black community in ports such as Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool and Hull. 

The music for White Juju was written during lockdown and resulted from a feeling of needing to respond to what was happening at the time, particularly the murder of George Floyd.  This was the time of Covid, Black Lives Matter, the controversy about statues of leaders of the slave trade, and a consequent growing recognition that the history of black communities in the UK had been ignored and indeed suppressed.

It will be fascinating to hear how the music and the associated narrative will be received in San Francisco. Black historical discourse tends to concentrate on the American experience, but Soweto argued  in the interview that the problems focussed on in The Black Peril were global problems with many countries suffering after the First Word War from race riots.  Similarly the contemporary issues addressed in White Juju are worldwide, and result from a conscious or unconscious failure to honour black communities.

White Juju at the Barbican in 2021. Photo LSO/ Mark Allan

Soweto will be working with a core group of Nicholas Payton, trumpet, Eric Lewis, piano, Don Vappie, banjo and Gregory Hutchinson, drums.  A number of California-based musicians will join them to form the 14 member ensemble for The Black Peril, and for White Juju the core group will be working with an orchestra from the region.

The music for both The Black Peril and White Juju draws on many influences from jazz of all styles, hip hop, the music of the Caribbean and the music of early black composers such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, James Reese Europe and Scott Joplin.  The American musicians will no doubt add their voices and interpretations to Soweto’s compositions, but Soweto is looking forward to introducing them to some of the music from other traditions from the black diaspora. 

This residency is part of an ongoing relationship between Soweto and the SFJazz Centre; he will be returning there in 2023, to perform White Juju (*), and to work with a visual artist and kindred spirit Muzae Sesay to create audiovisual projections based on the White Juju concept. 

(*) The text in these two placed was altered on receiving updated info on 11 May. There had originally been a plan to perform White Juju this year, but this has changed

LINKS: Details of the Soweto Kinch performances on the SFJazz website

The High School Stars performance with special guest Soweto Kinch

AJ Dehany reviewed The Black Peril for LJN

Sebastian Scotney reviewed White Juju for TheArtsDesk

The Black Peril will also be performed in Birmingham on 11 June 2022

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