Album review

Soweto Kinch / London Symphony Orchestra / Lee Reynolds – ‘White JuJu’

Soweto Kinch – White JuJu

(LSO Live. Download only. Album Review by Patrick Hadfield)

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When White JuJu was recorded live during the 2021 London Jazz Festival (review of concert below), the Barbican website had a content warning that “this performance will be accompanied by visuals … which some audience members may find upsetting.” The album may have warranted a similar warning; it quickly throws one right back to the depths of isolation and uncertainty felt at the outset of the COVID pandemic.

Commissioned by the LSO and Serious, Soweto Kinch wove together jazz, contemporary classical, rap and a wealth of media samples into a powerful piece of music. Deeply political, it starts with the lockdowns but quickly morphs to cover the killing of George Floyd and the reactions to it around the world, and the depth of racism within our society. At times one can’t help but despair, but Kinch balances such feelings with music that contrasts with the darkness.

Kinch’s raps are central to the record. They are clever, witty, funny – and angry. He has long used rap in his recordings and live performances, but they take on a new power in White Juju. His word-play demands attention, the humour, alliteration and rhyming making one laugh whilst simultaneously wonder how one can laugh at such topics. The coupling of samples of pompous political voices deriding minorities with Kinch’s words makes one sit up aghast. “Is this really happening?” he asks, “This is isn’t reality! Division and insanity…”

With his words at the forefront, there is less space for his saxophone playing, though he does contribute some startling solos. His regular band mates, Nick Jurd on bass and Gregory Hutchinson, drums and Rick Simpson on piano take strong roles, and maintain the feeling of momentum and urgency.

This feels like an important piece of music in its scope and accomplishment. It is a lengthy piece which needs to be heard in full: it’s not composed with playlists in mind. The visuals – with their content warning – clearly played a significant role in its performance. With the emphasis on Kinch’s raps, the number of live performances will be very limited (*), which is a pity because the issues he raises deserve – and even require – attention. And the material which he will be able to use in updated versions has only increased: he wrote White Juju before the scandals of partygate, the PPE scandal, the political farce of the Truss premiership, the cost of living and energy crises… He will and must have a lot more to say.

A vinyl edition of White Juju will be released to coincide with Record Store Day 2023.

Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. You can follow him on Mastodon.

LINKS: Buy White Juju

Sebastian’s review of the original concert for TheArtsDesk

(*) Details of performances scheduled for San Francisco in May 2023

Categories: Album review

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