Shabaka and the Ancestors - We Are Sent Here by History Music Album Reviews

The British-Barbadian jazz saxophonist and his South African players narrate the apocalypse from a distant future, suggesting that in order to build anew, some things will first need to burn.

In West Africa, histories have been passed down through generations by griots, storytellers who collect the wisdom of the past in order to help shape our fates. Even after the advent of the written word, such storytellers were the safest manner of recording knowledge—scrolls could be lost, and libraries could burn, but oral histories were shared by the collective consciousness, written in our genes, able to survive individual tragedies to persist through time. In that sense, griots are more than just historians—they’re the library.

We Are Sent Here by History, the second album from Shabaka Hutchings and the Ancestors, is a record steeped in that tradition, a living history looking backward in time from a not-too-distant future. Coincidentally released amid the proliferation of a global pandemic, it takes on new meanings: a collective record of the apocalypse, a sonic time capsule left to be found buried in the sand by some future explorer. The group’s first LP, Wisdom of the Elders, served as a warning of things to come, but this tale reads as a statement of fact, a record of the wrongs and missteps that led to our own demise.

The Ancestors are just one of several projects helmed by Hutchings, arguably the brightest star of London’s surging jazz scene. This group, which mostly hails from South Africa, is a space-age jazz sextet that connects the dots between the various corners of the African diaspora. There’s evidence of Hutchings’ Afro-Caribbean heritage in his sax’s soca stylings (“They Who Must Die”), and Ariel Zamonsky’s double bass—the record’s backbone—claims ancestry from Hugh Masekela’s South African township jazz. The phrasing of the reeds, from Mthunzi Mvubu’s alto sax to Hutchings’ tenor and clarinet, often resembles a tag-team rap duo, with bars intertwined like twisted rope. The performances are virtuosic but sometimes primal, like the horns’ bestial screams on “The Beasts Too Spoke of Suffering” that extend the album’s scope beyond humankind.

But the record is at its most compelling when it explores our humanity, whether examining the roots of misogyny (“We Will Work (On Redefining Manhood)”) or making space for plaintive introspection (“Teach Me How to Be Vulnerable”). At its heart lies the poetry of South African performance artist Siyabonga Mthembu; the song titles and concept are rooted in his words, which are sung in Zulu, Xhosa, and English. The lyrics are delivered calmly amid a storm of righteous rage, a calm narration to the immolation of Rome. “You’ve Been Called” opens with an extended verse from Mthembu: “We are sent here by history/The lighter gave fire, and was present at the burning/The burning of the republic/Burnt the names, burnt the records, burnt the archive, burnt the bills, burnt the mortgage, burnt the student loans, burnt the life insurance/An act of destruction became creation.” It’s less a metaphor than a recipe for a strong foundation, with the understanding that to build something new you must first excise what is rotten.

We Are Sent Here by History is Hutchings’ third release for the Impulse! label, following Sons of Kemet’s Your Queen Is a Reptile and The Comet Is Coming’s Trust In The Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery. The label was responsible for putting out some of Hutchings’ formative influences in the 1960s and 1970s, including John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, and Pharoah Sanders. But this record lies in direct opposition to Sanders’ optimism. The Ancestors are no longer attempting to advise us on how to avoid the apocalypse; instead they ask, now that it has arrived, what will we do next?

As the world reels from the repercussions of the novel coronavirus, We Are Sent Here by History might feel particularly timely, particularly for those in the West typically shielded from the brunt of capitalism and the brutality of colonialism. But the album, recorded in Johannesburg and Cape Town in 2019, is not so much prescient as it is broadly in tune with the plight of the marginalized. As Hutchings has said, “For those lives lost and cultures dismantled by centuries of western expansionism, capitalist thought and white supremist structural hegemony the end days have long been heralded as present with this world experienced as an embodiment of a living purgatory.”

Despite its ominous tone, We Are Sent Here by History is only partially fatalist; even if it accepts the apocalypse as inevitable, it offers a path away from a “tragic defeat.” It’s a reminder that any redemption must first reconcile the lessons of our history, to learn from the mistakes that led to misfortune. It’s also a testament to the beauty of resilience; as an indictment of power, it elicits inspiration rather than depression. This is music that makes you feel less alone in your rage, a chorus to join with your anger and frustration, a funnel to channel that energy. Because as with any future, Hutchings’ foreordained outcome is merely one possible—if likely—fate. If our genes are a record of where we’ve been, then We Are Sent Here by History asks where we want to go. Because even viruses leave records in our genes; Hutchings and the Ancestors make the case that the future will be defined by what we do with them.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Shabaka and the Ancestors - We Are Sent Here by History Music Album Reviews Shabaka and the Ancestors - We Are Sent Here by History Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on March 29, 2020 Rating: 5


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