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Sons of Kemet - Black to the Future Music Album Reviews

Sons of Kemet - Black to the Future Music Album Reviews
Shabaka Hutchings leads his brass band on a propulsive mind- and body-moving record, advocating through music that change comes from speaking directly about collective oppression.

For the past few years, the Barbados-born saxophonist and clarinetist Shabaka Hutchings has led three different groups, exploring a distinctive sound with each. The soul prog of the Comet Is Coming gazes ahead; the spiritual jazz of Shabaka and the Ancestors seems to take its cues from the past. Between these bands lies the turbulent, soca-inflected jazz of the Sons of Kemet, which is tied to the present moment. Their latest, Black to the Future, is a propulsive record advocating that change comes from speaking directly about collective oppression. Collective is the key word here, and Hutchings attempts to unite the different strands of the African diaspora, working with vocalists and rappers from both the UK and U.S. Black to the Future is highly accessible, politically engaged jazz that’s more focused on communication than individual experimentation.

When the fusion works, the music seems like it’s about to combust. Though Sons of Kemet is only made up of four players—two horns (Hutchings and Theon Cross) and two percussionists (Edward Wakili-Hick and Tom Skinner)—the noise they make rivals a big band. On “Pick Up Your Burning Cross,” Hutchings’ saxophone races alongside his clarinet, each instrument trying to take the lead. Cross’ tuba brings a grounding current of bass, stirring up turbulent storm clouds on the horizon. The Chicago-based pianist Angel Bat Dawid sings with force, and the experimental rapper Moor Mother peppers the track with her bracing, cryptic asides (“I don’t think you remember me/I was in last place lost the race”). It feels like a whole community singing at once, as does the jovial standout “Hustle.” As Cross and Hutchings blare a united theme, UK rapper Kojey Radical speaks of the indomitability of the spirit. When Lianne La Havas joins Radical on the chorus (“Born from the mud with the hustle inside me”), a call-and-response emerges between the vocalists and the instrumentalists. It’s a small moment reflecting a wider theme: The first step to collective liberation is communal dialogue.

This thrust supplies this music with fire, but it can also lead to forced moments. The fierce attack of horns and emotive spoken-word on opener “Field Negus” portend a forceful lament on the Black experience. And to some extent, it delivers. The sense of menace generated by long held notes of the tuba and calculated rattle of the drums expands as poet Joshua Idehen explores how white supremacy closes off the pathways of a Black imagination: “Lightened up my skin/Bitten down my tongue/I begged you for an inch/Lemme have some liquor and a flatscreen.” The horns swell, mirroring the narrator’s expanding consciousness. As impassioned as this performance is, it’s jarring to hear Idehen synthesize past and current oppression in present social media terms. There’s not really a point in giving Candace Owens more airtime, even if you’re criticizing her. And screaming “hashtag burn it all” reduces what could be a bracing warning into self-parody. Yet even with these qualms, it’s hard to deny the power of Idehen’s palpable exasperation, which makes itself heard through his tortured breaths and targeted intonations. It’s hard to think of a crowd hearing this at a protest and not responding in kind.

Because its purpose is to move minds and bodies, Black to the Future features little visionary improvisation. In the late ’60s, groups like the Art Ensemble of Chicago processed moments of strife through challenging experiments; Sons of Kemet prefer to make danceable, approachable expressions of joy. After the didactic burst of the first half, the second half of the album mainly features pulsating instrumentals. Hutchings can go the limit when he improvises, but he tones it down here. Solos are few and far between, and he rarely veers from the melody at hand. Still, there are pockets of wildness to be found in songs like “Let the Circle be Unbroken” and “Envision Yourself Levitating.” Close to the end of the former, his playing reaches a high-pitched snarl, and the latter ends with the type of performance that makes you wonder how anyone can fit such a staggering series of notes in such a small space. It’s a show-stopping moment, but Hutchings isn’t so focused on drawing attention to himself: While his entire community marches forward, Sons of Kemet provide the soundtrack.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Sons of Kemet - Black to the Future Music Album Reviews Sons of Kemet - Black to the Future Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Friday, May 28, 2021 Rating: 5

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