Shabaka Hutchings is one step ahead – always. The saxophonist last released a record, his other band Shabaka and The Ancestors’ ‘We Are Sent Here By History’, in mid-March last year. This was the eve of the COVID-19 pandemic tearing through the United Kingdom; the album centred around themes of confronting the destruction of humanity. ‘Black to The Future’, Hutchings’ latest record, this time with Mercury Prize-nominated quartet Sons of Kemet, is an 11-track album that finds them at their most dynamic and urgent.
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Featuring an all-star cast of guests such as UK saxophonist Steve Williamson, Chicago bandleader/vocalist Angel Bat Dawid, American poet Moor Mother, legendary British grime MC D Double E, British rapper Kojey Radical, singer Lianne La Havas and poet Joshua Idehen, the album is the kind of career-defining work that makes the case for Sons of Kemet as jazz greats in their own right.
Bookended by Idehen’s poetic eloquence on ‘Fields of Negus’ and ‘Black to the Future’, it’s full of powerful lyricism and musical statements that swirl around rage, resentment and frustration. “How can we expect the dungeon keeper to make the rules and play fair?” Idehen asks on the opening track, a thesis for the album wrapped up in barbed imagery.
The album’s thematic content focuses on 2020’s summer, swept up in the protest in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests. On one of the most infectious song of the album, ‘Hustle’, Kojey Radical repeatedly chants: “I was born from the mud with the hustle inside me.” Like ‘Pick Up Your Burning Cross’, ‘Think Of Hope’ and ‘For The Culture’, the track flows steadily inwards to a centre point, before swirling into a whirlpool of emotion.
Shabaka leads Theon Cross (tuba), Edward Wakili-Huck (percussion), Tom Skinner (percussion) and more towards the crescendo of ‘Let the Circle Be Unbroken’, where the album seems to unshackle itself from the constraints of genre, the cacophony mimicking the cries of someone fighting themselves, unlearning generational trauma and terrors.
Across these 11 tracks, Sons of Kemet have crafted a narrative that sees Black people freeing themselves from the constraints of oppression, a message strengthened by the closing track’s rapturous and improvisatory free jazz instrumentation, which underpins Idehen’s pointed monologue as he screams into the ether: “This Black struggle is dance / This Black pain is dance / Just leave Black be / You already have the world / Just leave Black be / Leave us alone.”
Release date: May 14
Record label: Impulse! Records