Before Sons Of Kemet take to the stage at London’s Roundhouse for their biggest headline gig to date, the band’s poet and collaborator Joshua Idehen has a few words for the crowd. During an animated introduction, he asks three favours. Enjoy yourselves, respect those around you, and, as a necessary aside, never vote Tory.
The effervescent performer-turned-compere then goes on to tell the room to expect a performance as surprising and delightful as Tupac Shakur showing up at your door at midnight, dripping in honey. It’s a truly visceral metaphor that sets the tone for a night full of giddy energy and loosening inhibitions.
On Sons Of Kemet’s last album, 2021’s ‘Black To The Future’, the jazz virtuosos hit new heights as they reflected on the summer of 2020 and the Black Lives Matter protests that swept across the globe. With help from collaborators like London grime MC D Double E, the genre-blurring Kojey Radical, neo-soul artist Lianne La Havas, they painted a wounded but hopeful portrait of a summer gone by and the future ahead, all set above generational musical talent.
Idehen is the only one of the album’s guests to make an appearance tonight, but his evocative, deeply passionate contributions on album highlight ‘Field Negus’ provides the set’s most blistering moment as he asks: “How can we expect the dungeon keeper to make the rules and play fair?”
The four members of Sons Of Kemet are intertwined like few other bands manage. On drums, Tom Skinner (also of Radiohead side-project The Smile) and Eddie Hick duel together as they roll out increasingly complex rhythms, always captivating in the way they interconnect. In front of them, bandleader and saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings has the same effortless to-and-fro with giddy tuba player Theon Cross, the pair trading criss-crossing melodies and showing off a striking telepathic connection.
Yet even in a band so interconnected, Hutchings remains the transfixing focal point. Through Sons Of Kemet and his other projects (Shabaka and the Ancestors, The Comet Is Coming and beyond) he’s become a vital cog in the London jazz scene, and is taking it to a whole new level of mainstream visibility. The success is for good reason, too. His sax melodies are both catchy and impossibly complicated. Without dialling back his endless musical wizardry, it still manages to pull the sound towards something you’ll be whistling on the tube home. It’s a balance he and his band strike perfectly.
“I think the music speaks for itself, but take the energy you have in this room home with you,” Hutchings tells the crowd before the encore, in his only speech across the night. The frenzy these four players whip up ensure both their melodies and message will have a hell of an impact.
Sons Of Kemet played:
‘In Memory of Samir Awad’
‘Throughout the Madness, Stay Strong’
‘Think of Home’
‘For The Culture’
‘Pick Up Your Burning Cross’
‘In Remembrance of Those Fallen’
My Queen Is Ada Eastman’ (with Josh Idehen)
‘Field Negus’ (with Josh Idehen)
‘My Queen Is Harriet Tubman’