Sons Of Kemet – Black to the Future
The tuk-band isn’t one of the Caribbean’s most famous musical exports, but it’s a relatively common sight at carnivals around Barbados, the island where Son of Kemet chief Shabaka hutches spent much of his childhood. It is a fanfare made up of snares, bass drums and triangles, led by one or two flutes playing military-style riffs and melodies. During festivals, tuk-bands are accompanied by dancing costumed characters – the Hairy bear, the Donkey man, a man in drag called Mother Sally, and another man on stilts. What appears to be cheerful, festive music actually has darker roots – it dates back to the establishment of plantations in the 17th century, when enslaved Africans were banned from using drums for fear of using them as an incentive. rebellions. Thus, the islanders would imitate British military music, disguising ancient African rituals in a syncretic form that the colonial authorities would not take offense to.
In the last four years Son of Kemet albums, Shabaka hutches took this obscure Barbadian tradition and plunged into its history, discovering its subversive roots and plunging them into the future, adding touches of dub, calypso and afrobeat. In the hands of Hutches, the tuk-band is a barely suppressed howl of rage, a noisy carnival of protest. Son of Kemetlatest album of 2018, nominated for Mercury Your queen is a reptile, was an implicit attack on the notion of royalty, mocking the idea that the birthright should define class and status. Now Black into the future chime with the spirit of the BLM movement which hit a crescendo in the summer of 2020, but – interestingly – the LP was done and dusted off in May 2019.
“Blahvsk is tired â, sighs the poet Joshua Idehen on the last track,â Black â. âBlack would like to make a statement. Black’s eyes are blank, Black’s arms are leaden, Black’s tongue can’t taste shit. As the backing music turns into a demented 5/8 song, his poem grows more and more angry. âBlack demands that no nervous person deserves a gun, let alone a badge. Black knows that one day his arms will be up, but his shadow will reach something that isn’t there, but it will be enough.
Some of the guest singers on this album approach this level of activism but, in places, Black into the future is also more poppist and more friendly than anything for the dancefloor Hutches has never published. “JostleÂ», With baritone vocals from rapper / poet Kojey Radical and soft backing vocals from Lianne Le Havas, is an Afrobeat jam with a chord that fits comfortably on the BBC 1Xtra playlist. “For cultureÂ»Is an upbeat, shattering neo-soca track with MC D Double E grime and some soft horn harmonies.
On several tracks, like “Throughout the madness, stay strong” and “In remembrance of those who have fallen”, Hutchings also overdubs various flutes and penny whistles to recreate the flute feel of the classic tuk-band, but here the riffs he plays are angular, chromatic, and slightly disorienting. They remind us of the parallels between the tuk-band and other related music of the African diaspora – especially those mento groups led by pennywhistle from Jamaica, or the African-American fife-and-drum combos from Mississippi (which sound oddly funky loyalist fanfare). Effectively, Son of Kemet reinvents a world in which jazz could have sprung from the Caribbean rather than New Orleans. ‘Envision Yourself Levitating’ is a standout example – a bizarre astral improvisation piece (with fellow tenor saxophonist Kebbi williams) put on a sad dub nyabinghi rhythm.
It cannot be stressed enough how successful this new generation of British jazz musicians has been in âde-Americanizingâ jazz. Trained in jazz conservatories, they know their history of bebop and reverse swing, but rarely choose to play in this vernacular. And Hutches – who actually trained as a classical clarinetist, rather than a jazz saxophonist – is perhaps the least American of the lot. He rarely bends his notes or plays âbluesâ scales – a staple of American jazz and R&B – instead, his solos tend to use the distinctive modal scales you get in Ethiopian music. Sometimes his playing is more like a drummer or rapper – he’ll blow percussive and syncopated rhythms based on one or two notes, often throwing his reed to mingle with the hats. Here, his solos tend to be simple, straightforward vocals, using repetition. There is a curious activism to his playing, which can be intimidating but also quite rhythmic. It does not require love or affection. It increases your heart rate and forces you on the dance floor. And it takes Son of Kemet in a direction that is both more militant and more populist.