Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Sons of Kemet- Black to the Future - finds them at their most expressive.

For the record, I will be upfront and admit that I am not incredibly educated or well-versed in the world of jazz. Some of the album releases so far this year have served as my first foray into the genre. Floating Points’ collaborative album ‘Promises’ featuring Pharaoh Sanders, Black Country, New Road’s ‘For the First Time’ and the two singles Black Midi have released to promote their upcoming record has laid the groundwork for an appreciation of a genre that I was always aware of but never really turned an ear to. 

With ‘Black to the Future’, Sons of Kemet continue their afrobeat infused version of jazz sound and also enlist a much wider range of artists, previously unseen throughout the rest of their discography to create an incredibly expressive album that hopefully inspires many others to explore this world of music. 

Composed of the tour de force that is Shabaka Hutchings along with Theon Cross, Tom Skinner, and Eddie Hick, Sons of Kemet’s new album follows up their Mercury Prize-nominated 2018 release ‘Your Queen is a Reptile’ and finds the quartet bolstering their sound with a new sense of catharsis and at times, aggressiveness inspired by the Black Lives Matter movements of mid-2020. 

Poet Joshua Idehen takes to the stage on both the opener and the closer, offering a stream of consciousness style of lyricism amidst some scattered and atmospheric horns making both tracks sound like a call to arms warning that “revolution rides a black horse/and it is stunning”. It is an incredible way to kick off and end an album and lets you know instantly that this is Sons of Kemet at their most ferocious. 

Hustle’ arguably acts as the album's most accessible track and is possibly the closest that Hutchings and co have ever come to a “pop” song. The brooding tuba work from Cross drives the rhythm of the track while guest vocals from Kojey Radical and Lianne La Havas chant the track’s hook “born from the mud with the hustle inside me” amidst some occasionally wistful sounding saxophone lines from Hutchings. It’s the quartet at their most easily digestible and as such sounds very different from the rest of their discography. 

The tracks ‘In Remembrance of Those Fallen’ and ‘Let the Circle be Unbroken’ show the group at their most tightly knit and focused, as they work within some complex arrangements to show off their expressiveness. The hypnotic-sounding saxophone in the former drives the track through its runtime as it progressively becomes more passionate and urgent and it is incredible, whilst the subtle shift in tempo around halfway through the latter track is something you may not even notice on your first listen. The last minute and a half of ‘Let the Circle...’ sees the sax move from these melodic lines into shrieks and spasms which in turn morph into these indiscernible shouts and cries and is arguably one of the best moments on the entire record. 

I cannot do this record justice with what little knowledge I have of jazz and afrobeat but there is no doubt that this is a phenomenal record. Each member of the group is pushing their talents and undertaking so many different tasks within each track which means ‘Black to the Future’ will always sound different no matter how many times you listen to it. 

Sons of Kemet have created an evocative, visceral, and urgent album that is begging to be listened to. 


Tom Owen 


Image: Official Album Artwork 


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