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Sons of Kemet - Black to the Future (Album Review)

Updated: Jun 2, 2021

14 May 2021

Album Rating 5/5

Solo Performances 5/5

Diversity in Songs 4/5

Favourite Songs 'Think of Home', 'To Never Forget the Source', 'Envision Yourself Levitating'

Sons of Kemet don’t produce mediocre albums. Black to the Future, like their three previous albums, is a thrilling showcase of jazz and poetry straight from the heart. The album is unrelenting in its rage and simultaneous beauty and continues to resonate hours after being heard.

Shabaka Hutchings refers to Black to the Future as a "sonic poem for the invocation of power, remembrance and healing:. He also sequenced the tracks of the album to form a poem of its own:

Field negus / pick up your burning cross / think of home hustle / for the culture / to never forget the source / In remembrance of those fallen / Let the circle be unbroken / Envision yourself levitating / Throughout the madness, stay strong / Black
Photo credit: Udoma Janssen

The album opens with breath-like horns and drums underneath Joshua Idehen’s poetry on ‘Field negus’. The words fuse with the music and encapsulate the rage and frustration from the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, as Hutchings outlines in his mission statement for the album.

‘Field negus’ is a powerful opening with deeply poetic motifs. Idehen quotes the old saying associated with ‘Britishness’: "Keep Calm and Carry On – oh the audacity!" He calls out the hypocrisy of the British reaction to the events of 2020, and the white privilege of being able to ignore racism.

‘Pick Up Your Burning Cross’ features Philadelphia poet Moor Mother and International Anthem's Angel Bat Dawid from Chicago, and takes the listener back to that classic Sons of Kemet sound of raw energy.

As always the percussive nature of the album bolsters the music with the sense of power that drums can bring. The two percussionists, Tom Skinner and Edward Wakili-Hick, are as fantastic as ever.

In parts the album has similar rhythms and motifs to the last one, Your Queen Is A Reptile, from 2018 but you also get glimpses of a new sound that pushes the Sons of Kemet music to new heights.

Photo credit: Udoma Janssen

‘Think of Home’ highlights this newer tone with a more transcendental groove. Hutchings’ clarinet takes full swing above the familiar throbs of the tuba from Theon Cross.

The fourth track, ‘Hustle’, is one of the singles of the album. Kojey Radical’s fantastic lyricism features on this one and the track has a similar feel to his previous collaboration with Shabaka Hutchings, ‘No Gangster’ from 2019. Lianne La Havas also features on vocals. The outro features a lovely bit of dialogue between soft clarinets, harsh sax and tuba, culminating in wonderful harmony.

Collaborations are more prominent in Black to the Future than in previous Sons of Kemet albums, and that element gives it a fresh layer of excitement. ‘For the Culture’ features grime artist D Double E, fusing two genres that work so perfectly together, particularly when Shabaka Hutchings is involved.

‘To Never Forget the Source’ is a beautiful track, which strips back the ferocious energy to a meditative groove.

In Shabaka Hutchings’s declaration, he refers to this track, and the middle section of the album, as taking the music inward to "the Source". This, he says, refers "to the principles which govern traditional African cosmologies/ontological outlooks and symbolises the inner journey."

The pace is picked up with ‘In Remembrance of Those Fallen’. Woodwind flutes call out before Theon Cross’s tuba and Hutchings’ sax.

‘Let the Circle be Unbroken’ opens with a classic groove and ends in a frantic expansion into free jazz with screeching sax motifs that reminded me of Archie Shepp.

For me, Sons of Kemet use free jazz elements perfectly, especially in this album. It gives the feeling of limitless expansion but it is firmly anchored in sublime rhythms and moments of melodic beauty. ‘Envision Yourself Levitating’ follows this motif, opening with long notes and anarchic sax sounds before it ascends to a higher musical plane.

Photo credit: Udoma Janssen

Towards the close of the album, ‘Throughout the Madness, Stay Strong’ presents itself with fragmented percussion, initially reminiscent of Sun Ra’s ‘Adventure Equation’. The track ends with high energy, sounding like it yearns to be heard live.

In Shabaka Hutchings’ mission statement, he speaks of the meaning of the poetry and the music being surrounded by a depth of symbolism. "This meaning is not universal,’ he says, "and the cultural context of the listener will shape their understanding, yet in the end, the overarching message remains the same – For humanity to progress we must consider what it means for Black to the Future."


If you enjoyed this article, please consider making a donation to The Runnymede Trust and/or the Race Equality Foundation to help further equality within the UK.

Buy and stream Black to the Future here.

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