Sons of Kemet Return in a Blur, with a Fiery First Single From 'Black To The Future'
"All situations have the potential to be tragic, or the potential to be tragic and transformative." Shabaka Hutchings uttered those words a little over a year ago, when we spoke by Skype for an NPR story about the onset of a mysterious new pandemic.
It's sobering to consider all that we've witnessed since that moment: a global death toll of 2.8 million and counting; hardening political division and its attendant chaos; deep, destabilizing economic constriction; the mainstreaming of vocal protest in the face of racial violence. At every juncture, Hutchings — a British-born Barbadian in modern London, and a saxophonist-bandleader with an instinct for cathartic combustion — has clearly been thinking about transformation, in one form or another.
He has funneled a good amount of that energy into the riveting new album by Sons of Kemet, his band with Theon Cross on tuba and Edward Wakili-Hick and Tom Skinner on drums. Titled Black to the Future, it will see release on Impulse! Records on May 14.
"Black to the Future is a sonic poem for the invocation of power, remembrance and healing," writes Hutchings in an album mission statement. "It envisions our progression towards a future in which indigenous knowledge and wisdom is centered in the realization of a harmonious balance between the human, natural and spiritual world."
Among the special guests on the album are Steve Williamson, the British saxophonist; Angel Bat Dawid, the American multi-instrumentalist and vocalist; D Double E, the British grime MC and DJ; and Moor Mother, the American poet and performer. Another spoken-word artist, Kojey Radical, is featured on the album's first single, "Hustle." The song, which also features backing vocals from Lianne La Havas, was released today with a kinetic video directed by the London filmmaker Ashleigh Jadee.
The video, brimming with style, features two young dancers clad in light and dark, but synchronized in motion. "The dancers represent the duality present within any struggle to transcend internal limitations," Shabaka says in press materials. "As the video progresses, we see that it's only once the differing elements of the self are reconciled and act in unison that rebirth (symbolized by the immersion in water) can occur."
Elsewhere on Black to the Future, there are songs whose titles and spirit speaks to our present moment. In fact, the track list was designed to line up as a poetic declaration: "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."
Black to the Future will be released on Impulse! on May 14; preorder here.