“When you actually go to people with the fact that you’re not trying to get them to play anything in particular, you just want their response.”
While shrugging off the contemporary jazz label, London’s Sons Of Kemet bring an interesting approach that blends in notes of acid house, drum & bass, soca, and avant-garde. Their rhythmic cornucopia resonates an abundance of energy via dual drummers Eddie Hick and Tom Skinner, tuba player Theon Cross, and Shabaka Hutchings on the saxophone and clarinet.
You might think of this act as more of a brass band within a concentrated form that welcomes improvisation. At the same time, Sons Of Kemet are also fearlessly honest and emphatic with their messaging.
On March 31, they will take the stage at the Sinclair in Cambridge. Hutchings and I spoke ahead of the show about getting a bunch of different artists involved in their latest album, the story behind the cover art, the compatibility of their music, and a new project he’s working on.
Black To The Future has a lot of different collaborations—with the poet Joshua Idehen, the musician and activist Moor Mother, multi-instrumentalist Angel Bat Dawid, music artist Kojey Radical, and grime rapper D Double E on various tracks. How did you go about getting these people involved and how do you feel their individual talents contributed to the vision for the album?
They’re all people that had some interaction with us before. With Moor Mother and Angel Bat Dawid, we met on the road and we talked about the idea of doing something together so I got in touch with them to ask if they wanted to play together and be on the same project. I then explained bits about what it’s about and I asked them to be themselves so it would be a contribution to what they see from us in terms of what the bass, rhythm, and tempo is. It’s about getting the individualities there. When you actually go to people with the fact that you’re not trying to get them to play anything in particular, you just want their response.
I remember telling Moor Mother that what she can give to the track can be as small or as big as she feels is appropriate. It’s just a kind of freedom to express whatever she wants on there.
The album definitely has that experimental melding of talents present and I really enjoyed it. Have you always felt that Sons Of Kemet’s music is compatible with poetry, spoken word, and hip-hop?
Yeah, I’ve always felt that poetry just goes with the music. It’s all about finding the right poetry and the right types of music. Poetry is about symbolism, poetry is about using combinations of words that when seen within those specific combinations suggest bigger ideas, thoughts, and sentiments. Music is kind of the same thing but it’s just using sounds and there’s a lot you can unpack especially with certain pieces. You hear it and it’s symbolic of a lot larger areas of thought and even areas of thought that we don’t have semantic language for because it’s so powerful. When you put those two things together, the symbolism in poetry and the deft symbolism in music, then it becomes deeper.
The cover art of the album looks like it has a similar design to Sons Of Kemet’s previous album, Your Queen Is A Reptile, with the differences being that this one is red with two characters with the previous one being orange with five characters. Who made the cover art for Black To The Future and is there any symbolism behind the image? It seems like you have one character rotating while the other is standing right in the middle.
Both album covers were done by Mzwandile Buthelezi, he is someone we’ve met on numerous trips to South Africa and he’s an incredible artist who gets his inspiration from music. He’ll draw to music, he’s not the kind of guy who does his work on spec. He has to sit with the music and see what it inspires in him, he’s an artist in his own right in terms of him becoming inspired by music and it comes out in his art. He’ll do a lot of research on the themes that are being presented and then he’ll let his inspiration do the work.
In terms of the symbolism of the two images on Black To The Future, it’s trying to reference the ancient Egyptian ankh. In basic terms, it symbolizes the making of life and the energy that’s created from the principle of life. It’s a cross that has a circle at the top of it so it’s referencing that symbol.
Sons Of Kemet is one of the many bands you’re involved in, with you also leading Shabaka and The Ancestors and being a member of the Comet Is Coming. How do you manage your time being involved in so many projects? You must do a lot of scheduling in advance and plan things out way ahead on the calendar.
It’s hectic, I manage my time on a very micro level in terms of what I’m going to do for the rest of the afternoon. Then I manage my time on quite a macro level in terms of knowing what big periods I need breaks in during a year’s time so I know what my general schedule is. In terms of the middle way, I don’t think about it too much. I know the very immediate present and I know the big picture but then I kind of float through the medium present.
It seems less stressful that way.
Yeah, I got a manager who I’ve had for a number of years, Rachel Millar, and we’ve worked closely with her to make sure that it’s a team effort and make sure that I can actually be aware of time without being restricted to it. This is the problem, if you got so many things in terms of time commitments then that’s the antithesis of musical creation because musical creation needs you to forget about time, forget about organization and just go with an idea while being inspired. It’s always a toss up between having a lot of stuff on, needing to organize myself, needing to let things go and being involved in whatever creative process I got an imminent deadline for.
You’re going to be doing a lot of touring with both Sons Of Kemet and the Comet Is Coming this year, so outside of performing do you have any other plans for 2022 when it comes to either writing new music or doing collaborations with other artists?
I’m making a record that’ll be featuring the flute style I’ve been learning over the past couple of years. It won’t necessarily be solo but it’s more put together individually so I got some duets on there. It’s a different kind of vibe record and it’s something I’m currently working on. I’ve been doing all this work on these flutes while getting into different types of melodies so I’m seeing if I can make a different type of record. That’ll hopefully be out sometime soon within this year.
Get tixx for Sons of Kemet at the Sinclair here
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.