I began to type the words ‘the world has changed dramatically in the last few years’ to begin this review. Something so glib does not even begin to do justice to the issues that Sons of Kemet tackle on Black To The Future.
‘Black is tired / Black would like to make a statement / Black is tired’
If you’ve failed to notice a big change since the events in Minneapolis last summer, well then this album will make things very clear for you.
‘One knee on my back / One knee on my lungs’
The subtler messages, like celebrating unknown and underappreciated black heroines on the previous album, are gone. Sons of Kemet like many others have called for political change but gone unheard by people with power. The mood is different now. The underlying feelings have nowhere else to go but spill over into music as an expression. Anger is channeled here and who can blame them?
‘I do not want your equality / It was never yours to give me / and event then it was too minor / too little too late’
The message is so important this time around, that the music takes a back seat. So if, like me, you came to this album expecting Your Queen Is A Reptile part two then you’re likely to be disappointed. That’s not to say the music this time is worse, just don’t come to Black To The Future wanting the same experience. It may take you a few listens to come round to Sons Of Kemet’s fourth album, but it will reward you in different ways.
On the whole, this album is not here for you to enjoy yourself: it’s here to give you a verbal kick up the arse. Guest vocalists like Kojey Radical and and Joshua Idehen appear on almost every track to do just this. The middle section comes then as some light if not incongruous relief. ‘For The Culture’ stands out as the party track on the album with lyrics about the girl who ‘wind down low’, the ‘queen of the dancehall scene’. ‘To Never Forget The Source’ is short and catchy, without ever getting too lively. There are still plenty of trademark catchy saxophone and tuba riffs to hook you elsewhere. Yet they hook you in and take you to unexpected places. The one downer for me on Black To The Future is that Sons of Kemet fail to let their unique double drums/percussion shine. This powerful combination, another characteristic element of a sound all their own, is woefully underused and you really notice that it’s missing
Musically then, Shabaka Hutchings and co., veer more into expressionist, free jazz. The band are not performing for you, they’re playing as hard as they can for themselves. ‘Pick Up Your Burning Cross’ sees the most frantic playing in the characteristic, percussive Shabaka saxophone style. In quieter corners of the album, ‘Think Of Home’ for example, he switches to clarinet for a softer, more pensive tone. ‘Let The Circle Be Unbroken’ sees Sons of Kemet at their most musically radical, the second half descending into a discordant clamour of conflict – the very sound of the collective grief for yet another black life lost at the very hands of those whose job it is to protect them.
Nobody is arguing this isn’t an important album. Is it as immediately enjoyable as the wonderful Your Queen Is A Reptile? No. Neither is it supposed to be. I can’t help that feel that those who need to hear its message most are the very same who haven’t noticed any changes in our world. For the rest of us, if you take from Black To The Future the idea that it’s our responsibility to tell the world, then the album has done its job.
Words by James Spearing