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Multiphonic Afro-futurism and ‘subversive breeze’

Mixed Media
Music
Haiti

Your Queen Is a Reptile

by Sons of Kemet (Impulse! Records, CD, LP and digital)

Several years ago, a former goalkeeper named David Icke made the news by announcing that the Queen was a lizard from outer space who, along with the rest of her reptilian ilk, was bent on world domination. Shabaka Hutchings, the virtuoso saxophonist-composer and the key mover behind Sons of Kemet, is silent as to whether such reptilian revelations lie behind the jazz outfit’s third album. However, what is abundantly clear is the black pride and honour that goes into Your Queen Is a Reptile. Each of its nine songs names a personal queen – ranging from Mamie Phipps Clarke, Doreen Laurence and Harriet Tubman, to Queen Nanny of The Maroons, Angela Davis, and Yaa Asantewaa. Each is chosen for their actions rather than their lineage.

Hutchings’ music fits – loosely – into a contemporary iteration of Afro-futurism, and his lineage stretches back to the multiphonic worlds of such masters as John Coltrane, and Pharoah Sanders. Hutchings’ composition has various sides: his trio, The Comet Is Coming, for example, steers a wild path through a more rock-ish scenario, while The Ancestors favour a South African jazz connection. The Sons of Kemet, in contrast, has an improvisatory approach in their rapid communications of sax, tuba and two drummers. The collaboration is not only a statement of historical pride, but a deeply structured communication between multiple forms of African-derived sound. Jazz, hip-hop and performance poetry (the latter two courtesy of guests Congo Natty and Joshua Idehen) make this a strong statement.  

Your Queen Is a Reptile by Sons of Kemet.
Sons of Kemet – historical pride and Afro-futurism.

★★★★★ LG

sonsofkemet.com

Radyo Siwèl

by Mélissa Laveaux (Nø Førmat! CD, LP)

This accomplished album arises from Mélissa Laveaux’s search for her musical roots in Haiti and the resulting journey is a joy. Born and raised in Canada to Haitian parents, Laveaux’s ancestral home threw no influence on her earlier work, which is characterized by a lightly inflected indie-jazz feel. She had a flair for cover versions, including the magnificent Eartha Kitt’s ‘I Want to be Evil’, which she recorded several years ago.

Radyo Siwèl by Mélissa Laveaux.
Touching home – Mélissa Laveaux draws on her Haitian roots for Radyo Siwèl.

Laveaux brings these talents to Radyo Siwèl (a siwèl is a type of mountain-growing plum), an album that is utterly steeped in Haitian politics, culture and a history of militancy. Most of the material is sourced from rural folk and voudou songs. Song-finding expeditions threw up some choice items: Auguste L’Instant de Pradines’ ‘Angeli-ko’, for example, is a reaction to the US occupation of the island between 1915 and 1934. There’s an immediacy in the power that Laveaux and her small band – drums, guitars, keyboards – bring to their material. Musically, it can veer from a jerky punk to the fuzzy guitars she uses to cover Ludovic Lamothe’s ‘Nibo’, to a breezy French chanson style. This is Afro-Caribbean music that has been refracted though the ears of a musician who grew up with a soundworld that included The Slits’s punky reggae and Tricky’s spaced-out trip-hop music. All in all, a subversive breeze.

★★★★ LG

melissalaveauxofficial.bandcamp.com

New Internationalist issue 510 magazine cover This article is from the February 2018 issue of New Internationalist.
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