Black to the Future is the fourth album by Sons of Kemet, featuring Shabaka Hutchings on tenor saxophone, clarinet, and bass clarinet, Theon Cross on tuba, and both Eddie Hick and Tom Skinner on drums and percussion. It was released May 14, 2021, on Impulse! Records and recorded in 2020 during the weeks that followed the death of George Floyd.
Black to the Future
It is a Sons of Kemet album, without a doubt: angry sounds, bewitching rhythms, and an incredible mix of influences and music. Yet, it has something extra—a new tranquility which strangely gives even more impact to the album. They no longer seem to be saying, “This is the way everyone should do it, so let’s do it,” but “This is the way we’re doing it, so come and join if you want.”
Black to the Future
Some albums just feel important. It happens when the music is so amazing that people just love it, with no explanations needed. It also happens when the record says something new. Of course, nothing comes from nothing, but this great record properly articulates something that was just an idea before. Some albums manage to be both—amazing music that is also new. These records are recognized as milestones in a career, style, or genre. Black to the Future is one of these.
Black to the Future is already a commercial success—the data from Discogs and Spotify shows obvious signs of listeners’ approbation—but to put into words why Sons of Kemet’s sound and music are so pleasant, we could compare them to the rock band Mano Negra. Of course, the genres are not the same, but many points are still similar. Both groups are an aggregation of members involved in many other projects who bring original creativity and a precise tone, and the addition of all these individuals results in something very natural. Certainly, the common desire to reconnect subjective experiences is at play here, to find within each other the perfect complement, right here, right now, to create what must become real. It is a cultural melting pot that does not need labels and only plays what it feels like. Of course, both groups are aware of the recognizable influences in their music, but they don’t care about it, nor do they try to define it themselves.
The foundation of their sound is percussion. It lights up the music, giving it an irresistible attractiveness. The rhythms are catchy, sometimes complex, yet easy to approach if you want to dance to it. They are instinctive and festive. The percussion certainly makes listeners easily connect with the music; even though it is original and new; we understand it right away. It irremediably connects the music not only to the listeners but also to the musicians.
Looking back at Sons of Kemet’s four albums, what strikes one first is how creative and entertaining the band has managed to be—especially keeping in mind the limited range offered by the instruments (two horns and two drums). Despite this, they have always delivered.
- Burn (2013), on Naim Jazz, was released a decade before Black to The Future emerged on the scene defying all labels and piquing listener interest right away.
- Their sophomore album, Lest We Forget What We Came Here to Do (2015), did a lot more than just confirm their talent; it was an excellent album that got the full attention it deserved.
- Your Mother is a Reptile (2018), their first album on Impulse! Records was clearly recognized as a critical and commercial success.
On Black to the Future, vocals are no longer just an extra addition, as they were on Your Mother is a Reptile. The vocals and lyrics are now fundamentally part of the tracks—sometimes even at the core of them. Moreover, the political engagement of the lyrics is an important piece of the puzzle. It always sounds dangerous when one adds politics to art, but isn’t all art somehow political? Plus, in this case, there are at least two good reasons to fully value it:
First, Black to the Future is only expressing current events. It is not a project that aims at ruling others’ destiny, but only an expression of what is experienced today and have been experienced for years already.
Second, artists are best at expressing events, behaviors, and feelings in such a sensitive way; it can become palpable, shareable, and understandable—even for those who can’t see the forest for the trees.
Through its sound, lyrics, and openness, Black to the Future builds a new way to look at the world, and how we can live better together, while listening to outstanding music. We can’t wait to see how other musicians will follow and continue paving this path.
“In “Hustle”, the dancers represent the duality present within any struggle to transcend internal limitations.”
— Sons of Kemet
“Pick up your burning cross is about reconnecting with ancestral energies by confronting our fears and insecurities”
— Sons of Kemet
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Sons of Kemet – Black to the Future – Info
1. “Field Negus” (3:03); 2. “Pick Up Your Burning Cross” (3:44); 3. “Think of Home” (3:32); 4. “Hustle” (5:18); 5. “For the Culture” (4:01); 6. “To Never Forget the Source” (2:55); 7. “In Remembrance of Those Fallen” (5:06); 8. “Let the Circle Be Unbroken” (6:29); 9. “Envision Yourself Levitating” (8:22); 10. “Throughout the Madness, Stay Strong” (5:53); 11. “Black” (2:42).
Shabaka Hutchings: tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Theon Cross: tuba; Eddie Hick: drums, percussion; Tom Skinner: drums, percussion;
Steve Williamson: tenor saxophone (1); Joshua Idehen: vocals (1, 11); Angel Bat Dawid, Moor Mother: vocals (2); Kojey Radical: vocals (4); Lianne La Havas: backing vocals (4); Ife Ogunjobi: trumpet (5); Nathaniel Cross: trombone (5); Cassie Kinoshi: alto saxophone (5); D Double E: vocals (5); Kebbi Williams: tenor saxophone (9).
Black to the Future was released May 14, 2021 // Impulse! Records