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Sons of Kemet @ Somerset House (Music Review) Sons of Kemet @ Somerset House (Music Review)
Sons of Kemet @ Somerset House (Music Review)

As part of Somerset House Summer Series which features a range of music from different genres, the Sons of Kemet took to the stage on a balmy, warm evening, in fron of a mixed expectant crowd.


Led by Shabaka Hutchings, the band sit at the forefront of a new generation of nu wave jazz musicians upending expectations by introducing their own forms of irresistible polyrhythms and restless melodies that counter some of the traditions of this musical artform.


Dressed simply in a blue vest and grey jogging bottoms, Shabaka bounded on stage defiantly waving his instrument aloft. Followed, in a slightly less dramatic manner was tuba player Theon Cross, nattily dressed in baggy top and ankle length shorts. A quartet of backing horn players make up the makeshift septet.


Announcing their intentions, the band immediately launch into the hip shaking ‘Inner Babylon’. They were here to party and expected the crowd to do likewise. The pace and intensity never lets up from the first note to the lasts. This was going to be an all night jam. What followed was a medley of tunes from their critically acclaimed and Mercury prize nominated Your Queen Is a Reptile and from their 2015 album Lest We Forget What We Came Here to Do, played with ferocious intensity.


Beavering away at the back but disappointingly hidden from view for most of the set are drummers Tom Skinner and Eddie Hick, who make up for their obscurity by providing the hard core rhythms that tore through all of the tunes, letting us know that they were at the heart of it all.


Sons of Kemet’s sound can be described as horn driven blistering jazz driven party music. It is relentless, incessant and made to make the audience move. Definitely not for the Ronnie Scott’s foot tappers. This is jazz for the hips and the soul. Shabaka’s tenor sax sound is muscular and hard edged, constantly fast and furious, not letting up throughout, as if challenging the audience to match his pace and stamina.


Theon, was equally no slouch. The tuba is a big and cumbersome instrument to play. How he managed to get the range of sound and emotions whilst maintaining that level of intensity and was difficult to fathom. This was highlighted on My Queen is Albertina Sisulu, where his ‘dueting’ with the two drummers was breathtaking.


The tight interplay between the two drummers cannot be overstated, it works so well. Each musician delicately balanced by the other, not clashing but somehow playing in harmony like a two piece jigsaw. Unlike most bands where the drums take a backseat, here they as as much at the forefront, integral to creating the vibes and sound of the group.


It’s not surprising to learn that the roots of the band sounds lies very much in the leaders heritage. Born in London, Hutchings, relocated to Barbados at six, remaining there till he was 16 coming back to take up the clarinet. The calypso and soca music of Barbados’ carnival accounting for a large part of the band’s kinetic intensity. “Everyone comes out on the street and it’s a massive party,” says Hutchings of carnival, “and in some ways that’s the core feeling that we’re trying to get in Sons of Kemet.” 


After the first three tunes, there follows a succession of rappers and singers. The most notable being poet Joshua Idehen (pic left), who brought the concert to a rousing conclusion with two of the band’s massive hits with emotional My Queen is Ada Eastman and politically charged  My Queen Is Doreen Lawrence. The latter containing the lyrics: “Don’t wanna hear that racist claptrap. Anybody chat that crap get clapped back. Don’t wanna take my country back mate.I wanna take my country forward.”


It was fitting and appropriate ending for this young innovative British jazz musicians determined to forge ahead, creating their own path and bring as much local influence into their music whilst acknowledging jazz’s long legacy. We look forward to their seeing them live again, hopefully taking UK jazz to a new and exciting direction.


Sons of Kemet, 13 July 2019, Somerset House, WC2R 1LA

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