Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Sons of Kemet

  • Burn [Naim, 2013] **
  • Your Queen Is a Reptile [Impulse, 2018] A-
  • Black to the Future [Impulse, 2021] B+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Burn [Naim, 2013]
A debut that flaunts their sound, suggests their parameters, and establishes their bona fides ("The Godfather," "Rivers of Babylon") **

Your Queen Is a Reptile [Impulse, 2018]
Where Elizabeth slithers, British-Barbadian tenor saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings's queens stand tall: Ada Eastman, Mamie Phipps Clark, Harriet Tubman, Anna Julia Cooper, Angela Davis, Nanny of the Maroons, Yaa Asantewaa, Albertine Sisulu, and Doreen Lawrence--one track apiece, look 'em up. This show of matrifocal bravado sharpens and embellishes Sons of Kemet's unique and arresting sonics: West Indian Coltrane/Rollins over two drummers, tuba for bass, and occasional intoned vocals. Purposefully yet also playfully, the implicit politics channel the sweep of the band's third and most finished album. My favorite sequence calms Angela Davis's speedy clatter with a playground melody that implies Nanny of the Maroons had more time for child care than her military record suggests, after which Yaa Asantewaa's track begins calm and builds like her Ashanti revolution. Or so we are left free to imagine. A-

Black to the Future [Impulse, 2021]
Shabaka Hutchings isn't the first jazz musician to believe aurally arresting musical originality has intellectually salient political bite, and this project's cheerful, tuba-grounded resolve is a message in itself. But losing the thread comes naturally when an album launched by the scornful Joshua Idehen attack on the audacity of Caucasity "Field Negus" passes Idehen's baton to lesser lyricists and then turns strictly instrumental for its second half. Luckily for us, Idehen gets the last word with the climactic "Black," which is salient and then some from "Black is tired/Black would like to make a statement/Black is tired/Black's eyes are vacant/Black's arms are leaden/Black's tongue cannot taste shit" to "This black struggle is dance/This black pain is dance/This black struggle is dance/And this black blaze is dance/Just leave black be/You already have the world just leave black be/Leave us alone!" B+