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Soweto Kinch's 'White Juju Deconstructed' at SFJAZZ Center

Soweto Kinch's 'White Juju Deconstructed' at SFJAZZ Center

Courtesy Richard Gelfand


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Kinch's music combines jazz, funk and rap in a raw sax-voice-percussion, which has both tender and explosive moments.
Soweto Kinch
SFJAZZ Center, San Francisco, CA
White Juju Deconstructed
May 19, 2023

"It fascinates me how we're all acquainted with an unspoken architectural and symbolic language of power.' How do these monuments or myths affect how we see ourselves as a nation? Naming the piece "White Juju" deliberately inverted ideas of the 'savage' or primitive. Perhaps the bizarre fetishes and obsessions of a cult religion are more visible in modern Britain than third world countries."—Soweto Kinch in "It's Psychedelic Baby Magazine," February 2023

The bad ( but hardly unsurprising) news was that the The London Symphony Orchestra would not be accompanying the performing artist to San Francisco. The good news was that five superb musicians were assembled by the bandleader to perform his music. Saxophonist and MC Soweto Kinch both performed and recordedWhite Juju (2022, Soweto Kinch), his new recording with Lee Reynolds conducting the London Symphony Orchestra at London's Barbican Centre in November 2021. The most recent performance of this work (again with symphony) was at London's Printworks in March, 2023.

For this stellar, two-night date at San Francisco's SFJAZZ Center, Kinch presented a "deconstructed" version, one bolstered by added video footage and audio samples. His view is that racism is "a psychosis or a spell" from which we need to awaken. As Kinch told Jazzwise in 2019, "The concept of nationhood is conferred by proximity of power for anybody on the ladder, and next thing you know Black Britons are arguing against West Africans, and Chinese, Indian and black dockworkers are all pitted against one another and there is so much confusion and divide and rule. It's also a twin process that's happening. Black music may represent a form of social decay and threat, but it is an infectious, joyous and ebullient culture that everybody wants a piece of. That tension hasn't gone away. We're still living with it today; I find it creatively inspiring."

Kinch's music combined jazz, funk and rap in a raw sax-voice-percussion mix, which had both tender and explosive moments. The one downside is that sometimes the instruments can overpower the words.

Taking the stage, Kinch offered a brief introduction before he and his group launched into "Dawn," his sampled voice overshadowed by his compelling and authoritative alto. Trumpeter extraordinaire Nicholas Payton then entered the mix, as did tenor saxophonist Kebbi Williams, who soloed before the tune ended.

"March of the Unicorns" mixed sound samples with scenes of rioting in Britain, the KKK marching and medieval knights jousting. The unicorn has long been favored by many Scottish kings because the mythical beast was said to be so strong that only Kings and virgin maidens could hold them captive. Williams blew a few notes on his tenor to end. Up next, "Sanctuary" featured Payton and Williams again, with Kinch alternating between rapping and his sax—all conjuring up a thick brew reminiscent of Miles Davis's electric period. Legendary saxophonist Gary Bartz took the stage for "The Cycle of Violence" and soloed, with the backing of bassist Marcus Shelby and drummer Gregory Hutchinson. Then pianist Edward Simon soloed eloquently before it was Payton's turn to let loose on trumpet. Another news snippet came in to the background mix before the saxophones faced off to end.

Minnesota videos (of the riots following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin) were played in sepia for "Curated Violence" as Williams, Bartz and Hutchinson played in unison. A statue fell onscreen as Kinch rapped with Hutchinson drumming behind him.

The next number, "Idiots," asked, not unexpectedly, the question "Is everyone stupid?" Kinch played his electric sax while Bartz pumped his tenor and Simon tinkled the piano keys. Logos of Yahoo!, Ring, Instagram and other online social media platforms were projected above the band. On the fierce "'Casting Out" Bartz soloed once more as the others stepped back. Bartz was also featured on the next tune "Eternal."

So the evening progressed, as the new compositions ("Hope you enjoy them!") "New Diaspora" and "Shtank" were presented by the loquacious Kinch. who both called and lauded his musicians. As was some freestyling---"the first ever White Juju freestyle," with Kinch eliciting words from the audience (responses included "Windrush") to use in the piece. "What we need is to end the inequality," Kinch declaimed. And all the members were given space to solo with Bartz blowing some Coltraneish riffs and bassist Shelby soloing eloquently as did Simon (who strummed the strings inside his piano to improvise) and drummer Hutchinson. The show climaxed with a wail of horns followed by a standing ovation. There was no encore.

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