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Shabaka & the Ancestors: We Are Sent Here By History

Chris May By

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Reed player Shabaka Hutchings became the first British musician to sign to the iconic (for once the word is justified) Impulse! label when his band Sons of Kemet did so in 2018. It was a deal for which his management could rightly be proud. It was also an affirmation which Hutchings felt deeply, for in the 1960s and 1970s Impulse! had recorded many of his formative influences, John Coltrane, Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders among them. In 2019 Hutchings took another of his projects, The Comet Is Coming, to the label. Shabaka & the Ancestors makes that a hat trick. We Are Sent Here By History is the Hutchings-aside South African group's awesome (for once this word is justified, too) second album, following Wisdom Of Elders, released on London's Brownswood in 2016.

If signing to Impulse! was something of a coup for Hutchings, it also puts some fire back in the belly of the label, which for most of its post-1970s existence has been little more than a logo wheeled out by its holding company, Universal Music, for the occasional project. Alice Coltrane's 2004 swansong, Translinear Light, was one of a tiny number of new releases worthy of the Impulse! imprint. But with three Hutchings bands on the roster the label's credibility is boosted spectacularly, for Hutchings is one of modern jazz's deepest and most singular talents.

Given his head, Hutchings will likely bring more bands to Impulse!, particularly those from the new London alternative jazz scene of which he is a leading light. The various artists compilation of emergent London bands, We Out Here (Brownswood, 2018), which Hutchings curated and produced, was a demonstration of his considerable A&R skills, featuring as it did soon-to-be stars Ezra Collective, Theon Cross and Nubya Garcia among its attractions.

Message is a vital ingredient in Hutchings' music and never more so than on the new album. Sons of Kemet's Your Queen Is A Reptile (2018), The Comet is Coming's Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery and Afterlife (both 2019), and the Ancestors' Wisdom Of Elders and We Are Sent Here By History each carry social-political narratives as powerful as the music in their grooves. They pick up the militant spiritual-jazz banner which Impulse!, and other US labels such as Strata-East, carried back in the day.

The message on We Are Sent Here By History is clear and uncompromising. "It is a meditation on the fact of our coming extinction as a species," says Hutchings. "It is a reflection from the ruins, from the burning, a questioning of the steps to be taken in preparation for our transition individually and societally if the end is to be seen as anything but a tragic defeat. For those lives lost and cultures dismantled by centuries of western expansionism, capitalist thought and white supremacist structural hegemony the end days have long been heralded as present, with this world experienced as an embodiment of a living purgatory."

Musically the album is a fast-forward spin going on futuristic reinvention of the South African township jazz pioneered by artists such as Hugh Masekela, Chris McGregor and Dudu Pukwana in the mid 20th century. Ancient and modern, visceral and cerebral, epic yet intimate, it is jazz at its best. If humankind's extinction is inevitable, as Hutchings fears, then at least we have some extraordinary music with which to play ourselves out.

Heads Up: In May 2020, London's Barbican's Centre will be presenting Propaganda, a multi-media weekend of events programmed by and featuring Hutchings. In the performance strand, Sons of Kemet will play in the Barbican's main auditorium on May 8, Rolling Calf (featuring Jason Yarde) play a matinee at Milton Court Concert Hall on May 10, and Shabaka & The Ancestors perform in the main auditorium that evening.

Track Listing

They Who Must Die; You’ve Been Called; Go My Heart, Go to Heaven; Behold, The Deceiver; Run, The Darkness Will Pass; The Coming of the Strange Ones; Beasts Too Spoke of Suffering; We Will Work (On Redefining Manhood); ‘Til the Freedom Comes Home; Finally, The Man Cried; Teach Me How to Be Vulnerable.

Personnel

Shabaka Hutchings: woodwinds; Mthunzi Mvubu: saxophone, alto; Ariel Zamonsky: bass, acoustic; Gontse Makhene: percussion; Tumi Mogorosi : drums; Siyabonga Mthembu: vocalist; Nduduzo Makhathini: piano; Thandi Ntuli: piano; Mandla Mlangeni: trumpet.

Album information

Title: We Are Sent Here by History | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Impulse! Records

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