Even as Shabaka Hutchings moves the evolution of jazz forward, We Are Sent Here By History laments the present-day conditions of conflict, suffering, parity, and the struggle to survive. The saxophonist's breakthrough album came with his Sons of Kemet on Your Queen Is A Reptile (Impulse! Records, 2018). He also leads the jazz/electronica hybrid The Comet Is Coming. Shabaka and the Ancestors' debut, Wisdom of Elders (Brownswood Recordings, 2016) essentially featured the same group of South African musicians, but here with the addition of a second pianist, Thandi Ntuli.
We Are Sent Here By History is less episodic than Wisdom of Elders; an aqueous flow of strong emotion and spirituality. In updating the traditional role of the African griot, Hutchings takes a mystical, and cautionary, pilgrimage through failing society. Unfolding political and cultural fractures play out in the multi-faceted disorder of "They Who Must Die" and the frenetic insistence of "The Coming of the Strange Ones." South African Siyabonga Mthembu's spoken word opening to "You've Been Called" is unnerving and harrowing as he recites "We possess the power to pray our own devils back to hell, back to the burning," before invoking the album's title.
Hutchings also addresses gender issues on We Are Sent Here By History. Three of the final four tracks take aim at the lack of equality, absent role models, and misogyny, in part, related through Zulu readings and chants. "We Will Work (On Redefining Manhood)" and "Teach Me How To Be Vulnerable," ultimately conclude, optimistically, that much work needs to be done. The subject is weighty but the music itself is uplifting when removed from the context. Hutchings' playing has been compared to several sax greats from the latter half of the twentieth century. The associations are fitting but more important, Hutchings has a compelling story to tell, as would the ancient griot.
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.
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