Interview: Shabaka Hutchings

Sons Of Kemet Interview

We are big fans of all things Sons Of Kemet here at Twistedsoul and having listened to their new album (review coming soon), I’m happy to report that the quartet are wasting no time in evolving their sound and staying ahead of the game.

The band boasts a line-up that comprises some of the most progressive 21st-century talents in British jazz and beyond. Bandleader, composer and sax and clarinet player Shabaka Hutchings continues his fiery vision alongside London-based band mates Tom Skinner and Seb Rochford (a dynamo duo on drums) and latest addition, Theon Cross (taking over from Oren Marshall) on tuba.

The result of a one-off performance at a bar in North London, Sons Of Kemet were formed in 2012 and have subsequently made a name for themselves with their MOBO-winning debut album, Burn, and energetic live performances.

Titled “Lest We Forget What We Came Here To Do,” the new album continues the themes explored on the debut album. With the album out next week we chatted with Bandleader Shabaka Hutchings about the upcoming album, literary influences, collaborations, the use of traditional Barbadian music and more.

Q. For those who might be new to the band. Tell us about how Sons Of Kemet came together?

Sons of Kemet came was formed about 4 years ago. I put together the group for a one off performance at a small music bar in old street, London called charlie wrights. I’d written a bunch of music in the preceding year and had no regular band to play it with so thought it would be good to hear it using some of my favourite colleagues. That gig went really well and we just did things organically from there – playing all the small venues around London and building up a following.

In terms of choice of personnel; I play in tom skinner’s group ‘Hello Skinny’ as well as having been in a now defunct group ‘zed-u’. Seb Rochford asked me about 7 years ago to start depping in his group Polar Bear for either of the two sax players and I’ve been playing with his band regularly ever since as well as having done quite a bit of free improvisation with him. I’d played the least with Oren Marshall at the point of starting SOK but had always admired his work and ability to unify quite disparate stylistic traits in a codified vision of buoyant music. Theon cross, our new tuba player is a fantastic young player who I’ve had my eye on for a while.

Q.Is there a collective personality or vision the band members have?

Personality-wise I’d say there isn’t a collective identity. this is one of the traits which gives us strength. We all have slightly differing temperaments and sensitivity to balance within the group which allows us to form something greater than I think any of us singularly could envision.

We all believe in the functionality of music in reflecting the times we live in and as a chronicle of the past. Our sounds are a map of the various emotional zones humans have thought best articulated via this musical medium. In us gaining influences through study and wilfully applying them in the context of our group we keep alive the spirit of our (communal) ancestors and pay homage to the lessons in humanity they impart

Q.I’ve read that the new album has some literary inspirations running throughout. How did it influence your way of composing?

Both the new album and our debut have homages to great figures in the literary world which include Octavia Butler, George Lamming, Eduardo Galeano and Fernando Pessoa. These writers have all conjured atmospheres which have stuck with me beyond my reading of their works; they have reconfigured the way I perceive the mechanics of my own life. Through my commemorative compositions I try to capture some of what I feel from their words. Often, in attempting to explain the impact certain authors have upon my consciousness I find myself at a loss for adequate vocabulary to articulate the impact they have on my inner world. Writing music is the truest form of explanation I can muster for describing and celebrating their importance.

Octavia Butler’s novel ‘parable of the talents’ presents a world set in the future in which social, environmental and economic demise has befallen america’s population. The novel’s chief protagonist creates a new value system and ideology as a means of survival and interpreting this broken world. The story is set in the near future and despite it being science fiction there isn’t much fantastical about the themes explored. It’s a frighteningly familiar dystopian vision of the near future. The ideology includes the belief in God being not a spiritual or otherworldly being but the actual process by which change is enacted throughout every occurrence from a molecular level upwards. In this sense, willingness to adapt and accept the fluidity of life is the truest form of worship. Reading this had quite a major effect on how I manage my expectations musically and otherwise and the composition ‘the long night of Octavia Butler’ is an exploration of the feeling Butler’s words had on my attitude to life.

Barbadian author George Lamming wrote ‘in the castle of my skin’ as a chronicle of his coming of age as a young man growing up in Barbados. He parallels this with the struggles the country goes through in its own political development during these years as a newly formed independent state. I tried to capture some of the energy, instability and forward momentum of the periods described in the novel in my piece under the same title.

Shabaka Hutchings

Q.Tell me a bit more about In Memory Of Samir Awad? The track has a very interesting story attached to it?

Samir Awad was a Palestinian teen shot by Israeli forces near a separation wall through his village which had been the site of numerous protests. The story of his death has stuck with me as a symbol of the manifold tragedies befalling the Palestinian people. Many reports I’ve read in regards to occurrences within this region refer to Palestinian people in statistical language, separating us from the reality of human life affected. This song is my offering to the memory of an individual life lost. As a group it’s our testimony to history that this situation is one which does have resonance within our lives, that we are not apathetic to this struggle against colonial expansion.


Q.Talk more about nuances of specific tracks on the album. “Afrofustusim,” is super experimental, using a traditional Barbadian style called Tuk and Fife music from New Orleans. Are those the kind of sounds you want to be expanding on in the future?

Afro-futurism is indicative of our attitude towards assimilation throughout most of our tunes. The basic groove is based on the Barbadian tuk rhythm but we’ve made it something of our own. We take the framework and feeling of a given style and bear that in mind while allowing our individual personalities and sensibilities to manifest a fresh perspective on the original. I like the fact that in doing this, the listener is able to catch fleeting glimpses of elements they might recognise from other particular genres yet there are no steadfast frames of reference. Within Afrofuturism I also tried to capture the element of live dancehall music whereby a song is hyped up to a frenzy point. A zone is created whereby even the breaks in the music are infused with so much energy that they also are contributing to the charging of the vibes.

In terms of what I’ll be expanding on in the future it won’t particularly be along the lines of Afrofuturism. I’ve got quite a good idea of what I want our third album to sound like…. I want to explore longer forms and slow developing pieces where every element of the formation of rhythm and melody is unhurriedly and organically grown in the way a minimal house tune develops. I want the fact of the passage of time to be irrelevant in the music to come.

Q.You guys set the bar high with Burn, winning the MOBO Best Jazz Award. How does it feel now that your new album is about to drop?

It feels great to see the band furthering the process of developing a body of work which adequately describes the complexity of our lives and influences. I was really happy with the music on Burn and how it was received but there were a lot of areas in need of further exploration on there which I think we’ve dealt with on the new album.

Q.What artist inspire you at the moment? And If you could collaborate with one artist, who would it be?

I recently saw a group called Stuff from Belgium who completely blew me away, one of the most inspiring sets I’ve seen in a while. There are some groups from South Africa as well who I’ve been collaborating with recently that are pretty mega – tumi mogorosi’s Project ELO and The Brother Moves On. The UK’s own United Vibrations are also doing some great stuff.

I’d collaborate with Actress if I could pick one artist, I love the pace and shadows in his music

Q.If Sons Of Kemet had to be sum up in four tracks, which ones would it be?

In the castle of my skin
Inner Babylon

Q.Lastly, you have some shows coming up. What can we expect from a Sons Of Kemet live show?

Lots of sweat. We play hard and believe in transcendence through physical surrender to the music (at the moment)


Tour Dates:

Oct 14 Salon Iksv Istanbul, Turkey 
Oct 17 Touch of Noir Festival Luxembourg, Luxembourg 
Oct 18 Enjoy Jazz Festival Heidelberg, Germany 
Oct 22 Hare and Hounds Birmingham, United Kingdom 
Oct 29 Moritzbastei Leipzig, Germany 
Oct 30 Uberjazz Festival Hamburg, Germany 
Nov 06 Jazz Jantar Festival Gdansk, Poland 
Nov 13 Rich Mix London, United Kingdom 
Nov 14 Jazz Forum Bayreuth Bayreuth, Germany 
Nov 18 Cube Cinema Bristol Bristol, United Kingdom 
Nov 19 North Devon Theatres Barnstaple, United Kingdom 
Nov 21 The Kazimier Liverpool, United Kingdom 
Nov 22 Vilnius Mama Jazz Festival Vilnius, Lithuania
Dec 01 Band On The Wall Manchester



Pre-order Lest We Forget What We Came Here To Do here

CF Smith

Permeating your ears with good music.

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