tue 23/07/2024

Album: Shabaka & the Ancestors - We are Sent Here by History | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Shabaka & the Ancestors - We are Sent Here by History

Album: Shabaka & the Ancestors - We are Sent Here by History

Spiritual and political struggle and aspiration from the Londoner's South African ensemble

Londoner Shabaka Hutchings's other main groups, The Comet Is Coming and Sons Of Kemet, are pretty modernist. They incorporate dub, post-rock, post punk and rhythm patterns that recall London pirate radio sounds into the playing of his ensembles, with thrillingly adrenalised and / or cosmic results.

This ensemble, though – convened in South Africa with with trumpeter Mandla Mlangeni – is altogether more true to a strictly jazz lineage. It's true, in fact, to a very specific jazz lineage: “The New Thing”, the explicitly spiritual, often fiercely political music exemplified by John and Alice Coltrane, Don Cherry, Pharaoh Sanders and co in the late Sixties and on.

Thus it ranges from the lightest of airborne meditations (“Teach me how to be Vulnerable”) through sections entirely built on Gontse Makhene's hand percussion with Zulu singing (the opening section of “We Will Work (on Redefining Manhood”), to dense Arkestral free playing (“Beasts too Spoke of Suffering”, where the wild swarms of brass tones gradually coalesce around a slow and steady chant, which seems to gradually pacify them). It's so true to the original wellspring of this sound, that were it presented as a lost private press gem, it would be all too easy to believe. It could, indeed, be sent by history.

Does that matter? Not one jot. This is music that it's impossible to convincingly do in a “retro” way: try and just imitate licks and stylistic tics and it's entirely obvious. This record is audibly the unfakeable product of intellectual and emotional beings interacting and creating in the moment. It is also, for all the profound seriousness that you've probably guessed from the song titles, full of levity and conviviality. Throughout this is music for dancing – and music that dances – and there are elements like Hutchings's playful clarinet on “Run, the Darkness Will Pass” which are as joyous as anything you will hear this year. Though the album speaks ferociously of racial and social iniquity, toxic masculinity and more, it also imagines, and vividly depicts, a better world. Vocalist Siyabonga Mthembu says of another song, “in times of darkness [it] is a call to the light and the heart” and it's hard to sum up this album much better than that.


Watch "Go my Heart, go to Heaven":

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