Sons of Kemet, the boundary-pushing contemporary jazz quartet led by saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, were shortlisted for the 2018 Mercury Prize last week. The nomination caps off a succession of glowing reviews for the band’s latest album, Your Queen is a Reptile. Rhythm Passport had previously awarded the ambitious, nine-track effort a perfect 10 – reviewer Jane Cocklin praising its danceable and spiritual duality, and calling it, ‘a record that is drowned in emotional detail.’
The group went beyond what was to be expected: poet Joshua Idehen and jungle icon Congo Natty making vocal contributions to the record, which addresses themes drawn from Hutchings’ reading on colonialism, Caribbean sociologist Frantz Fanon and various civil rights leaders. Tuba player Theon Cross at times plays patterns similar to those an EDM or grime producer might program, giving the music a very contemporary groove, despite the spiritual feeling evoked by acoustic percussion.
Recorded partially at Total Refreshment Centre and utilising the contributions of Nubya Garcia and Moses Boyd, it is a ‘London record’ through and through. Addressing their award nomination on Facebook, the group simply stated, ‘We Gives Thanks!’ Comments perhaps reflecting a desire to remain grounded, despite the beautiful arrangement and political poignancy of their record.
Having released the record with Impulse! records, Theon Cross described it as ‘surreal to be recording on the same label as Coltrane, Mingus and many more of my jazz heroes.’ He’s excited to be part of a new wave of British musicians making an impact overseas and said of the album, ‘For me the new album is about celebrating the women in our history who have made a difference to the world around us and honoring them as queens through music.’
Spotify, the Prize’s digital music partner, have pulled together a Shortlisted albums playlist containing two Sons of Kemet tracks and you can check out My Queen is Harriet Tubman below. Sons of Kemet are live at Band on the Wall on 28th October.