What does it sound like?:
Conceived as a dire warning for mankind in the face of a climate change catastrophe, We Are Sent Here By History resonates even more powerfully as nature fights back and inflicts a mutant virus on us all. Listening to it just as the whole world is embroiled in the kind of existential threat the album describes is both a sobering and exhilarating experience.
Shabaka Hutchings is a restless soul, born in Barbados but raised in London, he is a wandering minstrel, who leads no fewer than three bands, the electronic dance influenced The Comet Is Coming, the polyrhythmic Caribbean-style Sons Of Kemet and these, The Ancesters. It’s no wonder he is drawn to the African tradition of griot, in which a dazzling showman, instrumentalist, and storyteller, travels from village to village to spread the news, connecting one community with another and the past with the present and the future.
Siyabonga Mthembu’s vocals, as the griot, are pivotal to the album. He chants in Zulu and Xhosa, he recites the visionary poetry of Lindokuhle Nkosi, he raps and he sings, he screams, he implores, he cajoles. He rails against God on You’ve Been Called, improvises a polemic on comets and the solar system and rants about masculine behaviour on We Will Work On (Redefining Manhood). His is no ‘normal’ jazz vocal. He is the starting point, the inspiration for the musicians and once they get into their roaring stride, he provides encouragement and succour.
The Ancesters are South African. Ariel Zamonsky’s double bass carries the melodies, propelled by the churning rhythms of Gontse Makhene’s urgent percussion and drummer Tumi Mogorosi’s nimble touch. Mthunzi Mvubu, edgy on alto sax, continues a lively conversation with Shabaka’s more restrained rumbling horns. Nduduzo Makhathini and Thandi Ntuli guest on piano and Mandla Mlangeni contributes adroitly on trumpet. It’s a stirring brew: African rhythms, the brooding, collective power of an Arkestra, the spirituality of Supreme Love and a pinch of a Fender Rhodes from fusion Miles. They flirt with free jazz without losing their overarching organisation and collective sense of purpose. There are some pauses for quiet reflection and tenderness but, mostly, Shabaka and The Ancestors create a restless, relentless momentum, pushing us all towards our moment of truth.
In the darkest hour, We Are Sent Here By History is disquieting and gloomy but it offers a sliver of hope. Those of us who survive have the opportunity to live a better life. For the sake of humanity and the planet, pressing the reset button will be essential once we are through to the other side. Shabaka and The Ancestors provide the inspiration to face our fate with dignity. Let’s hope we all get to hear their triumphant follow up!
What does it all *mean*?
Shabaka Hutchings is a polymath and workaholic, acutely aware of the world around him. It’s difficult to imagine any other album will capture the events of today so well.
Goes well with…
Being alive right here, right now. We Are Sent Here By History is the perfect soundtrack to 12 weeks confinement or battling on the frontline.
Might suit people who like…
Peering into the abyss while clinging to a glimmer of hope.