Album Review: Sons of Kemet – Your Queen Is A Reptile [Impulse! Records; March 2018]

Jazz-punk saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings once again flexes his artistic influence to scatter seeds of thought with new album Your Queen Is A Reptile. With a fearsome message and angry reflection, he challenges listeners to understand the power of the individual and reconsider the relevance of our country’s leadership. Hutchings forces us to acknowledge that we are in the midst of a political pivotal imbalance as he reacts to the social climate surrounding us. The lyrics talk about a current moment where we have the opportunity to turn back towards the past or embellish our future with inclusivity.

With a striving black activist spirit, the new Sons of Kemet LP realises the relevance of our racial history. Each track highlights influential women from the last few centuries that have fought for equality and had a substantial and direct impact on African descendants and immigrants. Each song has a lesson to learn and a role model to behold.

Hutchings grew up in Barbados from the age of six and moved back to London aged sixteen.  He cites his time in the Caribbean as being integral to his musical progression and spiritual growth. The multi-racial band is also comprised of Theon Cross on tuba and two groove-masters on drums, Tom Skinner and Eddie Hick. This is their third album and, over time, each groove gets more infectious and reflects more sentiment. Poet Joshua Idehen also appears on a couple of tracks, helping to open and close the offering.

Idehen lays the record’s message bare as he directly cries, “Don’t wanna hear that racist claptrap!” Underneath the lyrics, Sons of Kemet groove in raw energy whilst allowing themselves to be vulnerable and fully inclusive at the same time. The tuba lays down the brooding syncopated footing to each tune with a nod to New Orleans.  Skinner and Rochford also exchange polyrhythms seamlessly intertwined, somehow connecting the gaps whilst also leaving just enough space. Hutchings layers stabbing saxophone hooks over the top, taking alternating motifs and developing them into intricate and rousing melodies.  This is a remarkable band that is able to provide both infectious danceable rhythms and a spiritual soulfulness to their songs.

This is a record that is drowned in emotional detail as well as strong intention and continues to give each time you listen. This is a glimpse of the experiences that make up Hutchings and his observations of indifference from a country to integrate and embrace immigrants. Ultimately, this is a beautifully accessible jazz album for music listeners with an appreciation for a conceptual revolutionary spirit and those who relish existential relevance in their music.