Event Review: Soweto Kinch & LSO Orchestra @ Barbican (London; Friday, 19th November 2021)

Soweto Kinch’s White Juju dropped us on a political see-saw of time. Unsettling. Disturbing. But with an overtone of hope. It was a brutally honest and intellectual investigation into the “powerful suspicion that the current receptivity to the black experience… may only be momentary”. All conveyed through an uncommon mix of jazz, hip-hop and romantic orchestral music. This for me was a stand-out moment of the EFG London Jazz Festival. Not simply a celebration of musical talents, but an original night crafted with a message to affect society.

Photo ©: Mark Allan

Kinch teamed up with the London Symphony Orchestra and drummer Gregory Hutchinson (Joshua Redman Quartet), bassist Nick Jurd and pianist Rick Simpson to bring us a creative and captivating performance. He partnered with LSO conductor Lee Reynolds with ease and the two were synchronised. They bypassed the status quo of their familiar genres and showed us the power of alliance. Playing to a packed audience, this was Kinch’s first and well-deserved headline at the Barbican for the festival hosted by Serious 

The performance started with a swooping dramatic orchestral timbre, Kinch’s spoken word was fierce and unafraid. Jolting, it was hard to make sense of it all. He switched between spoken word, and raging or melancholy saxophone melodies as the orchestra set the dramatic scene. At the same time we were bombarded with racing collages of visual real-life footage of political figures and riots on the screens. This was interspersed with symbolic clips, like a tub of wriggling baby snakes. It felt like a powerful tool to bypass any rationalization and pierce the subconscious. The fast pace of images also gave his message a felt sense of urgency and friendly assault.

Photo ©: Mark Allan

Kinch, dressed all in white, stood amongst the LSO, themselves dressed in black. He took us on a chaotic journey that initially highlighted the divide but finally resolved into a rhythmic harmony. The show flooded the senses with contrasts and reflections. What started as a gloomy and skeptical view of world events turned into a sonic party. Kinch tried to get people on their feet to what may be the funkiest orchestral set I’ve been to.

Kinch took on a mammoth project here but it fully paid off. I’m excited to see more, but mostly I hope to see this show reach a wider audience. This was a clever and enjoyable night that left you feeling fired up and wanting more.


Photos ©: Mark Allan