The pride in Blackness is deep as the subterranean blood that pulsates with imperious rhythm in the veins, and it is profound too. If you’re not black you might not understand this because even if you have come to accept that the birth of the human genus is Africa, you might still be unaware – or even in denial – that the origin of civilisation is African, despite the fact that men like Cheikh Anta Diop proved it to be so. You might also not understand why it is that improvised music as played by black musicians – their invention we call “Jazz” – is different from improvised music that is played by white musicians. It may not sound different, as the rudiments are similar; but it comes from a different place – the place of “The Blues”. Or you might simply listen to what the music of someone like Kamasi Washington or Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, or Shabaka Hutchings sounds like to try and understand the difference.
This is the significance of the music of We Were Sent Here By History by Shabaka & The Ancestors. One the face of it, this shouldn’t be difficult to catch on; not with words like “history” and “ancestors” at any rate. But in case you miss those cues, there is the music: the powerful, elemental ache of the Blues is unmistakable throughout the atomic energy of this music, as is the soaring ecstasy of the collision of melody, harmonic conception and the rhythmic blood-letting that makes this music one of a kind and ineffably beautiful and powerful. Mr Hutchings, for instance doesn’t simply “play” the saxophone and clarinet; he issues elemental wails and supplications, and he struts, with staccato accentuation in his triumphant phraseology that punctuates his playing, as the air from his lungs is propelled through the mouthpiece and the bell of tenor saxophone and clarinet alike.
Likewise you will experience the same entreaties from the other musicians – Mthunzi Mvubu’s alto horn, Mandla Mlangeni’s trumpet; through the rumbling arpeggios and blistering runs of Thandi Ntuli’s piano and the celestial tintinnabulations of Nduduzo Makhathini’s Fender Rhodes; through the majestic rattle and hum, and sizzle of the musicians who kick things off: Tumi Mogorosi’s drums and Gontse Makhene’s percussion colourations, the preternatural thunder of Ariel Zamonsky’s bass and – above all – through the celestial pronouncements of Siyabonga Mthembu’s vocals and recitations – at once both lyrical radical in content and delivery especially in teh forboding prelude to “You’ve Been Called”. Mr Hutchings embodies a sense of Blackness that is similar to what Frantz Fanon writes about in Black Skins White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth in all the bluesy melancholy and sinewy triumphant sound of music between “They Who Must Die” and “’Til The Freedom Comes Home”.
The considerable degree of balance and integration of melody, harmony and rhythm, of composition and improvisation, of exploration, individuality and tradition is impressively maintained throughout this magnificent repertoire. Mr Hutchings directs all of this as he continues to ring in the changes in mood, structure and tempo, making for a constantly exciting programme. But above all it is the stark humanity of this music that is of the greatest appeal to the senses and nowhere is this better described than in the broodingly beautiful “Finally, the Man Cried” and even more so in the passionate humanism [and probably with the most Frantz Fanon-like humanity of all the music] of “Teach Me How to Be Vulnerable”. Truly an album to die for…
Track list – 1: They Who Must Die 2: You’ve Been Called; 3: Go My Heart, Go to Heaven; 4: Behold, the Deceiver; 5: Run, the Darkness Will Pass; 6: The Coming of the Strange Ones; 7: Beasts Too Spoke of Suffering; 8: We Will Work (On Redefining Manhood); 9: ‘Til The Freedom Comes Home; 10: Finally, the Man Cried; 11: Teach Me How to Be Vulnerable
Personnel – Shabaka Hutchings: tenor saxophone and clarinet; Mthunzi Mvubu: alto saxophone; Mandla Mlangeni: trumpet ; Siyabonga Mthembu: voice; Thandi Ntuli: piano [2, 11]; Nduduzo Makhathini: Fender Rhodes [2, 5]; Ariel Zamonsky: contrabass; Tumi Mogorosi: drums; Gontse Makhene: percussion
Released – 2020
Label – Impulse [80031632-02]
Runtime – 1:04:04
So true, so insipiring, empathetic and factual.
It has been a long time since I read a piece of writing ( a piece of art) like this one. Raul da Gama is a great writer and publicist but he has the magic of making people feel every note of music with every letter by letter he writes.
You made my day, Sir. Thanks for giving me a lesson on music and life.
Maria Cabeza, Writer