By Ammar Kalia | Published April 2020
Much of London-based saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings’ recent work has formed a kind of revisionist history. His 2018 release with Sons Of Kemet, Your Queen Is A Reptile, posited a series of notable women of color as alternative queens to the British monarchy. And the psychedelic col- lapse of his Comet Is Coming recordings channels the otherworldly energy of jazz futurism into new musical understandings of our past and collective visions for the future. His concepts, though, are most fully expressed on his second album with Johannesburg, South Africa-based group The Ancestors.
We Are Sent Here By History is a continuous sonic poem—featuring the striking spoken-word lyrics of Siyabonga Mthembu—its 11 tracks form- ing an impressionistic narrative that demand a renegotiation of our relationship to the earth and patriarchy. Each track title is taken from a line of a poem, all calls to action that buffet the listener like Hutchings’ insistent phrasings. The doubling of vocals and reeds here serves to create a restlessly energetic communal expression. Opener “They Who Must Die” provides landsliding washes of sound, while plaintive clarinet and saxophone harmonies on “Behold, The Deceiver” call to mind the deeply felt work of Trane and Dolphy.
Hutchings’ message and vision might be grandiose, but his expression is nonetheless heartfelt and captivating. On We Are Sent Here, he makes it apparent that change is necessary, lest we embrace stasis and merely accept the history we’ve been given.
We Are Sent Here By History: They Who Must Die; You’ve Been Called; Go My Heart, Go To Heaven; Behold, The Deceiver; Run, The Darkness Will Pass; The Coming Of The Strange Ones; Beasts Too Spoke Of Suffering; We Will Work (On Redefining Manhood); ’Til The Freedom Comes Home; Finally, The Man Cried; Teach Me How To Be Vulnerable. (64:01)
Personnel: Shabaka Hutchings, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Mthunzi Mvubu, alto saxophone; Ariel Zamonsky, bass; Tumi Mogorosi, drums; Siyabonga Mthembu, vocals; Gontse Makhene, percussion; Nduduzo Makhathini, Thandi Ntuli, keyboard; Mandla Mlangeni, trumpet.