Stories » African-style jazz looks to the future on Shabaka And The Ancestors - We Are Sent Here By History / Financial Times

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African-style jazz looks to the future on Shabaka And The Ancestors - We Are Sent Here By History / Financial Times

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An end-of-days theme runs through the album, which mixes free jazz, spoken word and church-rooted harmonies

The acoustic South African Ancestors band are, sonically, the warmest of London-based Shabaka Hutchings's multiple projects and collaborations. Their springy grooves, catchy riffs and church-rooted harmonies are uplifting, and Hutchings's tenor sax and clarinet are undoctored. Their central themes, though, have a disturbing core.

The band's first album, Wisdom of Elders, released soon after they formed in 2016, warned of social calamities to come. We Are Sent Here by History, with its opening track "They Who Must Die", could have the subtitle "apocalypse now". Lyrics sung in Zulu, Xhosa and English by Mthunzi Mvubu move from sanctified shout to graphic spoken word while outbursts of free jazz underscore the end-of-days theme.

Hutchings builds his compositions on the compelling power of double bassist Ariel Zamonsky laying down the riffs of township jazz and Caribbean dance. Middle layers, throbbing with percussion, mysterious shouts and the resonance of vibes and Fender Rhodes keyboard, create a springy cushion for the front line - for which Hutchings is the lead instrumental voice. Mthunzi Mvubu is acid-toned on alto sax, and both keyboards, trumpet and percussion also get a shout.

But there's much more to this album than strong solos, springy rhythms and bouncy riffs. The scene-setting second number, "You've Been Called" - opening line "we are sent here by history" - supports spoken blank-verse English with fractured electronica before an improvised chant comes with a surging pulse. The lyrical theme of "Go My Heart, Go To Heaven" is lovingly harmonised by tenor and alto sax.

Most tracks change mood, and some change tempo too. "We Will Work (On Redefining Manhood)" references Africa's musical legacy before a playful motif combines voices with Hutchings's clarinet and "Finally, The Man Cried" fades over reggae bass. The album ends with a ballad, "Teach Me How to be Vulnerable", with Hutchings capturing the sentiments of the title to a T.
PHOTO: © Douglas Mason/Getty