Sons of Kemet's music 'seems to contain within it the flames of Grenfell and the bitter ashes of the Windrush scandal'
- Peter Ross
- 10 July 2019
Ahead of their appearance in Edinburgh, author Peter Ross pays tribute to the Mercury-nominated blazing jazz squad
Some songs you sing, some songs you cling to. 'My Queen Is Doreen Lawrence', by London jazzers Sons of Kemet, is of the latter sort. Joshua Idehen's great line, 'don't wanna take my country back, mate / I wanna take my country forward' is a cannonball through the hull of the Good Ship Brexit. It is a song against beery racists and dreary nostalgists. What will it be like to hear it performed live in Edinburgh? Part consolation, I think, part call to arms.
Yet the song's defiance is as much in the music than the lyric, as much in how it feels as what it says. Theon Cross' tuba, like some great growling beast; Shabaka Hutchings' frantic sax; the antic clatter of drummers Tom Skinner, Seb Rochford and Maxwell Hallett. Together they seem a middle finger raised to the rise of the right in Britain and beyond; to the absurdity and horror of the last few years.
That the parent album Your Queen Is a Reptile did not win the 2018 Mercury Prize is, of course, a minor injustice. Yet this engrossing record – angry, rich, strange, ambitious – needs no validation beyond its own greatness. Mostly instrumental, its titles celebrate the lives of black women, among them Harriet Tubman and Angela Davis, presenting them as an alternative monarchy. It interrogates the meaning Britishness. 'We the immigrants, we the children of immigrants,' run the sleeve notes, 'we claim our right to question your obsolete systems, your racist symbols, your monuments to genocide.'
This is music which seems to contain within it the flames of Grenfell and the bitter ashes of the Windrush scandal. It is at once a scornful portrait of contemporary Britain and an epic portrayal of the African diaspora. Mostly what it sounds like is this: joyful fury, furious joy.
Sons of Kemet, George Square Spiegeltent, George Square, 14 Jul, 8.30pm, £17.50.