Soweto Kinch: 'It's cathartic to connect with kindred spirits'

Soweto Kinch: 'It's cathartic to connect with kindred spirits'

Soweto Kinch

Ahead of his Edinburgh Jazz Festival gigs, the saxophonist and MC reflects on a year of isolation and tells us why he remains 'delusionally optimistic'

'I've done a lot of stuff in front of laptops with myself and some loops, and it's just not the same,' says Soweto Kinch, the London-born, Birmingham-based jazz saxophonist and MC, whose sporadic live appearances during the pandemic have included a set at Ronnie Scott's. 'I miss the real deal, but the buzz of playing music in front of a live audience comes back very quickly.'

Perhaps it's because the light at the end of the tunnel is visible now, but Kinch describes himself as 'delusionally optimistic', despite an initial wariness about how fragile live music is. 'The early trepidation that people may have had about losing live culture has been completely removed,' he says. 'In all of these experiences, you really feel the hunger for live art. I went to see my brother perform in a play in London a couple of weeks ago, and just the thrill of being in a crowd with people you've never met before, the novelty of being at an arranged spectacle, makes you realise how edifying that is for the human soul when you've not had it.'

Despite the extremely challenging last 16 months, Kinch has kept himself very busy, even creating his own online festival. Last September's #BlackPeril2020 tied in to his 2019 album The Black Peril which was themed around the race riots of a century before. 'We went to the historical sites where those riots took place and created bespoke artistic responses to them.'

His voice pitches up excitedly as he recalls the recent sight of hundreds of Glaswegians attempting to stop a deportation on their doorstep. 'I think that's just incredible, the measure of modern Britain. It felt like we've constantly been gaslit, and it's still the case. To experience what we saw with the murder – or frankly, the lynching – of George Floyd, and then have a government report saying "there's no such thing as racism, actually": these maddening interventions from government and the media almost seem designed to drive you a bit doolally. I've been creating music in response to that with the working title of White Juju. I think culture wars are there to whip up historic sentiment based on nationhood and identity, and all sorts of toxic concepts that we'd do well to move on from.'

As Kinch's much-anticipated appearances in Edinburgh loom ever closer, he says he can't promise that audiences will hear new music. 'But the show will hopefully feature some new spoken word, with a plan to release material in about six or seven months, and there'll be some improvised stuff as well. There's something cathartic about connecting with like minds and kindred spirits to decompress about these things, and also to have fun and listen to music in a context that we've almost forgotten about.'

Playtime featuring Soweto Kinch, Saturday 17 July, 8pm; Soweto Kinch Trio, Sunday 18 July, 8pm. Both in-person shows at Assembly Roxy are sold out; online tickets are still available at £10.

Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival

Scotland's biggest jazz festival presents concerts over ten days all over the capital, in parks, churches, clubs and concert halls. With a programme featuring all genre styles from early jazz to the avant garde, the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival usually manages to secure some world premieres, new bands, and fresh…