Shabaka Hutchings leads London’s jazz revitalization

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Shabaka Hutchings. Photo by Pierrick Guidou.

Shabaka Hutchings is a figurehead of London’s contemporary fertile jazz scene, and he’s making waves here stateside. The Mercury Prize-nominated saxophonist plays a role in three critically acclaimed and progressive groups: Sons of Kemet, The Comet is Coming, and Shabaka & The Ancestors.

Each project has its own distinct sound and approach. You’ll hear soca-driven rhythms in Sons of Kemet — an outlet for Shabaka to embrace and express the sounds of his Barbadian roots. With The Comet Is Coming, who were slated to perform an anticipated set at 2020’s Coachella music festival, you’ll hear elements of punk and dance. And his most recent release We Are Sent Here By History from Shabaka & The Ancestors is a spiritual awakening of sorts – recorded in South Africa and influenced by African traditions.

KCRW’s Chris Douridas spoke with Shabaka about his various projects, how he approaches them musically, and how he brings a different sensibility to each group. 

Shabaka’s albums can be found on the legendary Impulse! Records, and Shabaka & The Ancestors are — currently — scheduled to perform at the Lodge Room in Highland Park, June 15.

Below are a few highlights from their conversation:

Shabaka on the postponement of Coachella and missing his anticipated set with The Comet Is Coming:

“It’s a real shame, you know. But I think that all of these kinds of events that happen outside of our actual capacity to stop or to alter [them]; they always have some sort of silver lining. You know, I think there'll be a situation where we maybe take that energy and make new music individually, or work on what we're doing, because we're still going to be kind-of functioning as musicians at that time. I think all of the gigs I can't do throughout this period, I'm going to try to really focus in and work on music, you know, as if I was doing my job at home.”

On balancing his three primary projects Sons of Kemet, The Comet Is Coming, Shabaka & The Ancestors:

“They are separate groups of musicians, who all have their specific temperaments and histories and way of making musicians. And each group is a body of work —a bunch of compositions structured as a set, an album that channels the best qualities of each of those musicians. So when I come to any of the groups, I'm trying to do my best at the material. I'll do my best at interacting with the individuals on stage. So night by night, with every group it’s a different thing. Everyone's going to have a different temperament as each day kind of passes.

It might be that I tour with The Comet Is Coming, and each gig is a very different emotional journey in terms of how I'm interacting with the music and interacting with them onstage. When I do another gig the next day with Sons of Kemet — the repertoire changes in that the personalities change within the music. So all of a sudden, I'm just trying to do what I've been doing for maybe a week with another group of individuals and I'm going to try to do that with another one. And it's almost like a rupture of trying to re-socialize yourself on the stage and off the stage. You know, that's what gives urgency to the music.

When you've got the Shabaka & The Ancestors group, we've got the legacy of South African jazz, which has been really strong from the 60s. When I play with Shabaka & The Ancestors, all of this kind of history of sound and the potential of sound to heal audiences — all of this comes through in the music and the way I step into that musical frame.”





Tyler Hale

Engineer: Kat Yore