Suoni per il popolo | The socially committed and fiery jazz of Irreversible Entanglements

Interview by Frédéric Cardin
Genres and styles : Avant-Garde / Contemporary Jazz / Free Jazz

Additional Information

Irreversible Entanglements (IE) is a jazz quintet with incendiary energy and a burning commitment to socio-political issues. Formed in 2015, following a decisive encounter at a concert denouncing police brutality, bassist Luke Stewart, saxophonist Keir Neuringer, trumpeter Aquiles Navarro, drummer Tcheser Holmes and, the group’s key presence, vocalist Camae Ayema (Spoken word rather than singing per se) have been touring the world ever since, using their highly personal vision of free jazz to spread the word of Black liberation. When it comes to free jazz, though, the vista is precisely framed by an irresistible discharge of rhythmic pulsation criss-crossed by hymn-like melodies and the stentorian scansions of Ayewa, aka Moor Mother. The spontaneous discharges of Navarro and Neuringer (mainly), while totally free of any tonal straitjacket, remain closely tied to the raw (brutal?) emotion of the subject matter. The result is a thunderously intense sonic experience that Montrealers will be able to enjoy on 17 and 18 June at the Suoni per il popolo festival. 

During the interview he and Camae Ayema gave me, Luke Stewart told me that the evening of the 17th was part of a series of “Speakeasies” that the band regularly performs in different towns, enlisting the services of local musicians for the occasion. A big jam of incantatory freedom. Then, Stewart tells me, THE IE show on the 18th will include “a new exclusive piece written especially for this Montreal event”. We can’t wait!

Given that the band is frequently associated with the afro-futurist movement (and that some of their song titles refer to it), I’m wondering whether this label really corresponds to the band’s approach and, if so, what the term means to its members. 

We acknowledge this linkage and, yes, we claim to be part of it. Call it Afro-futurism if you like, but it’s not a strict philosophy, let alone a label. Rather, it represents a holistic movement that has a lot to offer and involves an in-depth exploration of certain themes related to Black reality. Our music actually becomes a portal allowing us to enter this process, which is really about Black Liberation. It’s an invitation, a challenge to create a better world.

It has to be said that Ayewa, Moor Mother, is a poet/activist well known elsewhere for her commitment to this cause. She is a member of the Black Quantum Collective, a Black/Queer pairing that has already entered the field of research by proposing referential and methodological frameworks for understanding the concept of Afro futurism.

DETAILS AND TICKETS FOR THE CONCERT ON 17 JUNE

DETAILS AND TICKETS FOR THE CONCERT ON 18 JUNE

Moor Mother brings an almost cosmogonic vision to IE’s music, but, although the comparison has been made, does not give it a Sun Ra-esque bent. Far from the trippy psychedelia of its predecessor, IE offer a militant but entirely realistic vision of a future liberated from the old disparities/discriminations. Which is probably why the lyrics on the band’s early albums are so much rougher. A song like Blues Ideology, from 2020’s Who Sent You?, is a powerful outlet against the manipulation of religious ideologies to subjugate the masses. I take this opportunity to ask what my interviewees think about the place of religion in American society? I feel I’m walking on eggshells. Luke defers to Camae. She admits that she’s interested in all the world’s religions and the learning they make possible, but that she doesn’t follow any of them ritually. 

I prefer the concept of spirituality, but not from a consumerist perspective. That’s what we’re trying to do with our music, in a sort of almost alchemical process.

I leave it at that, but I try another approach, keeping my socio-political investigation of the band’s DNA. Based on a statement made elsewhere by the group, I mention that the IE approach is that of a ‘’conversation about Black life in the United States’’. In view of the current political climate south of our border and the social, even racial, tensions that are emerging, I ask whether this conversation has failed?

I don’t feel that my question is getting through. The answers are cautious and diplomatic. 

We’re seeing the success of our message, when we talk to people, Stewart tells me. This message has been carried for some time. Now we’re entering another phase, that is true. As far as we’re concerned, we’re going to remain consistent in our invitation to dialogue and in our sonic and text explorations. 

Moor Mother: We don’t have a cape, like superheroes, but we see change. We want to be pillars of that change.

But, I insist, doesn’t the possibility of Donald Trump (I didn’t name him) returning to the presidency indicate a decline in the scope of this message, or at least a stark resistance to it?

For Moor Mother, it doesn’t matter. It changes nothing. 

She makes the comparison with Justin Trudeau, as if it’s all the same. Trump, Trudeau. I know a hell of a lot of people for whom there is probably nothing more antinomic than these two figures, in terms of values, actions and even the symbolism surrounding them. But I won’t go on. This isn’t a political interview after all. Perhaps I haven’t managed to gain enough trust for the tongue to loosen more surgically? Are you still confident? I ask Moor Mother. Always positive!

Back to the music, after all, it’s our bread and butter. 

I’ve listened to all four of the band’s albums. The first, self-titled, the 2nd Who Sent You?, the 3rd Open the Gates, and the most recent Protect Your Light released in 2023 (two live albums are also available: one in Germany and the other in Italy) and I’ve noticed a fairly clear evolution, especially evident in Protect Your Light, towards an interiorisation, perhaps even a softening, of the lyrics. Less accusatory outbursts, more inward-lookings. Protect Your Light dares to talk about love and inner light (among other things). Less politics.

Yes, there’s been an evolution, I’m told. 

The first albums are strong documents of the beginnings of our association (Reminder : after a concert against police brutality – editor’s note). After that, we toured a lot and matured. Then the pandemic hit and Open the Gates was a kind of catharsis that liberated us. After that, we calmed down a bit, and that’s how we ended up with Protect Your Light.

  • Luke Stewart

Another evolutionary remark: there is now more room for electronics. Why is that?

A natural tendency, I’m told. Moor Mother is still showing her influence because, elsewhere in life, she is an innovative electronic artist. So introducing this element into the band’s instinctive sound was obviously bound to happen.

Finally, what does it mean that Protect Your Light is on Impulse! an almost legendary label (Coltrane, Lateef, Oliver Nelson, Archie Shepp, Sun Ra)?

When you go into this studio, which is of perfect quality, you know you’re following in the footsteps of Coltrane, Etta James and so many other legends. It encourages us to strive for excellence. – Luke Stewart

Not as much confiding as I’d hoped, I admit. But I do know that the musical fire of Irreversible Entanglements, barring a catastrophe, will be blazing hot on 17 and 18 June at the Casa del popolo and the Sala Rossa, and that, unless you’re a cobblestone fixed to death in a suburban driveway, you shouldn’t even consider missing a single minute of these concerts.

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