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Country : South Africa / United States Label : Impulse! Genres and styles : Jazz Year : 2020
Shabaka & The Ancestors

We Are Sent Here By History

· by Rupert Bottenberg

The thing about something that can’t continue is that eventually, it doesn’t. Arriving at precisely the right moment, as all manner of crises upend the fraught and fragile order of things, comes the latest from ubiquitous saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings’ South African tangent, a sextet supplemented by occasional guests. No, Hutchings and company aren’t here to tell you it’s all gonna be okay. But neither are they here to howl in despair.

The album’s essence is anchored in the words of vocalist and lyricist Siyabonga Mthembu – singer, orator, part griot and part prophet. He doesn’t bother with a checklist of social and environmental concerns, which should be self-evident to all but the mouth-breathers at this point, but rather heralds the end of the world as we know it – and articulates a few notions about what might come after that, and how best to get there. Of particular importance is the addressing of obsolete patriarchal notions at the album’s end, starting with “We Will Work (On Redefining Manhood)”.

We Are Sent Here By History marks the Ancestors’ graduation from Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood imprint to the venerable Impulse! label, which once upon a time raised the profiles of John and Alice Coltrane, Sun Ra, and Pharaoh Sanders. It’s thus an excellent home for some if not all of Hutchings’ efforts, notably Sons of Kemet and of course his Ancestors material, arguably the most noteworthy amid the current revival of the spiritual jazz movement. 

The Comet is Coming, Hutchings’ London-based electro-jazz-punk freakout, has apocalyptic preoccupations of its own, but they’re irreverent, the End Times as an excuse to cut loose. The music and ideas on We Are Sent Here… are not that at all. It’s raw but nimble, tough but vulnerable, vigorously animated but thankfully uncluttered. It’s also firmly Afrocentric, dignified even at its most out-there, and resolute in its convictions. 

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