Blow-by-Blow: Sons of Kemet at Leith Theatre

Shabaka Hutchings from Sons of Kemet. Image Jess Shurte.
Shabaka Hutchings from Sons of Kemet. Image Jess Shurte.

Title:
Sons of Kemet

From: 14 Aug 2022

Venue:
Leith Theatre
28-30 Ferry Road
Edinburgh
Edinburgh & the Lothians
EH6 4AE

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To watch London-based jazz quartet Sons of Kemet perform live is to be a spectator to an awe-inspiring feat of human endurance, as much as an audience member enjoying a concert. The band storm through their 90-minute set at Leith Theatre at breakneck speed, scarcely pausing for breath once as their fiery grooves tear round the auditorium. 

Comprising the frantic polyrhythms of drummers Eddie Hick and Tom Skinner, the pounding thunder of Theon Cross’s tuba, and saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings’ incendiary zeal, Sons of Kemet have been meshing jazz, hip-hop and African and Caribbean influences since their 2013 debut album Burn. Their exhilarating and politically-charged albums include 2018’s Mercury-nominated Your Queen Is a Reptile and 2021’s critically acclaimed Black to the Future, which saw them collaborate with artists including Moor Mother, Lianne La Havas and Kojey Radical. 

In June this year, the band sadly announced that their current run of shows, including their performance at the Edinburgh International Festival, would be their last work together for the foreseeable future. But if this monumental set is anything to go by, each member of the quartet is determined to make their final tour a triumph. 

Hick and Skinner’s percussion is uncompromising, powering recklessly through the set, as one urgent, machine-gun-fire groove collapses into the next. The seething rhythms pulse through the audience, stirring up a frenetic energy during the most up-tempo numbers, such as 2021’s Pick Up Your Burning Cross, whose driving beat has the crowd jumping as one. 

Image Jess Shurte
Image Jess Shurte

But it is the elephantine stomp of Cross’s tuba that gives Sons of Kemet their signature sound. From a supple, effervescent flutter to a guttural, baritone growl that buzzes through the floor and rattles the walls of the theatre, in Cross’s hands there’s little this instrument can’t do. Animalistic wails, sharp barks and the abrasive thrum of a revving motorcycle are just some of the noises his tuba creates, and his extended solo is one of the night’s astronomical highs. 

Another is the moment Hutchings swaps out his saxophone for a wooden flute. The rest of the band retreats into the wings as he breezes through an airy, featherweight solo, soothing the audience into a trance-like silence. No moment on any of the band’s four records is as whimsical or serene. You could hear a pin drop. 

And on his primary instrument of choice, Hutchings is no less impressive. His writhing solos over the band’s caustic dance beats are jaw-dropping, and his luscious, molten sax as the show winds down with a gorgeous, down-tempo jam, is blissful. 

Returning for an encore, the quartet brings the night to an end with a final cataclysmic blast of sound. And if this really is the end for Sons of Kemet as we know them, the band have truly gone out in a blaze of glory. 

With grateful thanks to Zoë White for this review.

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