Sons of Kemet

Burning Bright

Naim Audio Label’s Sons of Kemet, winners of the 2013 MOBO Award for Best Jazz Act, are the rising stars of a new generation of jazz.


Sons of Kemet, led by multi-reedist Shabaka Hutchings, were crowned Best Jazz Act at the 2013 MOBO Awards. Winning the award gives further accolade to a quartet who have stormed onto the contemporary jazz scene, winning praise from fans and critics alike with their earthy visceral sound. What does it mean to Hutchings to win the award? “It means a lot. The MOBOs are one of the last awards that actually recognise jazz in the mainstream. It’s pretty amazing that we got this opportunity.”

An how important is it to have jazz represented in the mainstream? “I think it’s important because it seems like people’s perception of jazz, by in large, is different from what’s actually happening. It’s really important for people to have musical options.”  The band comprises Hutchings, Oren Marshall on tuba, and drummers Tom Skinner and Seb Rochford. Hutchings explains why he chose this unconventional lineup: “One of the things I was checking out was a lot of West African music, and I wanted to get that real drum-heavy sound. I also wanted to take away the emphasison the saxophone.

I think with two drummers, there’s so much rhythm that it means the sax is almost part of that rhythmical framework.” Marshall was added because “the tuba brings a lot to the music. It changes its function, sometimes it can act as bass, sometimes rhythmically and sometimes as a soloist. On another level, there is also something about the sonics of the tuba that’s warmer; it has this really earthy sound.”

"It seems like people’s perception of jazz, by in large, is different from what’s actually happening."

The award follows the release of their infectiously rootsy debut album, Burn. Hutchings, fiercely passionate about his craft, describes how the album evolved: “I wanted the main feature to be the combination of old and new and the actual recording to sound like those old Afrobeat records. Just a raw sound so it’s really natural but then something that still makes it sound like its 2013.” How was that sound created? “In the recording studio we played without any separation or headphones. I went in telling the engineer that I wanted the vibe to be the most important thing. So we just sat in a circle and placed the mics so we didn’t get lots of spill.”

What is the standout track for Hutchings? “‘Song for Galeano’ means a lot to me. Eduardo Galeano is one of my absolute favourite authors, he’s really changed the way I see lots of things.” Burn includes an affecting cover of ‘Rivers of Babylon’, but Hutchings explains that has nothing to do with Boney M, “I’ve not actually heard the Boney M cover, I know it as a Caribbean, Rastafarian champion song, one of those things that cuts across cultural borders.” Now looking forward to some big stage gigs and toward a new album, Sons of Kemet’s star is on the rise and they are burning bright for the new generation of jazz.

Setting the studio alight Burn Mix Engineer Dilip Harris has an impressive back catalogue, having worked with the likes of Zero 7, Roots Manuva, Jamiroquai and Michachu. In his own words, Harris grew up in the fertile musical environment of Camden in the 1970s. He was schooled by Jamaican music and trained in the recording arts in the Hip Hop factories of New York in the late 1980s.

Q How did you approach recording Burn?
A We recorded the album at Antonio Feola’s Fish Factory studios onto multitrack tape. At timesmmonitoring was strained, as two drummers canmget quite loud, but for the most part it facilitatedma fluid creative environment. Because we weremusing tape we would track three takes of eachmpiece, choose a favourite, transfer it to a computer and then repeat the process with the same reel of tape. After this initial session Seb took the tracks away to edit and then I mixed those tracks down to tape for mastering at my studio. With these distinct stages of production, the record had a very hybrid format of both analogue and digital.

Q How did you cope with the spill between the two drum kits?
A When one has a very sympathetic room, the spill between instruments can be a major proponent of atmosphere and allows the room to become a character itself. Shabaka was keen to use spill as an element in the recordings - the bleed across all the microphones created the intangible soup from which Sons of Kemet could emerge.

Q The tuba has an interesting role on the album, how did you capture that?
A I heard the tuba in Shabaka’s arrangements as occupying the low end but also weaving melodies and rhythms around the saxophone. Thus, in recording and mixing it required a lot of sensitivity… and also a lot of welly.

Q There is a lot of energy to the album, but also a lot of clarity between the different instruments. How did you achieve this?
A This was one of Shabaka’s key requirements - clarity and atmosphere. I think the lack of serious sub bass helped and also the choice to split the drummers over the stereo image.

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