By Walter Edey
Shabaka Hutchings, a graduate of Queen’s College is changing the face of jazz in London, South Africa, and elsewhere.
His bands’ packed schedule is testimony to this. He is reclaiming his ancestry – and sharing a path of rebirth. And, he is telling the world about his Barbados experience.
Thirty-seven-year-old Shabaka was born in England, of Barbadian parents. When six years old, his mother relocated to Barbados. She taught at Combermere while he attended Queen’s College. In Barbados, Shabaka soaked up sunshine and every kind of music he heard.
At sixteen, he returned to England and attended London’s prestigious Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Way back then Shabaka called his music “crap”. Jazz was not the in thing. The famous Jazz musicians mentoring him, thought otherwise though.
Be not fooled. Shabaka is quite philosophical. “Music is dynamic – part of life experiences; powerful and transformative.
A celebration taken to higher levels, where artistes lose themselves in the performance; where audiences stand up. A point where music is more than cool, more than dancing – reaching new feelings and heightened experiences,” he explained.
The acclaimed saxophonist and clarinetist’s journey began innocently. A music teacher at Queen’s College introduced him to a clarinet. The music cupboard had more clarinets than saxophones. Later, Arturo Tappin’s playing style and jigs with Roberta Flack impressed him.
Shabaka said that’s how he started playing the saxophone. Today, renaissance, open spirited and minded, and refreshing, he leads three bands: The Comet is coming, a soulful and forward gazing trio; Shabaka And The Ancestors, a spiritual, reflective jazz ensemble; and Sons Of Kemit, a saxophone, two drummers and a tuba. It is a soca-calypso-tuk infectious jazz quartet that some critics deem unconventional, but Shabaka sees as expressed reality.
Shabaka is adventurous. Unashamedly, wondering aloud if his methodology is right, if it is right thing to do, or if it is the right way to play. Some of his earlier collections include: Lest We Forget What We Came Here To Do and Your Queen Is a Reptile (a tribute to women}
The band Sons of Kemit records jam sessions with a sense of freedom. Retrospectively, they search the recordings for stories, themes and rewrite them as albums.
Two months ago, they released Black to the Future (in support of the Black lives Matter movement). Listen to the titles: Field Negus; Pick Up Your Burning Cross; Think of Home; To Never Forget Your Source; Hustle; In Remembrance Of Those Fallen; Let The Circle Be Unbroken; Envision Yourself Levitating; Throughout The Madness Stay Strong. He described Black to the Future as “a sonic poem for the invocation of power, remembrance and healing.
It envisions our progression towards a future in which indigenous knowledge and wisdom is centered in the realization of a harmonious balance between the human, natural and spiritual world. The outwards gaze of Joshua.”
Shabaka was born in England, but Little England assured his culture. His public voice is one of healing and reclamation. This is not a surprise.
Jazz gives artistes permission to break the rules, to break with the past, and to explore feelings. Jazz and the Blues are world phenomena, but their elements, origins and roots are West African. So too is Barbados culture. Culture is not an event.
It is a living process that shapes and molds the way one thinks, works and plays.
It mirrors the ebb and flow of society. The state of art and entertainment warns civilisations and societies of imminent growth or danger.
In this regard artistes are agents of society. When their work is transformative, the society benefits. Though not formally acknowledged, that view experiences is part of the
Consider Emmerton and Jack, two of the songs of Dr. The Most Honourable Anthony Carter. Both songs are responses to acts of dispossession by Government. Government’s bulldozers disinherited the village of Emmerton of its tailors, hairdressers, masons and carpenters.
That act birthed the world anthem Emmerton. Government’s intention to remove access to beaches birthed Jack. Emmerton is a message of surrender and family. Jack is a protest message.
Jack preserved the open windows to the sea in Barbados. No legislation was needed. That’s what artistes do. Anyone’s actions can do the same.
An intentional choice of a parent brought Shabaka to Barbados. Barbados activated a parent’s wish. Barbados became part of a son’s consciousness. Twenty years later, Shabaka tells the world of his Barbados experience.
He rode the proverbial Barbadian cultural bus. Now, that he is off the bus, he sees the whole bus. With that added view, he reads and listens widely.
His work is futuristic and he is unapologetic. Like successful professors, he confessed that he relentlessly searches for truth.
Shabaka Hutchings is a firm craftsman of his fate.