Led by celebrated saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer Shabaka Hutchings, Sons of Kemet are a political, U.K.-based modern jazz supergroup comprised of musicians from across the globe. Their sound combines modal and free jazz, African rhythms and modes, and Caribbean dub and Middle Eastern timbres, as evidenced by 2018′s internationally renowned Your Queen Is a Reptile on Impulse! After touring the U.K. and Europe on the festival circuit, Sons of Kemet returned to England and its members focused on several outside projects. The band celebrated its tenth anniversary with the 2021 album Black to the Future.
Led by saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer Shabaka Hutchings, Oren Marshall on tuba, and the duo of Seb Rochford and Tom Skinner on percussion and drums, the project started in the spring 2011. Their first concert was very well-received by an audience of jazz enthusiasts at Charlie Wright’s International Bar in London. The lineup later shifted as drummer Eddie Hick temporarily replaced Rochford, while Theon Cross (Brass Mask) assumed the tuba chair. Sons of Kemet’s wide-ranging sound was developed with practice and research largely inspired by Hutchings’ drive and passion for knowledge; his playing across the South London musical and genre spectrum, and his work with musicians from across the African continent. He was born in London and spent the majority of his childhood growing up in Barbados, where he studied the clarinet and played in a variety of calypso and reggae bands. On his return to the U.K, he studied at the Guildhall School of Music. It was during this period that he found he was just as comfortable playing free jazz as he was playing swing. After a while, he decided he’d like to develop his individuality by turning to his roots and giving his music a Caribbean twist. Subsequently, he moved back to Barbados, where he studied alongside ethnomusicologists who specialized in Caribbean music. Hutchings has mentioned that during this time he picked up major influences from jazz artists Count Ossie and Cedric Im Brooks.
As for the rest of the group, drummer Seb Rochford is possibly Sons of Kemet’s most noticeable figure due to his work as a session musician for the likes of Herbie Hancock, David Byrne, and Brian Eno, as well as his own projects Polar Bear, Acoustic Ladyland, and the Mercury Award-nominated Basquiat Strings. The equally busy Skinner took part in session work for Matthew Herbert, Malatu Astatke, and Eska. Marshall played for many years under his Oren Marshall Trio moniker, in a variety of big jazz bands, and as a session musician for film and television.
Sons of Kemet’s debut release, Burn, arrived in 2013, and Sons of Kemet won the jazz award at the MOBOs that same year. Lest We Forget What We Came Here to Do (their first effort with Cross) was released to widespread critical acclaim in early 2016. After touring Europe and the U.S. in 2017, Hutchings worked on several recordings including Yazz Ahmed’s acclaimed debut La Saboteuse. In January of the following year, Sons of Kemet signed to Impulse! Their debut for the label, Your Queen Is a Reptile, featured Hick and Moses Boyd playing on various tracks with Rochford as a percussion trio. The set was sociopolitical in nature, with each of its nine tracks titled for a woman of African heritage and history. Performance poet Josh Idehen assisted on two tracks and dub poet Congo Natty appeared on one. Your Queen Is a Reptile was issued in March of 2018 and nominated for great Britain’s Mercury Prize in July. Rochford, ever busy with multiple projects, left Sons of Kemet in 2019, and was replaced by Edward Wakili-Hick. The band celebrated its tenth anniversary together in 2021, commemorating the occasion with the release of their fourth album, Black to the Future in May 2021. ~ James Pearce