Shabaka: Afrikan Culture EP Album Review


“sign or advise each other of their evil designs and purposes. Whether it’s the sounds of mbira banging sharply against balancing rocks in Zimbabwe, a kora echoing in the harmattan breeze in Mali or drums signaling the start of a rebellion in Palmarès, African instruments have a life that reverberates across borders.Shabaka Hutchings – bandleader of several acclaimed bands including Sons of Kemet – believes in the ability galvanizing African instruments that served to irritate the white inhabitants of the Carolinas, and more so, he is drawn to their ability to soothe and comfort. African culturehis first EP as a solo artist, Hutchings weaves together eight tracks that vibrate with kinetic energy, immersing listeners in an experience that draws them within as he simultaneously steps into the role of a solitary performer.

From the opening notes of “Black Meditation”, Hutchings describes the compulsions of the EP – an eager need to tap into every undiscovered melody. While playing the shakuhachi (a Japanese bamboo flute), he lulls listeners with low, heavy notes. It is in the surrounding sounds – gently tinkling bells and quiet horns – that Hutchings compels his audience to experience the textures and scents of the places their minds fall into when at peace. On “Call it a European Paradox,” the kora with its hollow calabash interior lands every string as if rising from the bottom of a well where acoustics can be envy-inducing, as easily as they might be inaudible. It takes special skill to make the sounds hit as lightly as they do, without losing that unmistakable tension that gives the instrument its solid heart.

Hutchings shared a bit about the EP’s creative process, centering the explorations that led him to create an album that produces “a forest of sound where melodies and rhythms float in space and emerge in glimpses.” . This fleeting presence is evident on “Memories Don’t Live Like People”, a stone-skipping attempt to crystallize precious moments into an enduring escape. Lasting just over a minute, the shakuhachi builds and recedes, interlocking and shifting as quickly as memories fade, before suddenly falling silent. You wonder what the melodies were before they fell, and you’ll play again and again, trying to find the note that will become the memory. “Dimensions of Subtle Awareness” finds Hutchings seated with mbira – the instrument known among the Shona of Zimbabwe for invoking ancestors – and delivering messages, warnings and insights from the lost. Zimbabwean composers such as Stella Chiweshe, the Mbira dzeNharira band and the late singer-songwriter Chiwoniso Maraira have relied on the instrument for its clarity and layers, hidden between chiming metal strings. Hutchings buzzes with, a vocal arrangement you might miss tucked between the ubiquitous shakuhachi.


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