Afrikan Culture is a new EP or mini-album by saxophonist, multi-instrumentalist and bandleader, Shabaka Hutchings – apparently working under the name Shabaka for his solo recordings. Shabaka has been one of the central figures in the revolution that has taken place in the British jazz scene over the last several years, and it’s hard to believe that this is his first solo recording.
As the title suggests, the African culture and experience continues to inform and influence Shabaka’s rich musical imagination. That being said, this a major departure from the more boisterous, rhythm-driven sounds of his main band projects, Sons Of Kemet and The Comet Is Coming. Most likely inspired by lockdown, the new album is quieter and more contemplative in style, for the most part at least. “Afrikan Culture was made around the idea of meditation and what it means for me to still my own mind and accept the music which comes to the surface,” Shabaka explains.
The album is on the American Impulse! jazz label, which says a lot about the influence Shabaka’s ground-breaking music is starting to have outside of Europe. Unfortunately, Impulse! don’t seem to be doing a huge amount to promote the new EP. It is sadly available as a download only, when it ought to be made available on a format like vinyl, too. Moreover, the press release is uninformative to say the least.
Afrikan Culture features Shabaka on a wide range of unusual instruments. The trademark saxophone is not featured, but he does play the shakuhachi (a Japanese flute), clarinet (I think) and a music box, which appears to be a clockwork-driven instrument. The use of shakuhachi is one of the features of the album, for me a least. Too often it is used to create a Japanese-style effect, which can come across as cheesy; here Shabaka experiments with the instruments tone to great effect, and shows the instrument to be far more versatile. Much of his playing is double-tracked, and he seems to have been assisted in this by Dilip Harris, who is credited as producer and mix engineer – and indeed, the album is beautifully produced.
Clocking in at just under thirty minutes, the EP is brief, and never outstays it welcome. My favourite track is the achingly beautiful Call It A European Paradox, which also features the extraordinary Alina Bzhezhinska on harp. The melodic Ital Is Vital celebrates the vitality of the vegetarian diet in Rastafarian culture, and sees Shabaka joined by Kadialy Kouyate on the kora, a West African stringed instrument.
Take a listen to European Paradox here:
The second half of the album is slightly less melodic and more experimental in nature, but no less intriguing. Explore Your Inner Space features Dave Okumu on guitar, with Dilip Harris presumably helping out with effects and looping, whilst The Dimension Of Subtle Awareness is almost psychedelic in style – less meditative, unless you’ve been smoking something, perhaps.
It's great to hear another side to Shabaka’s playing, but it’s a pity that Impulse! are not giving this release the recognition that it deserves. Highly recommended late night (or Sunday morning) listening.