Shabaka and the Ancestors – Wisdom Of Elders \\ Best Albums of 2016
We’re revealing the ten best albums of 2016
Have a conversation with a jazz head about their favourite music. It’s a safe bet that a South African musician such as Hugh Masakela or Abdullah Ibrahim will be name-dropped, but an even safer presumption is that many will include “South African jazz” amongst their list. No matter the stature of its musicians, you will seldom find another nation being referenced to so regularly in an answer to this question. It’s testament to the distinctive sound of SA jazz; a sonic identity that UK saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings recognised and reinterpreted.
Shabaka Hutchings has a talent for immersing himself and his listeners into a variety of landscapes; Caribbean calypso, London’s percussive harshness, even the cosmos via the afro-futurism of his Mercury Prize nominated band The Comet Is Coming. A communicator of stories and truths, it’s difficult to imagine another London based artist who would better present their own individual sound via the funnel of South African characteristics. The presence of one does not squash the other; the result is an astonishing album that sounds distinctly South African and distinctly Shabaka.
Wisdom Of Elders was recorded by eight musicians in Johannesburg in early 2015, over the space of 24 hours. For years previous, Hutchings visited Johannesburg frequently, immersing himself in its rich musical heritage and live scene. Meeting and playing with various local musicians, he was inspired by older, experienced players, hence the name of both the act and album. The vocalist on stand out track MzWandile may have the husk and conviction of an experienced old-timer, but it’s the voice of Siyabonga Mthembu, a young singer who fronts SA group The Brother Moves On. His powerful projections dance with the purposeful melodies of Mandla Mlangeni on trumpet. Gontse Makhene’s percussion shuffles freely but doesn’t un-twin itself from Ariel Zamonsky’s woody, bouncy double bass. Elsewhere, Hutchings’s alto sax conjures pictures of furious rolling tides in The Sea, whilst his opening hook on Joyous hints to the shared DNA of Sons Of Kemet. Find a story in The Observer, a brooding symphony.
Unweave the tapestry of each track on Wisdom Of Elders. You will find that the value of the album is not simply about being a sum of its parts. Each thread is worthy of your fullest attention.
Head to our homepage to read more of our best albums of 2016.
JS | Tina Edwards