Image Credit: Mark Allan
The London Symphony Orchestra is no stranger to ground-breaking collaborations. Just last year, they released the critically lauded album ‘Promises,’ a genre-melding opus in collaboration with modern electronic prodigy Floating Points and legendary American jazz musician Pharaoh Sanders. Their latest, however, a one-night-only performance with British saxophonist Soweto Kinch at their Barbican home, feels more personal, as they focus on the state of the country in 2021.
The opening movement was sombre and melancholic, with Kinch’s deft saxophone skills backed by sound bites of Boris Johnson’s lockdown announcement back in March 2020, particularly his establishment of ‘police power to enforce the rules.’ This political slant was also exemplified in Kinch’s frequent rapping, providing a context for the piece’s tones. Kinch’s effortless transitions between both saxophone and rap worked to prove naysayers wrong, who—early on in his career—told him he must focus on either saxophone or rap. While initially his lyricism and flow left something to be desired, as the performance progressed his innovative wordplay really shone. For example, in the movement ‘idiocy,’ where he described mornings spent ‘on a six-inch screen arguing with idiots in a sea of idiocy… maybe the idiot’s me.’
However, the social commentary was not the only noteworthy aspect of the performance, as Kinch and the London Symphony Orchestra blended their respective styles of jazz, hip-hop, and classical with admirable ease. Staccato horns were paired with hard-hitting beats from a drum kit, and graceful violin sections led seamlessly into astounding, scale-spanning saxophone solos from Kinch. ‘White Juju’s’ shining centrepiece, its central movement, was an orchestral banger featuring a mix of acoustic and electronic beats juxtaposed with cascading strings, as Kinch rapped, ‘all the foundations are falling down’ to footage of the January 6th insurrection. Constant crescendos imbued the piece with a sense of apocalyptic urgency which reflected the anxieties of modern life, particularly for people of colour.
Kinch frequently touched on this theme of the black experience during his performance, and—while most of these musings were fearful, aggressive backlashes at societal oppression—the closing pieces offered a more optimistic stance, as Kinch rapped, ‘it’s liberation day, break the chains take the pain away’ over a bright and sunny instrumental featuring triumphant horns: a call to action for change in the now.
Overall, Soweto Kinch and the London Symphony Orchestra have assembled a provocative, impactful performance that drives home its powerful statements with a unique fusion of modern and classical sounds. A live recording of ‘White Juju’ is available to stream now on the London Symphony Orchestra website.
Edited by Josh Aberman, Music Editor