Sons Of Kemet @ Corona Theatre

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Sons Of Kemet Montreal

A Saturday night in a vibrant and cultural city such as Montreal, an art city, often offers up many different bits of nightlife, but on this night, the hottest action in town was down on Notre-Dame street – at the historical Corona theatre.

Melanie Charles, a Brooklyn-born singer-songwriter, actress, and flutist of Haitian descent – accompanied by upright bassist Jonathan Michel, opened the evening with a powerfully moving set, comprised of Charles’s fantastic singing while sampling vibes that were filled out by Michel’s thunderous bass lines.

Bringing together portions of Jazz, R&B, Soul, maybe a little Motown with early hip hop leanings and samplings, and creating some wonderfully energetic sounds that are coupled with poignant social satire and commentaries that the world is finally willing to hear. Charles’ powerful vocal range had the audience captivated and singing along, participating in the experience and loving every moment of it.

Melanie Charles Montreal

With the light beaming down upon her, Charles rose to the occasion, fueled by the raucous applause of the theatre faithful, and belted out a set that really showcased her vocal range. Sublime pieces of a soulful and meaningful song that were obviously dear to her heart.

If for some bizarre reason, you missed this show – worry not, as Charles let slip that although not yet officially announced, she would be returning to Montreal later this summer to participate in the Montreal International Jazz Festival. Shhh, it’s a secret!

Up next, and headlining the evening, was London, England’s Sons Of Kemet. A genre-defying, Queen Elizabeth insulting troupe of musicians that offer something truly unique amidst a sea of same old, same old wash and repeat performers.

Touring for their fourth album, Black to the Future, and returning to Montreal for the first time since playing the Montreal International Jazz Festival in 2018 – Sons Of Kemet unleashed a mind-altering set that was nothing like anything I had been anticipating. Far from it. You see, on stage, Sons Of Kemet are comprised of a tuba player, not one but two drummers – and the saxophone wizardry of Shabaka Hutchings.

Hutchings is maybe better known for his musical endeavours with projects such as Shabaka And The Ancestors, The Comet Is Coming, or whilst performing under the stage name King Shabaka, or one of the many other projects he has partaken in. Personally, my favourite of the bunch has to be Sons Of Kemet.

As this was to be an evening of music touring for 2021’s Black To The Future record; I expected to hear those songs as they appear on the recording, and that turned out to be a foolish assumption. On their records, Sons Of Kemet play a mixture of Jazz fusion, with Caribbean and African influences, fused with hip hop and reggae aspects, sometimes spoken word poetry and oftentimes rap through a strong London accent.

But live, all bets are off. Much of the vocal portion of the group comes from guest musicians and as Sons Of Kemet rely almost entirely on a blend of wind instruments and percussion; there’s no time for vocals. So when in the flesh, Sons Of Kemet are actually an instrumental act – something I wasn’t aware of until faced with it. Amusingly enough, as much as I enjoy their albums, the instrumental version was much more my thing.

The tuba of Theon Cross laid down a pulsating, deep thud that could be felt equally within the chest as if could with the ears, while the drumming duo of Tom Skinner and Eddie Hick play off of each other in a fascinating crescendo of percussion, with each playing different rhythms that meld into one massive collective whole – and then there’s the incredible saxophone wizardry of mister Hutchings to tie it all together so brilliantly. Trance-like yet fierce, explosively funky – transcending sounds that blend cultures en route to a lunch date with one’s higher self.

As the show went on, I became more and more mesmerized by the wall of sound that swallowed the Corona theatre whole. Like a group acid trip, those around me, and I, swayed and bounced to the pulsating beats and rhythms abound. The energy that flowed throughout the room could have been harnessed and possibly powered the city for the remainder of the night, much to the chagrin of Hydro Quebec.

When Hutchings finally did speak to the crowd, he urged people to tell those they knew in other cities about what they had heard on this evening, and help them fill rooms on the remainder of their tour – and that is exactly what I plan to do with this piece.

Get out and catch Sons Of Kemet when they roll into a venue near you! You won’t regret it.

Review & Photos – Kieron Yates

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