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Shabaka Hutchings

Shabaka Hutchings is a composer, saxophonist, clarinetist, and flutist who helped put England's 21st century jazz scene on the map with Courtney Pine's Jazz Warriors and as a founding member of the Heliocentrics. He signed a deal with the legendary Impulse! label to record his own groups, including the modernist Sons of Kemet, who issued 2018's Your Queen Is a Reptile, and 2021's Black to the Future. Further, Shabaka and the Ancestors is a jazz project based in South Africa, and Hutchings also co-leads the electro-acoustic, avant-futurist jazz-rock-dance trio the Comet Is Coming, who released the widely acclaimed The Afterlife and Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery in 2019. Taking a hiatus from the saxophone, he released the flute- and clarinet-centered solo album Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace in 2024. Hutchings was born in 1984 in London. He moved to Barbados at the age of six, began studying classical clarinet at age nine, and saxophone a year later. After returning to the U.K., he was granted the title of BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist in 2010, allowing him to undertake numerous commissions as well as broadcast performances on radio (including those of his own group, Sons of Kemet). In July 2013, Hutchings received a commission from the Leasowes Bank Music Festival to write a piece for clarinet and string quartet. He performed this piece with the Ligeti String Quartet to rave reviews. Sons of Kemet released their debut album, Burn, and won the 2013 MOBO Award for Jazz Act of the Year. Additionally, Hutchings was nominated for Jazz Musician of the Year in the Parliamentary Jazz Awards. The following year, he was invited by Marshall Allen to join the Sun Ra Arkestra. He performed with them, recording a session for the BBC's Radio 3, and was a recipient of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Composer Award. In January of 2015, Hutchings traveled to South Africa to record a project with native jazz musicians. He also received a commission from the London Sinfonietta to write a "note to the new government" and was Associate Artist for the Spitalfields Summer Festival. The second Sons of Kemet album, Lest We Forget What We Came Here to Do, was released in September on NAIM, and an electronic trio project, the Comet Is Coming, featuring Hutchings, Dan Leavers, and Max Hallett, issued its first EP on the Leaf label in October. The following spring, the group released its full-length Channel the Spirits to massive critical acclaim and a Mercury Prize nomination. Hutchings served as a core member of percussionist/producer Sarathy Korwar's group on the acclaimed Day to Day. Recorded in India and London, it featured the modern jazz and electronics group performing with the Sidi Troupe of Ratanpur. The album was released on Ninja Tune during the summer of 2016. Wisdom of Elders, an album by Hutchings' South Africa project Shabaka and the Ancestors saw issue by Gilles Peterson's Brownswood label in the early fall. While in the African nation, he also contributed to South African jazz pianist Nduduzo Makhathini's seminal Icilongo: The African Peace Suite. Over the next couple of years, Hutchings facilitated collaboration among musicians of various disciplines across the London scene. In 2017 alone, he contributed to Yazz Ahmed's La Saboteuse, Zara McFarlane's Arise, a self-tilted offering by Alexander Hawkins' Unit(e), and two Heliocentrics' outings: World of Masks and the original soundtrack for The Sunshine Makers. That fall, Hutchings signed a deal with the iconic U.S.-based Impulse! label, recording home to John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, and dozens of others. His March 2018 debut was Sons of Kemet's internationally acclaimed Your Queen Is a Reptile, which he also co-produced. That year he and Nubya Garcia took part in the London gigs recorded for drummer/producer Makaya McCraven's Universal Beings project. Hutchings also took part in the sessions for South African drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo's Five Blokes' Ogun recording, Uplift the People. In April 2019, Hutchings played a key role on Angelique Kidjo's international smash Celia, her personal tribute to the artistry and influence of Afro-Cuban singing legend Celia Cruz. It was the only session work he did that year, as he remained very busy with the Comet Is Coming, who released two albums: Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery in March, followed by the six-track The Afterlife. They also toured behind them. Hutchings' different musical personas were hatching projects regularly. He returned to South Africa that fall and, with the Ancestors (that included Makhathini in the lineup), recorded We Are Sent Here by History. It was issued by Impulse! in March 2020 and, in addition to his composing and playing, listed Hutchings as sole producer. He also appeared on a slew of recordings including albums by Sibusile Xaba, Moses Sumney, Keleketla!, and Shake Stew. In March 2021, Sons of Kemet issued the African Cosmology EP. It paired the mid-length "Myth Science" with the 12-minute "Rites of Passage." They followed it in May with the charting Black to the Future. Hutchings also played a key role on British/Trinidadian poet Anthony Joseph's Heavenly Sweetness long-player The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running for Their Lives. He also played on 2022's Break a Vase by Alexander Hawkins Mirror Canon (on Intakt) and released the completely solo EP Afrikan Culture in May. Announcing his intention to take a hiatus from playing saxophone at the end of 2023, Hutchings shifted his focus to flute and clarinet. These instruments formed the core of his solo debut, Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace, released in 2024 under the name Shabaka.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo


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