For me ‘Black Focus’ from Yussef Kamaal is more than an LP, it’s a statement of cultural and musical intent – an absolute declaration of musical independence that shouts loud from the rooftops for all that will listen. It’s intended audience are the lovers of grime, hip hop and other urban genres as well as the lovers of the so called ‘jazz sound’ that encompasses so much and is policed by so many.
Led by two phenomenal musicians drummer Yussef Dayes and keyboardist Kamaal Williams this group were born out of the collaborations of the twin musical houses of United Vibrations and Henry Wu and they have spent the last couple of years building a momentum, as well as a dedicated following, that is the envy of many.
Yussef and Kamaal hail from the same South East London districts of Peckham / Camberwell (that I also grew up in albeit 25 years earlier) and if you take the No. 36 bus from the end of Rye Lane all the way to Camberwell Green the whole world will pass before you thanks to the diverse cultural mix that defines this part of London.
From it’s very title you know that this body of work is a distillation of all the cultural references, past and present, that these young musicians have been exposed to since birth, be it the urban, the iconic or the eclectic.
The opening title track starts with shamanic type chanting leading into the laid back soul-jazz groove that tells you that this stall is being set out in a completely different fashion. The rest of the lp takes us into soulful electronica, pseudo disco-funk, cinematic beats and that archetypal spiritual jazz-funk sound made famous by Bishop and Carn at Black Jazz, Chicago’s AACM, Idris Muhammed, Hancocks’ Headhunters etc. etc. (As well as a word or two from my good friend, broadcaster, and dj Gordon Wedderburn).
But don’t get me wrong this is not a reinterpretation of past sounds – it’s quite clear that their influences have just been way-points that have led them to shape their own unique sound – a sound that is definitely one of now.
This lp is about context – a point other reviewers have failed to grasp – a sound relevant for this current moment in time and space. This is why ‘Black Focus’, with its rough edges and its brilliant corners, is such an important lp. It opens a door for others to follow. It’s a green light for freedom of expression and a rallying call to all members of our diaspora urging them to make good use of all their creative gifts.
Irrespective of your thoughts on this lp the one thing for sure we can agree on is that this lp has made an impact, culturally and commercially, across the globe and that can only be a good thing for the crew from my South London endz.
‘Black Focus’ from Yussef Kamaal on Brownswood records is available from all the usual digital outlets.
Also physical copies from
Tony Minvielle – Into Somethin’ / SoulandJazz.com / Jazz FM