Sax, riots and racism: the radical jazz of Soweto Kinch


It’s rare to see Soweto Kinch without his saxophone. Six foot tall and most often dressed in black, he can usually be found, sax in hand, at his jam night in his hometown of Birmingham or at a session at Steam Down in London, although I saw him last in May at 2am in a hotel bar in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, joining vocalist Gregory Porter for an unexpected set. “You never know when you might need to play,” Kinch says, tucking his saxophone case under the table between us.

Over the past 15 years, he has played a lot. Now 41, Kinch has released six albums, on themes ranging from austerity to maths, and curated an annual festival. A lyrically dextrous MC as well as saxophonist, he has long been championed as the future of British jazz. Yet, when a jazz revival bubbled into the mainstream three years ago, American players such as Kamasi Washington and younger Brits such as Shabaka Hutchings and Nubya Garciawere at the forefront. “I’ve just had my head down, honing my craft,” Kinch says. “Black British music has always been beautiful and powerful, and now the younger generation are getting some recognition.”

The contributions of black culture to western society are the focus of Kinch’s seventh album, The Black Peril, which gets its live premiere at the London jazz festival on Friday. Its 24 tracks explore the musical legacy of 1919 – the year of the first world war armistice and anti-black race riots across the US. Kinch, who studied history at Oxford, says: “I was struggling to understand what that historical moment means, why it’s not remembered as much as it should be, and why these conflagrations happen.”

Read the interview in the Guardian.

[This piece was published on 21/11/19]