You can’t hate the roots of a tree, and not hate the tree.
– Malcolm X (1965)
Back in 1964, the collagist Romare Bearden held his exhibition entitled Projections, which featured arguably his most accomplished works on Afro-American life. 51 years later, Archie Fairhurst (under the alias of his artistic inspiration) has released the dénouement of his Meditations on Afrocentrism EP. Where Bearden’s exhibition brought to attention Afro-American life at a graver time, Fairhurst’s musical collages celebrate the roots of our modern music, bridging samples from blues, soul and jazz with popular facets of modern dance. Samples make up half of the LP and, like sources in an essay, Fairhurst labels each centrepiece of Projections with the title and artist used.
The samples range from spiritual soul to heartfelt blues. ‘Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child’, a deeply resonant folk song famously sung by Paul Robeson in Songs for Free Men, is given a rejig with gospel Hammond keys beside, raw woodwind and cascading drums. Nina Simone’s ‘Work Song’ works double-time with shuffling clicks, a climactic Rhodes riff and grimacing guitar plucks. The anguish of these tracks is lost, but how relevant would that have been to us now anyway? Their inclusion is commemorative and symbolic but their renewed tone is triumphal. Fairhurst is acknowledging the past and revelling in what it has done for the present.
Juxtaposition is key to Projections and although the samples used may move on periodically as the album progresses, Fairhurst bridges styles and samples sporadically. The vocals to Aretha Franklin’s bluesy ‘All Night Long’ (1961) are spiced up in the jaunty house number ‘Rainbow’. Immediately before this came the piercing synth twangs of the chaotic jazz jam ‘Lover Man’. The ripened plod of Snook Eaglin’s ‘Drifting Blues in the Drifter’ belonged at the beginning of the record beside ‘Work Song’, but Fairhurst doesn’t want a conventional blend of sounds. This is a collage, not a painting.
What is particularly impressive about Fairhurst’s production is that while the samples represent a story, he has reinterpreted their setting and revived it for the modern day. All the sounds we hear are not from samples but are live, homemade recordings straight from his bedroom. If you take a step back, the sheer range of sounds is overwhelming but, in classic ‘Romare’ style, he adds intrigue following each dip in a track, whether it be a subtle skittering hat or an abrasive clap. He achieves the unpredictable nature of live jazz and tailors it for today’s listener.
Blues is seen as the definitive root of all popular music. Therefore, the juxtaposition of blues, jazz and soul, beside elements of modern dance music, is Fairhurst’s due recognition. The overall message idolises Afro-American culture and what it has done for us today; what we are blessed with is undoubtedly one of the most definitive LPs in recent times.
Projections is out now on Ninja Tune. It is available to buy in all formats from Ninja Tune’s online store. Romare’s upcoming London and Bristol dates include Oslo Hackney with Medlar (21st March), Start The Bus with Werkha (28th March) and Corsica Studios with Nick Höppner, Awanto 3 and the Tender Hooks crew (11th April).