Soothsayers - Human Nature

by Charly Richardson Rating:9.5 Release Date:2012-10-29

Human Nature is a momentous offering from Soothsayers, and could well be the apex of a band that already have an impressive history of albums, collaborations and legendary live shows under their belts. Soothsayers are a collective of London-based professional musicians who between them have played with everyone from Martha Reeves to Aswad. Human Nature displays the confidence of a band who have crafted their sound and message with great precision. Rarely is an album such a perfect blend of bold lyrical themes, stellar musicianship and confident production.

With extensive links to reggae artists both in the UK and JA, in the past Soothsayers often utilised guest artists such as Cornel Campbell and Johnny Clarke. But Human Nature sees band regulars Julia Biel, Robin Hopcraft and Idris Rahman come together to offer politically-engaged, cliché-free lyrical sentiment delivered in spine-tingling three-part harmony. Alone, their voices can be a little rough around the edges, but together they sound mesmerisingly sweet and strong. In the tradition of roots-reggae groups like The Mighty Diamonds or The Congos, these beautiful harmonies carry the album and are a perfect vehicle for the poignant themes which Human Nature takes on.
Throughout we are offered worldly, topical musings, in a tone which enables the audience to reflect and engage without feeling like they are being preached to. The outlook is idealistic but realistic: "To find a solution/ is gona take some time" ('Judgment Day'); sombre but defiant: "I will not see myself defeated/ Keep your head above the water" ('One Day'). The title track itself is a heartfelt plea for action against global warming: "We fight wars while fires burn and waters rise/ Don't close your eyes". Meanwhile, 'It's Not Easy' deals with the endemic nepotism and cronyism in our society.
Based around Brixton, Soothsayers are disciples of the areas rich musical heritage. Although previous albums have been Afrobeat heavy with a springling of reggae, Human Nature readjusts this balance, tending towards warm, hard-grooving roots-reggae. The fabulous 'One More Reason', however, is pure Fela Kuti, complete with the muscular horn-lines and dodgy Casio keyboard tones which made the Nigerian legend's sound so recognisable.
Thankfully, it doesn't go on for 20 minutes as many of Fela's tracks did. You won't be surprised that the Soothsayers' horn section recently worked on the acclaimed Fela! musical. The title track and 'One Day (Dub Reprise)' are the strongest examples of Afro-dub, a sub-genre which Soothsayers have pioneered in the UK. Dub-maestro Prince Fatty (whose studio the album was recorded in) offers a hypnotic dub outro which is teasingly short.
Overall, little on Human Nature disappoints. The only cover, Ralph McTell's 'The Streets of London' (recorded for the Cultural Olympiad's London Calling compilation) starts somewhat unconvincingly but eventually finds its feet. The acoustic mix of 'We're Not Leaving', meanwhile, seems somewhat tepid and redundant after last year's release of a number of splendid versions. But this does little to detract from an album which offers a fresh, contemporary approach to vintage 70s roots-reggae and Afrobeat that will please purists at the same time as engaging new audiences. Similarly, the lyrical explorations address modern day crises in a way which reflects on issues as old as.... Well, human nature itself. The Soothsayers have far surpassed expectations which were already high.
Human Nature, unfortunately, is never going to find huge mainstream success. Yet it can't be simply labelled as 'world music'. This is one of the strongest and most inventive albums to come out of any of London's numerous scenes in recent years. Human Nature is an important testament to the broad heritage and musical explorations of our capital and its world-class musicians and composers.

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