Review: Yussef Kamaal – Black Focus
London has always been a city built upon the cultural diversity of communities whose roots often lie in far away lands. It was in 2007 that Yussef Dayes and Kamaal Williams first met each other whilst pursuing musical ventures in the South of the city. Peckham was not the gentrified hotspot which it has now become, the pair would cross paths frequently in the pubs and clubs which lay around Rye Lane and into Camberwell.
Yussef Dayes is most critically acclaimed for his involvement in afrobeat group United Vibrations who have sought to bring enlightenment with their music to the masses. As a result he continues to travel and tour with the group bringing cosmic grace to the bands drums and percussion. Kamaal Williams on the other hand may be known more so by those familiar with the likes of Eglo and Rhythm Section. As Henry Wu he has dabbled in soulful experimentation blending jazz with house in a pensive and sometimes provocative fashion.
The pairs recent collaboration comes with a fiercely personal identification, an embodiment of both artists names the project is fairly far removed from both of their respective works. Yussef Kamaal is born.
In recent years there has been a trend towards musical integration. Genre is becoming less significant, substance and presentation has begun to rule supreme. It is for this reason that artists such as the likes of Flying Lotus, Kamasi Washington and Thundercat have recived such praise, their music exists as a futuristic predecessor to the works of musicians such as Azymuth, Thelonious Monk and Joe McPhee. Such musical progression makes logical sense and the USA is leading the way.
The UK however, whilst similar to America in many senses (regretably), does not hold the same musical legacy, the same cultural influencers or the same history. It has its own. What Yussef Kamaal seeks to do is intertwine the country's narrative past and present, integrating modern sounds with those formed and built in the cultural undercurrent of local communities within London and beyond.
The album opens enticingly with the textured rumble of synths and horns amidst a cluttered scattering of drum fills and reflective cymbals. It's a dynamic start which acts as a palette cleanser of sorts, a chance to distance ones self from what might have been previously associated with each artist. A nod of recognition and we are underway.
The project was first created almost by chance after Kamaal invited Yussef to appear on Boiler Room alongside him and perform some of the music of Henry Wu as live. The result opened up a door to the pair and showcased an opportunity which neither had foreseen. In way of training, there are plenty of other jazz outfits whom are more profoundly equipped both in terms of musical education and in experience. However, one of the leading statements in regard to Yussef Kamaal was made by Williams several months back.
“It's all about the drums and the keys. Not to take anything from anyone else, but that's where it all originates from: the chords, the rhythm of the chords and the drums.”
With this in mind what follows make sense. The album weaves and winds between frantic breakdowns, slow melodramatic grooves, lush pads, the rush of strings and skits somewhat reminiscent of old hip hop records. The drums at times pay homage to jungle and breakbeat culture, whilst the jazzy layers are symbolic of the role which funk and soul has played in both artists musical spehere.
This is an album which wholeheartedly makes sense, the influence is clear, the sound diverse. It's London, very much in the present, a little bit of everything.