Strap yourself in, because the rollercoaster that awaits behind window 15 promises one incredible ride. Straight out of Johannesburg comes the mighty afro-jazz vibe of The Brother Moves On, with their third album, $/He Who Feeds You…Owns You.
Released in Autumn on Shabaka Hutchings’ Native Rebel Recordings, $/He Who Feeds You…Owns You was described by yours truly in Louder Than War as “an album of incredible diversity and creativity that feels uplifting and inspirational”. The connection with the ubiquitous, multi-talented Hutchings runs deep. The Brother Moves On’s frontman, Siyabonga Mthembu, is a key component of one of Hutchings’ many ventures, Shabaka And The Ancestors.
Unsurprisingly then, there are parallels to be drawn between the two acts, with the most overt being their leaning towards writing songs of a political nature. Just examine the album’s title, which comes from a speech by pan-African revolutionary, Thomas Sankara. “Whoever owns your food system, runs you.” Mthembu himself has been quoted as saying “the personal is always political”.
Yet, these are subtle protest songs. No big deal, their message is not forced home, With words like rapiers, they make their point eloquently and purposefully. The music is equally impactful, performed by a band at the peak of their creative powers.
As hinted at earlier, $/He Who Feeds You…Owns You is an album of incredible variety. Take the dreamy Sphila, which begins by shimmering like the Cocteau Twins and ends in a cacophony of mesmeric choruses. Then there’s the African funeral piece, Hamba The Reprise (the first version was on the most recent Shabaka And The Ancestors album). This one begins with something akin to Gregorian chanting before gloriously erupting in a cavalcade of rhythm. Ta Tom unfeasibly flirts with metal and prog.
Despite all of that, at the core of The Brother Moves On, the place they always return to, is that dizzying afro-jazz. The redoubtable single, Bayakhala, is the perfect example. As is the exultant Sweetie Love Oh. Superb, however the stand-out track is the sorrowful Mazel. Witness Muhammad Dawjee’s Coltrane-esque tenor sax here, combining with the gossamer-fine guitar lines of Zelizwe Mthembu.
$/He Who Feeds You…Owns You is an incredible achievement; an outstanding album. It’s one where there is literally no filler and it is inconceivable that it won’t move you – in some way – when you settle into it. It is, deservedly, an album of the year.