Pre-pandemic, there was a plan. The plan was for musicians from South Africa and Senegal to travel to London’s influential Total Refreshment Centre to make an album with musical kindred spirits in the UK. Like so many plans, it had to be adapted.
During the first wave of COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, groups of heavy-hitting musicians met for a day of intense recording in their home cities then sent the music to their compadres across the oceans. They returned to the studio a month later to respond to the music they’d been sent. The result is ‘On Our Own Clock’, a sonic testament to trenchant and collaborative creativity which digs into layers of South African jazz, traditional Senegalese instrumental music and London’s rich diaspora-informed musicality. Individually these are powerful strands of music. Collectively, they are super-sized.
‘On Our Own Clock’ contains interludes titled ‘How To Make Art In A Pandemic’. The phrase became a byword and a prayer to keep the process going across the multiple hurdles that presented themselves: people getting Covid; the fear and fury that proliferates in the twin pandemics of Covid and racism; the practicalities of making music across two continents. It builds on another phrase, in the spirit of evolution and improvisation: two words used in the foreword to Toni Morrison’s novel Jazz in which she describes the ‘unreasonable optimism’ of musicians. Making this album was unreasonably optimistic even before the pandemic. To have created a deeply-rooted and warm-hearted gem like this is extraordinary.
Album highlights among the phenomenal 11 tracks include singles ‘Dune Dance’, which steps and hustles around a gorgeous groove that was written in Joburg and reflected back by the London players. ‘Ngikhethile’ (an isiZulu word which translates as ‘I Have Chosen’) fuses playing from across continents in an incrementally intense salutation to powerful optimism. ‘Be The Light’ draws deep from the endless well of feeling that the Senegalese kora provides, and builds up and outwards from a sweet-yet-solid bedrock and Grandmaster Cap’s vocals. Like he says:
“If you are the light, you are the path. To all the bright motherfuckers out there, keep shining.”
The release is a collaboration between South African label Mushroom Hour Half Hour and Total Refreshment Centre recordings. It comprises the single album with artwork by Senegalese designer Djib Anton; a fanzine which documents the process and will be included with the vinyl; and an experimental film made by South African filmmakers Nhlanhla Masondo and Tseliso Monaheng. It imagines a far-future post-pandemic world and also includes artist interviews, session footage and the inevitable Zoom recordings.
One day, the musicians will play together in person. But for now, On Our Own Clock is inspiration, dispersed positivity and eleven incredible pieces of musical togetherness.