KAMAAL WILLIAMS "Wu Hen" Out July 24th

June 01, 2020 - 08:00 AM - 150 views
‘Wu Hen’ – the sophomore album from Peckham visionary Kamaal Williams – is an invitation to elevate to a higher state. Cinematic strings from Miguel-Atwood Ferguson and virtuoso saxophone from Quinn Mason are textural additions that make for a deeper, more multi-layered experience than previous releases.
 
Bringing groove back to the forefront, ‘Wu Hen’ oscillates between celestial jazz, funk, rap and R&B – reinforced with the beat-heavy attitude of grime, jungle, house and garage – a self-styled fusion Kamaal describes as ‘Wu Funk’. 
 
When pressed for insight into the album’s overarching themes, Kamaal proclaims: “This is a revolution of the mind. A spiritual rebellion. To reach new heights requires separating ourselves from the material world and finding power in what’s intangible. That’s what music and art is for – whether it’s a primitive emotion or something deep, you feel it. And there’s a subliminal element that resonates throughout my work. If you’re painting, it’s what you’re feeling as you’re painting. And the person looking at that artwork or listening to that music, they can feel it too, because it’s sincere.”
 
The album’s title is also the nickname Henry’s grandma gave him as a child. The Taiwanese side of his family are originally from the Wu Dynasty, and the name Wu translates as ‘Gateway to Heaven'. On ‘Wu Hen’ a path is traced from his lineage all the way to his current spiritual mission, which is also reflected in the front cover’s painted clouds, by artist Othelo Gervacio.
However – like most people striving – and like the ancient Chinese concept of ying and yang, there’s a dualism, where seemingly opposite forces are at play, which despite a conflict can actually be complementary, with the two sides interconnected and interdependent.
On the LP, transcendental moments of sheer beauty combine with roadman skits and musical evocations of the rowdy energy found in (pre-lockdown) streets, with these contrasting tensions colliding and exploding in beautiful, exciting ways.
Exemplifying the different shades of Wu from the outset, opener ‘Street Dreams’ floats with weightless, dream-like introspection before switching to the threatening intro, incendiary breakbeat drums and synth-driven funk of ‘One More Time’, which captures the hectic urban frisson of danger.
 
‘1989’ brings lush orchestration and prime Herbie Hancock vibes, whilst the beautiful ‘Toulouse’ is pure liquid silk, with serenely languid strings, piano and sax dancing around one another in arabesques.
Coltrane and Lonnie Liston Smith are channelled on ‘Pigalle’, whilst ‘Big Rick’ is the kind of slow jam that Henry does so well; recalling the mood of laid-back previous LP ‘The Return’. Flowing perfectly from that is the funked-up disco-meets-hip hop of ‘Save Me’, featuring rising LA rap star Mach Hommy.
Huge swathes of cosmic synth wash across the scorched house/broken banger ‘Mr Wu’, contrasting with ‘Hold On’, where Kamaal delves into soulful R&B with Lauren Faith, whose luscious vocals sit squarely between Minnie Ripperton and Jill Scott, while a harp adds further glistening luxury.
The gunman madness of ‘Early Prayer’s intro fades out, replaced by an emotive and thoughtful hymn, closing the album on an optimistic note, elevating above the chaos and reaching for a higher plane.
New players on this record include Greg Paul (of Kalayst Collective) on drums, Rick Leon James on bass, Quinn Mason on saxophone and guest harp from Alina Bzhezhinska. Multi-talented renaissance man Miguel Atwood-Ferguson (who has worked with Ray Charles, Flying Lotus, Dr. Dre, Mary J. Blige and Seu Jorge) contributes signature strings, which add vivid colour and rich depth, evoking vintage David Axelrod.
 
With ‘Wu Hen’, it’s clear the stars were aligned and something very special happened between these players. Every note, every beat, every single sound feels perfectly placed, and although lots of care and years of musicianship infuse the grooves, it feels effortless, with perfection pouring out of the speakers and into your soul.
About Kamaal Williams
Kamaal’s rise to prominence began with his hugely acclaimed duo Yussef Kamaal alongside drummer Yussef Dayes and their zeitgeist changing 2016 album ‘Black Focus’. Equally instrumental in his success were his 12”s for MCDE, Eglo, and Rhythm Section as Henry Wu.
In 2018 he launched Black Focus Records with Kamaal Williams’ debut ‘The Return’which charted highly and gained a devoted legion of fans, followed by sold out large venue and festival shows across Europe, North America, Australia and Asia. 
The media response to the sounds of Wu has been phenomenal. TV Appearances include Channel 4 ‘Four to the Floor’ and national TV in Germany and France.
Radio support has also been rife, with live sessions and track plays on BBC Radio 1 (with Slowthai), 1Xtra, BBC 6Music, NTS, Worldwide FM, KCRW, KEXP, Rinse and Reprezent, plus further filmed performances on Boiler Room and Adult Swim.
 
Widespread press support has included Pitchfork, The Guardian, The Times, FADER, NPR, NY Times, Mixmag, i-D, Complex, Crack and much more.
 
An affinity with fashion and streetwear, Henry’s natural style has attracted brand collaborations with Stephane Ashpool’s Pigalle, plus Adidas, Carhartt and Boiler Room.
 
Also an accomplished DJ, Henry has played sets for NTS, i-D, Red Bull (back-to-back with Goldie), and !K7’s prestigious ‘DJ Kicks’ series.

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