Our writers’ tips for holiday reading, viewing and doing
Kamasi Washington refuses to label his music as jazz or any other genre, and with good reason — this LA born saxophonist’s compositions defy pigeonholing.
After his stunning debut, triple album The Epic, followed by an EP, comes double CD Heaven and Earth (a third CD is hidden in the cover).
Darker in places than The Epic, the album gives expression to the anger and protest against racism seen on the streets of the US. But Heaven and Earth is nevertheless uplifting.
The album’s opening track, Fire and Fury, has vocalist Patrice Quinn singing “We will no longer ask for justice… Instead, we will take our retribution”.
From soaring orchestrals to funk and soul, Washington has produced another rich and powerful album that will be my soundtrack for this summer and a long time to come.
Khurangbin translates as “engine fly” in Thai. It reflects the musical influences that inform the Texan trio that bears this name.
The title of their latest album Con Todo El Mundo is Spanish for “with all my heart”, and is a touching tribute to bassist Laura Lees’s grandfather. It is a beautiful collection of laid back psychedelic soul, perfect for chilling to on a summer’s day.
Harpist Alina Bzhezhinska delivered an outstanding performance at last autumn’s London Jazz Festival. Her debut album Inspiration is newly released and was well worth the wait. Meanwhile, British jazz is thriving. Saxophonist Nubya Garcia is an emerging talent with an excellent album Nubya’s 5ive. Elsewhere, Shabaka Hutchings’s project Sons of Kemet has resulted in a collection Your Queen is a Reptile dedicated to strong women, among them, Angela Davis and Doreen Lawrence.
The Last Poets are still going strong, releasing a powerful album Understand What Black Is to mark their fiftieth anniversary.
In similar vein, the video for Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino’s single This is America, was an internet sensation and rightly so. I’m looking forward to the forthcoming album and plan to watch his highly acclaimed TV series Atlanta on BBC iPlayer.
Packing your bags for sunnier climes? Here are a couple of my suitcase fillers.
Go, Went, Gone by Berlin writer Jenny Erpenbeck is the story of Richard, a retiring academic who is contemplating his comfortable but insular life when he discovers from the news that he has, unknowingly, walked past a hunger strike by ten African men.
Here, on his Berlin doorstep, he discovers a new community — a tent city, established by African asylum seekers.
With trepidation he gets to know the new arrivals and finds his life changing, as he begins to question his own sense of belonging in a city that was once divided by a wall and is so again by distrust and racism.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, the author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, takes us into the territory of speculative fiction and a city swollen by refugees.
Nadia and Saeed meet at an evening class on Product Branding; unconventional girl meets predictable boy and surely we know the ending? Far from it as they move through time and space from the shock of one terrain to another, refugees in a world turned upside down, of barbed wire and camps. If you can bear the ride, this book pays back with interest. In a world riven with upheaval, it is radical to hope.
If you haven’t seen it yet the documentary 13th on Netflix is very well made. It is in reference to the 13th amendment to the US constitution which abolished slavery, except as punishment for a crime. It conciously and deliberately makes the argument that the American prison system is a new form of the same thing.
Rather than try to capture a historical event it makes the argument first and then puts in the history by linking the era that America is in now of institutional racism with what existed before.
It has a brilliant soundtrack which highlights different issues that those behind bars go through. There is a song by The Roots, a bit of Johnny Cash in there as well — The Man Comes Around.
Iraqi author and journalist Ahmed Saadawi was one of the few literary figures who stayed on in Iraq after the US-led invasion and witnessed at first hand the violence and death that was unleashed.
These experiences are the foundation of his Man Booker International nominated novel Frankenstein in Baghdad, recently published in an English-language version. It’s a masterpiece, and although it borrows from Mary Shelley’s tale, it is much, much more.
I recently heard Turkish UK-based author Elif Shafak talk about her work and witnessed her fan club queuing round the block for her autograph. So I have bought her latest novel Three Daughters of Eve and intend to work backwards through her other works.
I am looking forward to reading Patrisse Khan-Cullors’ political biography (written with Asha Bandele) When They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, so that I can learn more about the radical roots of the movement.
The Caribbean is producing brilliant writers at a rapid rate once again. I recommend Jacob Ross’s The Bone Readers as a terrific, but unsettling, read.
Going back, if you want to know the harsh truth of the first years of the Windrush Generation, there is no better place to start than Trinidadian Sam Selvon’s 1956 ground-breaking chronicle The Lonely Londoners.
The best TV I’ve seen this year was Save Me, the SKY six-part crime thriller set in working class south east London, created by and starring Lennie James, acting alongside Suranne Jones. James was magnificent in the role of ne’er-do-well Nelson “Nelly” Rowe. A second series is in the pipeline.
As the world recoils in horror at Trump’s treatment of migrant children and anti-racists fight for the Dubs Amendment in the context of the ‘hostile environment’, a new poetry collection from Pan Macmillan is a timely publication.
England: Poems from a school features poems written by migrant and refugee children at Oxford Spires Academy edited by the school’s writer in residence Kate Clanchy.
Dundee is set to become a go-to destination for those interested in the history and celebration of art, design and craft with the opening of V&A Dundee, “Scotland’s first design museum”, on 15 September. Its first exhibition will be Ocean Liners: Speed and Style.
From 17 to 23 September the UK’s largest comic art festival, Thought Bubble, will take place in Leeds, now in its 12th year with a huge number of activities to celebrate this most cherished art form.
Both of the books I’ve most enjoyed this year are by first time authors. The first, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman. Cleverly written, an original and inspirational story concerning a lonely woman. The telling is gripping and often very funny.
The reasons behind her somewhat strange way of life are eventually revealed but not before we are treated to an extraordinary reflection of human behaviour, sometimes cruel but often kind.
We see how easily people are judged and misjudged. I have sometimes found books come to a sudden and quite unsatisfactory ending, but this is the first time on finishing a book that I have burst into tears.
A very good book for teenagers as well as adults is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. It is very relevant at this time when we have the Black Lives Matter movement as it concerns race, crime and police ineptitude in the USA. It is the thrilling story of a 16 year old girl caught up in a killing by a cop and the difficulty she has coping with the subsequent results.
As a theatre critic I see a lot of stage dramas, both in Scotland and internationally. The best of these over the past year was the staging of Eugene Ionesco’s 20th century classic Rhinoceros, directed at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum theatre by Turkish theatremaker Murat Daltaban.
The play, in which the people of a French town turn, one-by-one, into rhinos, was Ionesco’s response to the rise of fascism in Europe. It has frightening echoes in our own times, not least in Turkey itself.
Boasting exceptional music, sound and design, a sharp, supple adaptation by leading Scottish dramatist Zinnie Harris, and brilliant performances across the piece, the production richly deserves its many plaudits and awards.
Director Daltaban has recently moved to Edinburgh, and intends to create international, collaborative work in both Scotland and Turkey. This is an exciting prospect for theatre lovers in Scotland and beyond.
The Happy Prince, Rupert Everett’s much-anticipated film about the final years of Oscar Wilde, is a masterpiece. Everett (who is the movie’s writer, director and exceptional lead actor) captures agonisingly not only the vicious, homophobic bigotry that afflicted Wilde, but also his personal demons, and the loyal friends who followed him to his grave.
The current exhibition at Tate Britain, Aftermath, has some great prints by George Grosz and Otto Dix in the print room and is one of the best shows I have seen this year.
I was quite stunned by the concert at the Albert Hall on 20 June, Contemporary Expressions of Musical Heritage from the Middle East, West Africa and Central Asia.
It included Wu Man, Homayoun Sakhi, Siroojiddin Juraev, Basel Rajoub, the Kronos Quartet and others. The concert is available on the web page of the Ismalili Centre as part of the Master Music of the Aga Khan Music Initiative.
The Picasso 1932 exhibition at the Tate Modern was amazing demonstrations of his raw power and was all sex while the album by Kit Downes called Obesidian was calm and soothing.
The Barbican is showing two photographic exhibitions alongside one another this summer, which makes the £13.50 entry feel a little less steep. As well as the long-awaited Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing, Vanessa Winship’s And Time Folds is also worth a visit. In particular, Winship’s featured series she dances on Jackson (2011 – 2012) uses the US during economic crisis to frame subjects from across the states and traces violence that continues to affect the country.
Alex Prager’s Silver Lake Drive at The Photographer’s Gallery features the US in a different, and perhaps more fun, light. The LA-based photographer builds huge Hollywood-inspired sets as the frame for her work, making it look big-budget yet sometimes slightly sinister. It’s £4 or £2.50 for concessions, which feels like good value when a blockbuster show can come in at over a tenner.
At the Young Vic in August, Things of Dry Hours written by Naomi Wallace looks like it will be worth booking up for. Set in the Depression-era deep south, it follows Sunday school teacher and black Communist Tice Hogan and his daughter Cali, a laundress. One day an unknown white factory worker fugitive asks for sanctuary, setting off debates around continuity and change.
Whenever an artist I really like releases new work, I get anxious in case I’m disappointed. But I needn’t have worried with Heaven and Earth, the latest album from Kamasi Washington. I know I’m going to have it on repeat over the summer. Have a listen to Fists of Fury or Testify if you need to be convinced this is essential listening.
I always look forward to summer because it’s Proms time. Don’t be conned into thinking it’s all about posh twits waving union jack flags — you can see some of the world’s best musicians. I’m looking forward to seeing Marin Alsop conduct the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and the non-classical New York: Sound of a City, one of the late Proms. If you haven’t got tickets, you can queue up on the day and see a great performance for only a few pounds.
I’ll definitely pay a visit to the V&A for Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up. I think I’d rather see an exhibition of her art rather than her possessions and clothing but until I get that job as curator of the museum I guess I’ll have to go with what I’m given, and I’m hoping this will be an interesting reflection of her life.
My viewing will mostly consist of continuing to watch Childish Gambino’s This Is America. I may have a slight obsession with this but I think it’s the best take on Trump’s America in a four minute video. But I also plan to take my computer, sit in the park near the local pub to use their WiFi, and settle down to season 2 of Luke Cage.