Keith Waithe

Waithe On Song At Huntley Conference

Along with Allison & Busby and New Beacon, Bogle L’Ouverture is a pioneering presence in black British literature. Founded in 1969 by the late Jessica Huntley and her husband Eric, the publisher brought to the UK seminal texts by West Indian writers such as Walter Rodney, Andrew Salkey and Linton Kwesi Johnson.

The annual conference in honour of the Huntleys is thus an important event, even more so this year, as it is the 50th anniversary of the press they courageously founded. The all-day session at the London Metropolitan Archives has numerous panel sessions with a socio-political focus, but the performance element is also noteworthy. Flautist and composer Keith Waithe brings his band Macusi Players to the podium in the afternoon to debut new material that flows from his constant research of the rich folklore of his native Guyana, as well as other territories he has visited.

Waithe, erstwhile collaborator with the likes of Courtney Pine and Nitin Sawhney, is a virtuoso whose superlative command of the concert flute is matched by a highly imaginative use of his voice that enables him to create a wide range of nature-inspired percussive effects, some of which are executed at daringly high tempo. Backed by bass guitar and congas, Waithe is on good form, and the minimalist set-up serves to highlight his clarity of articulation and precision of timekeeping. Pieces such as ‘The Lightning Bolt’, with its swaying Caribbean pulse, go down well, as does the ambling swing of ‘Jazz In The Sea Of Life’. Joining the players is the spoken word artist-storyteller Sandra Agard, who brings a commanding presence to the stage to underline the deeply rooted alliance of black music and oral culture that Bogle L’Ouverture celebrated with the publication of Johnson’s visionary dub poetry back in the 1980s.

On the downside, the relatively poor sound engineering largely muffles the low register of the music, and there are times when the definition of some of the more intricate arrangements is swallowed up. But Waithe’s musicality and the immediate responsiveness of the audience ensure that this shortcoming doesn’t dent an uplifting event that gives due praise to those who had the long view, and the strength to match.

Kevin Le Gendre
– Photo by Francisco Castanon (London Metropolitan Archives, City of London. 2019)