Anthony Joseph has published numerous written works, in particular a well received novel; The African Origins of UFOs. He is in the early stages of what looks like a fruitful academic career lecturing in creative writing. He reads and performs regularly at international festivals and prestigious institutions, including a stint as the British Council’ first poet in residence at California State University, and to top that off has released this debut album with Dutch label, Kindred Spirits, home to Jneiro Jarel among others.
Thankfully, given the breadth of his work, my task is to focus on the album – which is a collection of eight expansive jazz/funk/afro-beat jams, with Joseph delivering his energetic spoken word over the top. Instrumentation consists of upright electric bass, sax, flute, and percussion, delivered by the four-piece Spasm Band. The band is fairly restrained for the most part, with the horns often way back in the mix, always leaving room for Joseph to jump in. The inventively titled ‘kneedeepindirchdiggerniggersweat’s in particular, is a killer groove. ‘On Kunu Land: Alfred Mac’ is a sublimely meditative piece in which Colin Webster is allowed to shine on sax.It’s tempting to place Joseph into a continuum of artists with links to what has become a sort Afro-futurist canon. Instead I’ll just say I heard references to Ornette Coleman’ Harmolodics, Ethiopian dreaming – Haile Selassie and Marus Garvey no doubt in the frame, Nile Crocodiles, delta ditch digging, Sun Ra like outer space allusions, plenty of names I’ve never heard before – no doubt both real and imagined, Caribbean laments – “If slavery never was?” Names like Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Thelonius, Basquiat, The Last Poets, Albert Ayler, Coltrane, Amiri Baraka, and Fela Kuti are never far away. The list could go on and on and on, it’s dizzying. This constant stream of references and scenarios tumbles from his mouth. Joseph doesn’ generally place himself explicitly within this stream, he sketches out mythical and real characters, their milieus, and skips forwards, backwards, sideways, taking the listener on a non-linear tour of space and time.
To talk of ‘space and time’ always seems like a cop out though, and Dr Laurie Ramey, professor of English at California State University, helps to narrow the context a little:
Joseph employs a syncretic, diasporic and highly innovative blend of genres and styles, providing an example of how diaspora becomes subject, inspiration and rationale for the innovative use of form, while experimental traditions enable him to show the diaspora in a fresh light.
The crucial word here is diaspora, and what I question at least in relation to this record, is whether Joseph’ traversal of the concept – as impressive as it is, is entirely ‘fresh’. If placing Joseph in a wider context is important, Paul Gilroy’ The Black Atlantic might be a good companion piece, in that it sketches out the spatially and temporally non-specific nature of the Afro-diasporic tradition that Joseph draws on, and explores the imaginative fertility of this transnational space. Needless to say, this album is saturated in history, with a vivid awareness of its own ancestry.
All that stuff aside, it deserves a listen, and to see it done live would be a great experience I’m sure. It remains to be seen how much attentionLeggo De Lion will attract outside of the literary/academic context assured by Joseph’s writing. Anthony Joseph is an intriguing figure, and I’ve been inspired to explore his written work more fully.