The Invisible lynchpin has made a powerful exploration of the Black experience from a number of different perspectives, with Grace Jones, Eska and Kwabs joining the musical odyssey
The concept album is a risky business, the trap of self-indulgence all too easy to fall into. Yet that is a fate never likely to befall Dave Okumu. An incredibly well-connected producer and session musician, Okumu, also a crucial member of The Invisible, has spread his wings in recent years, making use of his enviable contact list. The pandemic saw a solo album, Knopperz, alongside a striking and vibrant collaboration with Joan As Police Woman and the late Tony Allen.
I Came From Love, begun around the release of that record, takes an even bigger leap, drawing on a group of soloists to make a massive double album, complemented by powerful visuals. As part of the experience Okumu asks his listeners to join the band, looking to bring musical unity from the discrimination and prejudice explored through the album.
Okumu’s theme, as he has detailed, is an exploration of the Black experience from a number of different perspectives. In his hands the album is often thought provoking and on occasion revelatory. Over the course of four chapters, he looks back at an awkward upbringing as the youngest of eight, born to Kenyan parents in Vienna. The sections – You Survived So I Might Live, The Intolerable Suffering Of (The) Other, Seduced By Babylon and Cave Of Origins – become a shared experience. Joining Okumu in his musical odyssey are Eska, Kwabs, Wesley Joseph, Robert Stillman, Anthony Joseph, Byron Wallen, Raven Bush and actual Grace Jones.
There is much for Okumu to rail against, sadly, but to his massive credit the ensemble harness a powerful inner strength to keep a positive profile, looking at how we can and must do better as a society. Hopes and fears are expressed in defiant musical and lyrical terms. “How am I supposed to love a nation with a broken heart?”, he considers on Get Out. Yet the music professes he will try. 7 Generations itself has a striking urgency, its beats breaking into a trot as the vocal contributions range across the frequencies. Blood Ah Go Run is the album’s standout track, its haunting profile drawn from the anti-racism protests of New Cross in 1981, following the tragic fire that killed 13 people at a house party. Okumu’s chant is close to home – literally – and has a hollow ring when set against samples from the documentary made about the tragedy and its aftermath.
Greater hope is found in Black Firework, inspired by a vision from Okumu’s son. The striking My Negritude, featuring Anthony Joseph, sets excerpts from Aime Cesaire’s poem Return To My Native Land to scattered drums, vocal snatches and a lithe bass recalling Gil Scott-Heron. “The work of man has only begun,” it concludes. The Scott-Heron parallel is even sharper in Scenes, a 21st century update of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. With the help of Joseph and Kwabs, Okumu deconstructs the awfulness of the political approach to immigration and the Windrush generation. “We cannot be sent back… we cannot be returned as cattle,” is the powerful cry, then later, “your eyes are not deceiving you – we are this beautiful”. The song leaves a lasting impression.
The approach is musically broad. Silvery strings and a baleful saxophone add mysterious dimensions to Streets. “If these streets could speak, what would they say?” asks Okumu. Amnesia takes on an approach laced with G-funk, while Eyes On Me has the urgency of a faster Tricky track. Abaka explores the rich tapestry of ancestry, ending with a vocal melody briefly recalling George Gershwin’s Summertime.
Its content means that I Came From Love should not be background listening, yet it is a cohesive musical statement in spite of its length. His first-hand experiences mean Okumu’s sonorous tones carry powerful messages, in what is one of his finest musical achievements to date. It is to be hoped that in the future we can revisit I Came From Love with some important lessons learned and acted upon.