Saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s latest album, Heaven and Earth, is a whirlpool of the celestial and terrestrial. So, it’s only fair the accompanying images be equally as surreal. Directed by Jenn Nkiru, who recently directed the second unit on Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s iconic “Apes***” video for Ricky Saiz, “Hub-Tones” is an homage to Pan-Africanism, both visually and musically.
“Hub-Tones” is Kamasi Washington’s modern take on the title track from trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s 1963 album. A prolific musician, bandleader and composer, Hubbard worked with some of the most talented jazz players of his era — John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and James Spaulding, to name a few. He made large contributions to the continued relevancy of modern jazz and bebop. Washington carries the torch of Hubbard’s legacy by drawing on his familial roots, which adds a new energy and urgency to the classic song.
“As an African-American, a lot of us don’t know the country of our origin — that’s why most of us take on the ideology of Pan-Africanism,” Washington says in a press release. “I was trying to connect to my ancestors by connecting African rhythms with a Freddie Hubbard tune, which gave me that connection in a different way.”
Nkiru also directed the video for Washington’s “Fists of Fury,” which was released this past April. Similar in style to that video, the visual treatment for “Hub-Tones” features lavishly dressed dancers standing in front of the same gold, satin curtain and Pan-African Flag for the Relic Travellers’ Alliance, by artist Larry Achiampong. There are other, more subtle, nods to Pan-African connections as well — traditional Nigerian choreography, “make-up and crystal embellishment in the style of Nina Simone and the same lighting as seen in the courthouse hearings of Anita Hill,” Nkiru says — but the viewer is left to uncover the remaining Easter eggs.
“With the visuals for ‘Hub-Tones,’ I wanted to invoke the immediate ecstatic connection it gave me,” Nkiru says. “There’s a tradition ceremony called Oboni in the Ikwerre tribe, my parents’ tribe — the tribe of my heritage. The idea is through repetition, instrumentation and movement, to channel spirit, going deeper and deeper with the changing of each tone within the music ’till it becomes hypnotic and transcendent.” This idea of magnetic reiteration is mirrored by the stop-start piano refrain employed throughout Washington’s take on Freddie Hubbard’s classic.