Album Review: Your Queen Is A Reptile
There’s a reason Your Queen is a Reptile was named The Wire magazine’s album of the year.
From the moment the bassy tuba kicks in over the driving rhythms of ‘Ada Eastman’, the listener is transfixed by the Mercury Prize-shortlisted Sons of Kemet’s infectious energy. Even for someone who, at the best of times, has little patience for jazz, Hutchings and Cross’s horns demand attention. The intensity of the complex, winding beats, a product of the band’s two drummers, fills the listener. And yet, for all its musical brilliance, Your Queen is also a political statement. The album’s ‘Ickeian’ title contrasts with the track list, in which the band recognises various (mostly historical) black women such as Harriet Tubman and Nanny, Queen of the Maroons as ‘Queen’. And that is the message of the album; it reverses the colonial hierarchies which dehumanised people of colour, instead celebrating them, while calling out the Queen (still the head of the commonwealth) as a representation of British imperialism and supremacism.
The release of the album was accompanied by a music video, starring poet Joshua Idehen. It opens, before the music starts, with the words ‘Your Queen considers herself our better’. While the video portrays Elizabeth the woman, it is clearly about more than her. It is about the institutions and history of empire, class, colonialism, suppression, et al. It is about a Britain that fails to remember its ‘history is not pure’ and its ‘conscience is not clean’. It demands recognition of not just the role empire played in the creation of modern Britain, but far more radically the equal humanity of the colonised.
However, the politics of the album are not confined to history and remembrance. The last song on the album, ‘My Queen is Doreen Lawrence’ refers to the mother of Stephen Lawrence, who’s murder led to the McPherson report concluding the Metropolitan Police was institutionally racist. During this track, Joshua Idehen utters ‘Don’t wanna take my country back mate / Wanna take my country forward’. In an age in which British politics feels suffocated between the reactionary right and wet liberalism, an album which both acknowledges Britain’s deep problems and offers a new radical future is incredibly refreshing.Your Queen is a Reptile is politically insightful, incredibly relevant and, perhaps most importantly, amazing to listen to. Even if politics isn’t your thing, even if jazz isn’t your thing, I challenge anyone to avoid being sucked in by this masterpiece of an album.