The band, fronted by Southampton-born and Huddersfield-raised Lias Kaci Saoudi, formed in 2011. Lead guitarist Saul Adamczewski was previously the frontman of indie pop band the Metros, which also featured Fat White Family’s original bass player, Joseph Pancucci-Simpson.
They released their debut album, Champagne Holocaust, in 2013, on UK label Trashmouth Records. It was released in 2014 in the U.S. on Fat Possum Records. The band released Fat Whites/Taman Shud, a split EP with Taman Shud, on 11 December 2013 on Trashmouth.
On 10 March 2014, Fat White Family issued their first single, “Touch the Leather”, on Hate Hate Hate Records.
In early 2014, the band launched a PledgeMusic campaign to fund their show at the South by Southwest festival, with a subsequent US tour. Pledgers were given the self-released EP Crippled B-Sides and Inconsequential Rarities. Next was the single “I Am Mark E Smith” (referencing singer Mark E. Smith of the Fall), released 15 December 2014.
Their second album, Songs for Our Mothers, was released in 2016 by the Without Consent label. It was promoted with a single for “Whitest Boy on the Beach”,which was later chosen for the closing credits of the 2017 film T2 Trainspotting.
Mekurya was born on 14 March 1935, in Yifat, Ethiopia. He began his musical studies on traditional Ethiopian instruments such as the krar and the masenqo, and later moved on to the saxophone and clarinet. Upon reaching adolescence, he began his professional career in 1949 as a part of the Municipality Band in Addis Ababa. In 1955 he joined the house band at Addis’ Haile Selassie I Theatre, and in 1965 joined the famous Police Orchestra. He was also one of the first musicians to record an instrumental version of shellela, a genre of traditional Ethiopian vocal music sung by warriors before going into battle. Mekurya took the shellela tradition seriously, often appearing onstage in a warrior’s animal-skin tunic and lion’s mane headdress. He continued to refine his instrumental shellela style, recording an entire album in 1970, Negus of Ethiopian Sax, released on Philips Ethiopia during the heyday of the Ethiojazz movement. Mekurya continued to work alongside many of the biggest orchestras in the Ethiopian capital, accompanying renowned singers Alemayehu Eshete, Hirut Beqele, and Ayalew Mesfin.
Before heading out on his own as a singer/songwriter, Kevin Morby was best known for his work with two different Brooklyn bands, the Babies and Woods. Based in Los Angeles, Morby originally moved from his native Kansas City to Brooklyn in the mid-2000s, eventually joining the noise folk group Woods on bass. While living in Brooklyn, he became close friends and roommates with Cassie Ramone of the punk trio Vivian Girls, and the two formed a side project together called the Babies, who released albums in 2011 and 2012. Following his move to L.A., Morby recorded a collection of songs with Babies producer Rob Barbato that was intended to be an homage to New York City. The new songs represented a stylistic shift into a more roots-oriented indie sound and also featured Babies drummer Justin Sullivan along with several other guest artists. Released in 2013 by Woodsist Records, the eight-song collection was called Harlem River and became Morby’s debut as a solo artist.
In August of that year, Morby relocated from his Brooklyn dwellings to Los Angeles, quickly beginning work on what would become his second solo album, Still Life. The album was released yet again on the Woodsist label in late 2014. His next record was informed by two developments: he moved to a house with a piano; and he played in the Complete Last Waltz, a group formed to pay tribute to the music of the Band. The first changed the way he wrote songs; the second meant he hooked up with fellow bandmate Sam Cohen of Yellowbirds and the two began collaborating. The recording of Morby’s first album for his new label, Dead Oceans, took place in Woodstock, New York and featured appearances from keyboardist Marco Benevento and Quilt’s John Andrews on musical saw. Singing Saw was released in April of 2016. The following year, a companion-piece album, City Music, was released. Recorded at the analog-centric Panoramic House studio in rural West Marin, California and prominently featuring its 19th century pump organ, the album saw Morby channeling Lou Reed and Patti Smith in a collection of introspective vignettes.
Annexus Quam’s first record, originally released in 1970, is a peculiar mix of psychedelic rock and jazz, one of those distinctly Krautrock records from that era. There are plenty of spacy sound effects as well as drugged-out vocal moaning, while primitive rhythms pound away with savage ferocity, especially on the second track. The longer third cut slows things down slightly, with plenty of soloing of guitar, keyboard, and more vocal moaning over the rhythmic washes of sound and ragged percussion, and then adds in some cosmic electric guitar riffing toward the end. The side-long fourth track is far mellower, as a piano leads into a relaxed but swinging number that is far jazzier than the rest of the disc, though still based more in underground rock than jazz. The piece soon takes on the psychedelic weirdness of the earlier tracks as it starts to sway off kilter with more wordless vocals and studio effects and many transitions of sound. Annexus Quam (Osmose) is not quite rock and not quite jazz, but is a very nice listen for more adventurous listeners from either school, especially in the light of more recent post-rock developments.
Armed with the incredible vocalist Bilal, The Roots performed the signature track from Detroit, a film about the race riots in 1967. “It Ain’t Fair” glares unflinchingly, takes a knee and raises a fist against the societal construct that has systematically denied equality of experience to those “presumed inferior,” to quote one of Bilal’s verses. And it achieves all this while covering its heart with its right hand. This reflective hymn tenderly yanks your heart strings and offers a window into the ethos of those who would like to stand for the flag but cannot in good principle, lest these same evils continue to exist.
Those lucky enough to be in the Tiny Desk audience witnessed masters at work. Black Thought is truly one of the most intelligent emcees ever, and his razor-sharp lyricism was on full display. Questlove, a musical and cultural historian nonpareil, was both a metronomical and moral anchor. It felt like the culmination of decades of academic rigor and boom-bap sessions, fittingly backed by a seven-piece horn section. Bilal’s falsetto-laced vocals and warm resonance evoked powerful messaging reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield’s “Don’t Worry,” delivered with the eccentricity of Prince.
Late last year, Common premiered “Letter to the Free” at the Tiny Desk and later won an Emmy for the song. It wouldn’t surprise me if “It Ain’t Fair” becomes another award-winning performance when the Oscars roll around early next year. This is a song that deserves to be heard in the millions of households that watch The Roots every night.
“It Ain’t Fair”
Curtis L. Jones Jr (Trombone), Arnetta Johnson (Trumpet), Hiruy E. Tirfe (Sax), Richard L. Tate II (Sax), Joseph Streater (Trumpet), Norman J. Bradshaw (Trombone), Damon Bryson (Sousaphone), Ahmir (Questlove) Thompson (Drums), Tarik (Black Thought) Trotter (Emcee), Bilal Oliver (Vocals)