Sons of Kemet's Theon Cross: Five Essential Albums

Theon Cross (image courtesy of Grandstand Media, PR)
by Kara Manning | 02/15/2022 | 12:00am

Theon Cross (image courtesy of Grandstand Media, PR)

As FUV honors music pioneers over the next month, we also reached out to a new generation of rising artists and innovators to discuss the "Five Essential Albums" that have guided them creatively and personally.

The tuba is not often thought of as an easy, versatile instrument, but when handled by London's Theon Cross, member of the acclaimed, Mercury Prize-nominated band Sons of Kemet, the unwieldly brass becomes a stirring conduit of emotion and passion, one that fits as easily into grime, reggae, funk, or rock as it does jazz.

Cross takes his exploratory path even further on his powerful 2021 solo album, Intra-I, which delves into what the tuba player calls "Afro-Diaspora Music (ADM)." He flexes the muscularity of rhythm, bass, and the nuances of the tuba's cavernous sound as if it's a cello, stretching its dynamics in unexpected ways and embracing his African-Carribean heritage and history on tracks like "Roots," featuring Shumba Maasai, and the tender "Watching Over (Bless Up Dad)," written for his reggae-loving father who passed away in 2020.

Cross is at the heart of London's electrifying jazz scene. He's not only collaborated with his Sons of Kemet compadres, saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings and drummers Tom Skinner and Eddie Wakili-Hick (their most recent album is 2021's Black to the Future), but with acclaimed peers such as Nubya Garcia, Ezra Collective, and Moses Boyd. Cross has also played with The Smile, comprised of Skinner and Radiohead's Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, on a couple of tracks, including their new single, "The Smoke."

For FUV's "Five Essential Albums," Cross's selections cover all phases of his life, from teenage tuba player to one of the great masters of the instrument:

Sons of Kemet's Theon Cross: Five Essential Albums:

Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Voodoo
When I first started to get into playing the tuba in a jazz context, I started checking out brass bands from New Orleans and the Dirty Dozen were a group that I really enjoyed listening to and really enjoyed the funk and joy in the music. The way Kirk Joseph moves around on the sousaphone on this record made me see the tuba in a different way and was a big influence and eye opener.

Bob Marley and the Wailers, Exodus
Bob Marley’s music has always been present in my upbringing through my parents, and this album features so many of the songs of his that I often revisit the most. The songs are timeless and the message in the music remains relevant.

Count Ossie, Count Ossie & The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari
This is an album that I was introduced to by my dad when I was a child and where I first heard the sound of traditional Nyabinghi music from Jamaica. It’s a deeply spiritual album that has been an influence on my music and also an album that we have a shared affinity for in Sons of Kemet.

Louis Armstrong, The Best of The Hot 5 & Hot 7 Recordings
When I first started playing jazz gigs in London I would often play in a lot of traditional jazz bands, as it was a style of music where the tuba could be used as the bass instrument. I fell in love with this album quite early and find Louis Armstrong’s trumpet playing so ahead of its time and masterful. The arrangements are so tight and precise and I learnt a lot from listening to and playing some of this music.

Dizzee Rascal, Boy In Da Corner
Being a Londoner who was a teen in the mid 2000s, the sound of grime music was prevalent around people in my age group and Boy In Da Corner is a definitive classic in the genre. It is an album that I’ve taken influence from in some of my own music sonically and also in the way I approach and hear bass lines.

- Theon Cross
February 2022

Weekdays at Noon

Ticket Giveaways from WFUV