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Moor Mother review – howl of apocalyptic fury is kept to a whisper

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The Islington, London
A weedy sound system prevents the Philadelphian poet, musician and activist from tapping into true dread

Police brutality, domestic violence, race riots and western imperialism – the raw material for Camae Ayewa’s noise-infested “DIY time travel” performances as Moor Mother could hardly be more bleak. But the Philadelphia poet, activist and self-taught musician possesses a free-form energy and a knack for piercing visual imagery that can bring her subject matter to vivid life – usually while it’s still bleeding. “A husband beats a body raw,” she raps with a snarl, her dreadlocks falling like a veil over her face, “police drag a dead body on the floor.”

On her reputation-making 2016 album Fetish Bones, Ayewa used spoken word, free jazz, raw noise and sampled voices – including those of women such as Natasha McKenna, who died after being Tasered in prison – to create a homebrew twist on the Afrofuturism of fellow Philly artist-philosopher Sun Ra. Tonight’s show, however, finds her sharing a stage with soprano saxophonist Steve Montenegro, also known as Mental Jewelry, her collaborator on last year’s dub and dancehall-influenced Crime Waves EP. While Ayewa coaxes mangled, strangled noises from her array of glowing boxes, Montenegro channels the wild, squawking energy of Albert Ayler in an unbroken improvisation.

Related: Moor Mother: 'We have yet to truly understand what enslavement means'

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