Matana Roberts – Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libres

Album Review by Chris Buckle | 28 Apr 2011
Album title: Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libres
Artist: Matana Roberts
Label: Constellation
Release date: 9 May

An avant-jazz concept album performed live, Coin Coin is an uncompromising listen. The intense noodling of opener Rise immediately intimidates, while the sub-title – ‘free people of colour’ – indicates the distressing subject matter. In Pov Potti, the narrator is sixteen, watching her parents die; by Kersalia, she’s aged beyond her twenty-five years.

The album’s centre-piece is a largely acapella slave auction, harrowing in its inhumanity (“she’d make a damn good breeder” Roberts leers, approximating the auctioneer, “don’t you mind them tears, that’s one of her tricks”). Penultimate track I Am provides hope: set free, the narrator saves so she can “buy back my children”, before closing with a dedication to Robert’s mother, and the poignant question: How Much Would You Cost? That slavery was a terrible trauma is no revelation, but the album undoubtedly is: inventive, sapient and engrossing, it’s not an easy listen, but it is an exceptional one. [Chris Buckle]