Known primarily as the jovial musical director of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Jon Batiste shares a more serious side on We Are, an album that shares a social message underscored by a series of undeniably stirring songs. Batiste, a native of New Orleans, doesn’t necessarily rely on his Crescent City roots here. Instead, he broadens his approach to encompass elements of R&B, rap, pop, soul, and hip-hop, giving each equal weight in the musical mix. Indeed, Batiste makes it clear that there’s a message found in this music, one that resonates throughout.
Inspired by the growing impact of the Black Lives Matter movement and the need to re-examine the troubled state of America’s racial divide, Batiste’s music melds desire with desperation.. The album’s first single, “We Are,” finds Batiste backed by the historic marching band of his alma mater—the St. Augustine High School Marching 100—as well as the Gospel Soul Children choir, a youth group based in his native New Orleans. The song recalls his participation in last summer’s musical revue, “We Are: A Peaceful Protest March With Music,” which led an estimated 5,000 New Yorkers through the streets of Manhattan. It was that show of solidarity that forms the arching theme of the album overall.
“We are the chosen ones,” the choir coos over a subdued funk rhythm, stating its purpose both pointedly and poignantly as well.
Other songs explore familiar turf, whether it’s “Tell The Truth,” which recalls the soulful stance of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett, the dazzling double-time delivery of “I Need You,” the rapping refrain of “Wachutalkinbout” or the slower sprawl of “Boyhood” and “Adulthood.” Later, in a brief 20 second spoken word cameo titled “Intro,” Mavis Staples sums the sentiment up succinctly.
Batiste invites us all to dance with determination. As a result, We Are is moving as well as meaningful.