Damon Locks’s Black Monument Ensemble Credit: Daris Jasper

In a 2016 interview for Lewis University’s online arts journal, Jet Fuel Review, Chicago polymath Damon Locks spoke about running into celebrated artist Kerry James Marshall in a local comic book store. Locks, a vocalist, musician, and visual and video artist, was gratified to discover that they share the habit of checking out the comics, but that’s not the only thing they have in common. Both men have used their art to challenge stereotypical representations of Blackness by creating nuanced depictions of the diversity and complexity of the African-American communities in which they live. With his 80s/90s band Trenchmouth and its still-active spinoff, the Eternals, Locks has embedded those messages within music that combines punk, dub, Afrobeat, 70s Brazilian pop, and other influences from around the world. But on the new Where Future Unfolds (International Anthem), the debut LP by his Black Monument Ensemble, Locks works entirely within an African-American tradition that understands artistic and political endeavors as complementary tools in the fight for self-definition, self-affirmation, and survival. The ensemble includes an instrumental quartet (Locks on electronics and bells, alongside clarinetist Angel Bat Dawid, drummer Dana Hall, and percussionist Arif Smith), five singers (plus an appearance by Rayna Golding on “Rebuild a Nation”), and a dance troupe. Samples from speeches from the civil rights movement remind listeners of the never-ending struggle, while the presence onstage of dancers from youth company Move Me Soul and alumni of the Chicago Children’s Choir show why it’s important to keep pushing. And even if you don’t tune in to the message, you can let the BME’s joyously uplifting mix of sounds—which includes spiritual-jazz sonorities, hip-hop grooves, gospel harmonies, and sampled field recordings of African folk music—carry you away.   v