In the latest edition of Music Week we proudly present this year’s expanded Music Week Women In Music Awards Roll Of Honour. Here we speak to Janine Irons, CEO & co-founder of music education and artist development organisation Tomorrow's Warriors...
How do you feel about joining the Music Week Women In Music Roll Of Honour?
“It really means a lot to be recognised and is also humbling. I have seen and admired the great work Music Week is doing by honouring and paying respect to women in the industry; the women at the forefront, but also the unsung heroes. So it’s a very special day to be recognised like this. Gary Crosby OBE and I have been leading Tomorrow’s Warriors for nearly 30 years and it’s been a real ride. The Queen awarded Gary his Queen’s Medal for music last summer, he also received the Gold Badge award in 2017. But this one is really special, because it’s for women and Tomorrow’s Warriors focuses on supporting under-represented black and female musicians in UK jazz from the grassroots upwards.”
How do you look back on getting into the industry?
“After studying contemporary dance and completing the first year of a degree at Trinity Laban, I moved on to a career, first of all in music at Boosey & Hawkes, and then in the city within international banking. I ended up doing what I do now when I met my partner, Gary Crosby. My challenges have always been where I felt barriers were being put in my way. In the city, the glass ceiling was unavoidable, and ultimately the reason I left. As a black woman especially, that ceiling was set very low, and as much as I tried to push against it, it was immovable. This change, though necessary, brought its own challenges. Being accepted by other musicians was something I had to work hard for. There were also the financial challenges of setting up a company, with ambition to do great things, but without all the money. I had the drive to professionalise Tomorrow’s Warriors and create a programme and pathway for musicians from fledgling level into professional careers. We have championed diversity and excellence and campaigned and fundraised, leveraging our relationships with partners and supporters to make a difference for the next generation.”
The need to keep diversity and inclusion at the top of the agenda is pressing
Did you have a mentor or role model?
“My partner Gary inspired me to actually do what I loved doing because, when we met, I hated international banking. Meeting Gary helped me wake up to a truth that I had tried to deny to myself: that systemic racism and bias was key to the situation I was in, not getting promoted and being left behind. Gary was leading his bands, Nu Troop and Jazz Jamaica, and was a professional musician in a burgeoning scene. It was exciting and inspiring. My father was also an important mentor at this time. His initial concern about me packing in a secure job to work for myself in jazz changed to excitement as he saw my vision starting to take shape, so it wasn’t too long before he was encouraging me to go for it.”
What is your biggest achievement so far?
“Our vision is for a world where opportunities for participation, ownership and leadership in music and the arts are available to all, whatever a person’s background. Today, the UK jazz scene is in rude health and our programme has engaged with over 10,000 young people from all backgrounds. Moses Boyd, Nubya Garcia, Cassie Kinoshi, Sheila Maurice-Grey, Shirley Tetteh and Nérija, Femi Koleoso and Ezra Collective, Shabaka Hutchings and Sons Of Kemet, Binker Golding, Eska, Zara McFarlane, Denys Baptiste, Soweto Kinch, Cherise – all of those names came through the Tomorrow’s Warriors programme. Having a hand in enabling so many talented young people to find their magic through jazz and make audiences incredibly happy, feels like an achievement, though our work is far from done.”
What advice would you offer young female executives?
“Always listen to your gut. Find your champion. Speak your truth. Never let
self-care fall by the wayside.”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“‘Do what you love. Love what you do. And nuh falla eedyat – don’t follow idiots!’ Props to Gary for these pearls of wisdom!”
2020 has been a year of unprecedented change. What’s the biggest lesson you’ll take away from it?
“Content is king. We all saw the shift towards digital content but Covid-19 has precipitated a ‘gold rush’ with companies scrambling to mine fertile ground. We will ensure rights are adequately protected and fairly compensated. The need to keep diversity and inclusion at the top of the agenda is pressing. 2020 feels like a moment and, as good as it is to see the industry start to take action, it hasn’t passed me by that it took the death of an African-American man at the hands of the police 4,000 miles away to wake up people over here, rather than an innate desire to do the right thing. Let’s not allow this moment to be consigned to the archive at the start of 2021. There’s still important work to be done.”
PHOTO: Louise Haywood-Schiefer