Ezra Collective are at the forefront of a new era for British jazz music, and bandleader Femi Koleoso has likened the genre’s boom to the rise of grime.
The London-based outfit are poised to enter the Top 40 this week with debut album You Can’t Steal My Joy, released via independent label Enter The Jungle. The record is at No.32 according to the first round of Midweek figures.
Koleoso, who also plays drums in Jorja Smith’s live band, spoke to Music Week in an On The Radar interview earlier this month. The release of You Can’t Steal My Joy caps a busy few years for his band, who can count a gig at Quincy Jones’ birthday party among their milestones so far.
Read on for the drummer’s thoughts on the jazz explosion and why the Mercury Prize and the Top 40 alike can expect to feel the full force of jazz.
What is the future of jazz music in the UK?
“The stigma that jazz music has will be fully broken. People won’t be surprised that a track with no singer or no rapper has charted. One day there won’t be ‘the token jazz album’ in the Mercury Prize shortlist, it will be, ‘these four jazz records made it because they were the best records released.’ That’s what’s going to happen. The ‘red wine, sitting down and watch jazz tonight in my best jeans’ [image] is going to die. It will be, ‘I want to watch this jazz band tonight, cool, let’s go to O2 Academy Brixton.’ That’s what’s going to happen to jazz music.”
What makes you so sure?
“I remember the birth of grime. I grew up in Enfield and Skepta and JME were my heroes. I remember the first time I saw Skepta on television, I thought, ‘What on earth is going on?’ When Drake first shouted out a UK musician it was, ‘What?! Drake!’. Now, when Drake is with Giggs, no one cares, because it’s normal. That is testament to that kind of music becoming so successful, it normalised its differences. That’s what’s going to happen to jazz music.”
Ezra Collective have come a long way so far…
“Releasing the album felt like the next step at the right time. We’ve avoided any kind of music industry input; no label, most of this was done with no management, just us as friends, so there was never any pressure to do anything, we were just mates making songs together. That’s allowed for a naturally beautiful process, I’m just enjoying it. Artists go through release stress, I haven’t been stressed about it, it’s all happened at the right time and in the right way.”
I can't believe how many mistakes we made putting our first record out
Femi Koleoso, Ezra Collective
Have you paid much attention to the business side?
“Yeah man. I’ve been able to learn from it. Our first record we put out, I can’t believe how many mistakes we made. One was putting the record on Bandcamp assuming we’d only sell 15-20 copies and I didn’t factor in postage and packaging [laughs]. And we sold loads of copies, we sold copies in America, Europe, Japan and Australia, and I just put the postage as if we’d be sending it around London, so for the first few months we lost money every time we sold a record. I didn’t make that mistake again! But then you make different mistakes. This time round there are still mistakes; it wouldn’t be real life if there weren’t. You try and understand things so you’re not taken advantage of and you approach things with humility and understand when there’s a moment to delegate or when there’s a moment to read a book, ask your friends and understand it for yourself, that’s my vibe and involvement.”
How do you rate London as a music city?
“It’s an incredible city. We’re so blessed. You wake up in London and whatever you want to be, whatever you want to achieve, someone there is able to help you achieve that. We formed in a youth club centred around jazz music, you just don’t have that in a lot of places, even in England. There’s a lot of negativity in London but there are a lot of positive things to think about. So many people there are willing to help you achieve your dreams, you’ve got to seek them out as best you can. There’s so much inspiration flying about, there are so many good musicians in London. The whole world goes there to perform their music. You’ve got to live in that and be inspired in as many ways as possible.”
You can read Ezra Collective's On The Radar interview here.