The 2023 Mercury Prize has been awarded to Ezra Collective, the London band whose propulsive mix of jazz, funk and afrobeats has electrified audiences and cemented the capital’s jazz scene as one of the most exciting in the world.
“We met in a youth club,” drummer and bandleader Femi Koleoso said as he accepted the award for best British or Irish album of the year for Where I’m Meant to Be, the band’s second album. band. “This moment we are celebrating here is a testament to exceptional people who dedicate time and effort to getting young people playing music…let’s continue to support that,” he added, citing grassroots collectives in London such as Tomorrow’s Warriors and Kinetika Bloco.
It is the first time that a jazz artist has won this prize since its creation in 1992, and the quintet has beaten artists tipped by bookmakers such as the Irish drone-folk group Lankum and rapper Loyle Carner.
At the ceremony at Hammersmith Apollo, Jamz Supernova, the DJ and spokesperson for the jury, said Where I’m Meant to Be was an “uplifting and timely record that represents the best of where we are now in 2023. “.
Grounded in the contagious polyrhythms of Afrobeat – Koleoso was mentored by esteemed Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen – and capable of long-playing improvisations and party-igniting melodic grooves and themes, the band also includes bassist TJ Koleoso, trumpeter Ife Ogunjobi, saxophonist. James Mollison and keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones.
Emeli Sandé, Sampa the Great and two previous Mercury nominees: rapper Kojey Radical and R&B-soul singer Nao will contribute guest vocals to their album. In a five-star review when it was released in November 2022, Kate Hutchinson of The Guardian said Where I’m Meant To Be was “a standout album that centers joy and community, radiates positivity and youthful abandon. , and may well be the one to cross”. in the big leagues.
Their victory finally brings real recognition of the award for a UK jazz scene that has garnered global attention and a slew of new stars, following the recent annual – some said symbolic – shortlist inclusions of the likes of Nubya Garcia. (whose band Armon-Jones also appears in), Moses Boyd, Seed Ensemble, Sons of Kemet, Dinosaur and the Comet is Coming.
Ezra Collective wins £25,000 and joins an esteemed group of previous winners, including rappers Skepta and Dave, Britpoppers Pulp and Suede, and the only double winner, PJ Harvey.
The Arctic Monkeys were nominated for the fifth time, the most nominations alongside Radiohead – although unlike Radiohead they actually won it, for their debut album Which People Say I Am, That’s What I ‘m Not in 2006.
Another previous winner, Young Fathers, was back on the shortlist, while J Hus, Jessie Ware and Carner all picked up second nominations. The other nominees were Olivia Dean, Fred Again, Jockstrap, Raye and Shygirl.
The award was voted on by judges from across the music industry: musicians Anna Calvi, Jamie Cullum and Hannah Peel; broadcasters Sian Eleri, Mistajam, Jamz Supernova and Danielle Perry; media personalities Phil Alexander, Will Hodgkinson and Tshepo Mokoena; as well as Jeff Smith, head of music for BBC 6 Music and Radio 2, and Lea Stonhill, head of content at YouTube.
All of the nominated artists except Arctic Monkeys, J Hus and Fred Again performed live at the ceremony, along with Ezra Collective for a rousing finale.