08 September 2023

Ezra Collective: From London youth group to Mercury Prize winners

08 September 2023

Ezra Collective have made history as the first jazz outfit to secure the Mercury Prize since the award’s inception in 1992.

The five-piece band, made up of drummer Femi Koleoso, bassist TJ Koleoso, keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones, saxophonist James Mollison and trumpeter Ife Ogunjobi, blends jazz, funk and Afrobeat within their music.

The group have been together for more than a decade, becoming friends as teenagers and developing their talents in a youth group run by a grassroots collective in London, Tomorrow’s Warriors.

In 2019, they released their debut album You Can’t Steal My Joy, which contained the instrumental single Quest for Coin.

The record featured fellow 2023 Mercury Prize nominee Loyle Carner, soul singer Jorja Smith and musical group Kokoroko.

Their second studio album came in the form of their Mercury Prize winning Where I’m Meant to Be, which was released in November 2022 on Partisan Records.

It also featured a selected of esteemed artists including Sampa The Great, Kojey Radical, Emile Sande, filmmaker Steve McQueen and Nao.

Both of their albums have reached the number one spot in the jazz and blues albums chart, according to the Official Charts Company.

Speaking to the PA news agency at the Mercury Prize ceremony, drummer Femi Koleoso said: “I don’t feel like we’re representing jazz. I feel like we’re representing music, just like everyone is.

“I think what would be wonderful is if by the end of this process, people just see it as music is music.”

He continued: “I think sometimes the Mercury Prize has been guilty, not necessarily the Mercury Prize itself, but we’ve been guilty of looking at the jazz act as like a token involvement.

“But if we can get to a place where everyone was like ‘Whatever music you make in the UK, you can justifiably be in this kind of place,’ then that will be job done.”

He added that he feels the “process of articulating exactly what we’re feeling is getting stronger, more eloquent and deeper” with each album.

“I feel like this album is just another step forward in us being authentically Ezra and the next record will be even more so until we’re done”, he added.

Reflecting on the message of their second album, he said: “I feel like we really wanted to convey the message that you’re where you’re meant to be, whether you’re happy with it or not, there’s a reason for every single moment.

“It’s an anti impostor syndrome message. We are justifiably meant to be here and that’s what the record kind of talks about, and you find joy when you get that message.”

Ezra Collective will take home a £25,000 prize and join an acclaimed group of previous award winners, including indie rockers Arctic Monkeys, rappers Skepta and Dave and the only two-time winner, PJ Harvey.

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