This year’s Mercury Music Prize saw jazz quintet Ezra Collective walk away victorious, making history as the first jazz group to win the gong.
The group – comprising drummer and bandleader Femi Koleoso, bassist TJ Koleoso, keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones, trumpeter Ife Ogunjobi, and tenor saxophonist James Molliso – delighted in rising from meeting at a youth club to the huge recognition.
In their acceptance speech, Femi detailed how they had started and admitted the win was a blessing from God following earlier successes such as performing at Glastonbury earlier this summer.
So who are Ezra Collective?
Wooo! This year’s Mercury Music Prize saw jazz quintet Ezra Collective walk away victorious, making history as the first jazz group to win the gong (L-R James Mollison, Joe Armon-Jones, Femi Koleoso, Ife Ogunjobi and TJ Koleoso)
Winners: The group delighted in rising from meeting at a youth club to the huge recognition
Happy days: The group are pictured performing in Texas in 2019
WHERE IT BEGAN
The group began in 2016 when meeting at British jazz double bassist, composer, music arranger and educator Gary Crosby’s youth initiative Tomorrow’s Warriors.
Femi explained that previously jazz felt out of reach to the group due, saying: ‘I saw jazz music as an elite art form that I didn’t have access to’.
On their early influences, Femi said: ‘Earliest influence would be Fela Kuti, from my dad’s CD collection. I was making songs and noise from age 4. I was born with it, it’s in me. [Music] It just brings me joy…
‘Makes me happy, makes my soul dance. Always has. Hasn’t stopped.’
Prior to the Mercury win, they scored the MOBO Award for Best Jazz Act last year.
Additionally, their 2019 instrumental single Quest For Coin premiered as the Hottest Record In The World on Annie Max on BBC Radio 1.
Femi revealed: ‘Let me thank God because if a jazz band winning the Mercury Prize doesn’t make you believe in God I don’t know what will. We met in a youth club…
‘This moment we’re celebrating right here is testimony to good, special people putting time and effort into [helping] young people to play music…
‘Let me tell you something serious, something real, we have something special in the UK by way of young musicians so let’s continue to support that.’
Ezra Collective also performed at Glastonbury in summer.
The band have featured a host of fellow stars in their music, including Sampa the Great. Emeli Sandé and previous Mercury nominees: Kojey Radical and Nao.
Alongside a five star review for their second album Partisan in The Guardian last year, reviewer Kate Hutchinson lauded the collaborations.
She penned: ‘The mellifluous vocals of chameleonic rappers Kojey Radical and Sampa the Great wrap around their music, serpentine-like; singers Emeli Sandé and Nao sparkle respectively on Siesta (recalling MJ Cole’s Sincere)…
‘The cosmic devotional Love in Outer Space. Ezra Collective show off not just their intuitive playing, but their knack for songwriting…
‘he result is an exceptional album that centres joy and community, radiates positivity and youthful abandon, and could well be the one to cross over to the big league.’
WHAT HAVE THEY GOT TO SAY?
On the group dynamic, Femi previously told Loud And Quiet: ‘Everyone has an emotion or feeling that they evoke. For us, there’s an energetic joy…
‘We’re trying to get people to dance and have the best day of their week at our shows. Some of the happiest moments of my life have been with these bredrins when we’re reasoning together.’
Keyboardist Joe went on: ‘A lot of musicians will tell you that when they’re in a sad place it helps them make music, but for us, it’s the opposite. The best music we make is when we’re in a good place.’
Happy days: Femi explained that previously jazz felt out of reach to the group due, saying: ‘I saw jazz music as an elite art form that I didn’t have access to’