The 2023 Mercury Prize was awarded to Ezra Collective, the London band whose propulsive blend of jazz, funk and afrobeat electrified audiences and cemented the capital’s jazz scene as one of the most exciting in the world.
“We met in a youth club,” said drummer and bandleader Femi Koleoso 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 celebrate here is a testament to good and special people who dedicate time and effort to [helping] for young people to play 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 the prize since its creation in 1992, and the quintet beat artists tipped by bookmakers such as the Irish drone-folk group Lankum and the rapper. Loyle Carner.
Speaking at the ceremony at Hammersmith Apollo, DJ and jury spokesperson Jamz Supernova 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 infectious polyrhythms of Afrobeat – Koleoso was mentored by Fela Kuti’s esteemed drummer Tony Allen – and capable of long-form improvisations as well as party-starting grooves and melodic 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 upon its release in November 2022, Kate Hutchinson of the Guardian said that Where I’m Meant To Be was an “exceptional album that centers joy and community, radiates positivity and youthful abandon, and may well be the one who will move into the big leagues.” .
Their win finally brings real award recognition to a British jazz scene that has sparked global attention and a slew of new stars, following recent annual – some have said symbolic – inclusions on the shortlist 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.
Arctic Monkeys were nominated for the fifth time, the most nominations alongside Radiohead – although unlike Radiohead they actually won, for their debut album Which People Say I Am, That’s What I ‘m Not in 2006.
Another former winner, young fathers, were back on the shortlist, while J Hus, Jessie Ware and Loyle Carner all landed 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 nominated artists except Arctic Monkeys, J Hus and Fred again performed live at the ceremony, with Ezra Collective providing a rousing finale – fittingly, with their track Victory Dance.