Ezra Collective live in Rotterdam in 2018Justin de Nooijer/Flickr

In September, the Mercury Prize was rightfully awarded to Ezra Collective for their immaculate album Where I’m Meant to Be. The decision only cemented the value of the awards body by disproving the most significant criticism of it: that each year there are token jazz and folk nominations which appear inclusive but never translate into actual awards. By rewarding Ezra Collective, the panel demonstrated that they truly consider quality rather than popularity or sales. No matter how niche your fan base, you still have a shot at winning the Mercury Prize.

“No matter how niche your fan base, you still have a shot at winning the Mercury Prize”

Indeed, the greatest role of the awards is to platform artists deserving of a wider audience. Loyle Carner echoed this during an interview after the ceremony where he explained that performing on TV was “the trophy” for him. Receiving the award – or even just being nominated – can attract thousands of new listeners. For instance, Anohni (formerly Antony) and the Johnsons’ phenomenal sophomore effort I Am a Bird Now witnessed a fivefold increase in sales after winning in 2005. Combined with a cash prize of £25,000, the award can make a significant difference for small artists.

The 2023 ceremony offered this opportunity to an eclectic mix of deserving nominees, from Lankum’s contemporary Irish folk to the unstoppable DJ Fred Again. Full of interesting picks, the list is an excellent way to discover new music. I wholeheartedly recommend Shygirl and Olivia Dean’s debuts, which it was great to see nominated as they are unlikely to get the love they deserve from larger awards. I’m especially fond of the final track, ‘Carmen’, of Olivia’s album Messy. It demonstrates a maturer side to her songwriting and I hope her next project picks up where this one left off – literally. Given that she’s already got country/RnB mainstay Leon Bridges to jump on a remix of ‘The Hardest Part’, I have a feeling I’ll be in luck.

Ezra Collective stressed the importance of youth groups in their Mercury Prize acceptance speechYouTube (BBC Music)

Now on to Ezra Collective. They are long-time collaborators with Mercury favourites Loyle, Kojey Radical and, of course, Jorja Smith (having been formed by her former tour drummer Femi Koleoso), demonstrating their centrality to the London music scene across multiple genres. These collaborations helped make Ezra Collective’s version of jazz accessible to a wide audience.

“What makes this new wave of British jazz exciting is its specificity to the UK”

British jazz has been growing for years, with amazing artists like Nubiyan Twist and Nubya Garcia to name but two, and this triumph felt like a win for the whole scene. What makes this new wave of British jazz exciting is its specificity to the UK. In many ways, this trend resembles the emergence of grime since, as pioneer Kano has often expressed, grime allowed British rap to distinguish itself as a separate entity.

As well as hip-hop, grime was influenced by the Jamaican dancehall, early garage and jungle scenes. Ezra Collective’s jazz draws on a similarly broad range of influences, most clearly on their track ‘Togetherness’, which interpolates one of the most famous reggae songs of the 21st Century, ‘Welcome to Jamrock’ by Damien Marley in its opening line. It’s this myriad of influences that gives Ezra Collective, and the wider British jazz scene, a distinct voice from the classic American jazz we all know.


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The diverse, global roots of this sub-genre are not only the source if its innovation, but what make it uniquely British. Ezra Collective’s win is the recognition this new wave of jazz has long deserved and it was only right that the Mercury’s be the ones to dish it out. Ezra Collective are also the perfect spokespeople for the genre, which Femi proved, not only with his heartfelt speech about the value of youth groups, but also the shout out he gave to teenage jazz band Oreglo as ones to watch. Having seen them at the Jazz Café in April, I can attest that he is not mistaken.

Now is the time to give Brit-jazz its flowers, and the Mercury’s did just that. Hopefully, this win will introduce Ezra Collective and their contemporaries to the broader audience they deserve.