Lesson #5 – The Beatboxer, the Flute and the Orchestra

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Many children grow up thinking that there are two ways to play an instrument: the right way and the wrong way. Greg Patillo is one of a number of musicians who prove that an instrument can be played in many different ways and combining many different skills.
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How Women Took Over The London Jazz Scene in 2017

2017 saw the beginning of a new generation of young women establish themselves as the new voices and faces of the male dominated UK Jazz scene.

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From left to right: Cassie Kinoshi, Sheila Maurice-Grey, Richie Seivwright (source)

The collective Nérija released their self titled EP in late 2016 and were awarded the Jazz Newcomer Parliamentary Jazz Award 2017 in addition to their Jazz FM Breakthrough Act of the Year 2016 nomination. The eclectic nature of the EP reflects not only the different ethnicities and broad influences that the individuals bring, but showcases writing, arranging and improvisational skills reflective of young musicians who are not just improvisers, but keen students and lovers of the music they play. Though many in the band have studied and performed with some of the best jazz musicians in the country, there seems to be a strong sense of purpose to use those lessons and experiences to push boundaries and create an authentic reflection of the cultures these musicians come from.

‘Making sure that people can view jazz as an accessible, down to earth music that is meant to be relatable is really important to me…’ – Cassie Kinoshi

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Cassie Kinoshi at SEED ensembles EP recording (source)

This thirst for knowledge, exploration and educating their audiences is exemplified in the work of Cassie Kinoshi, the alto saxophonist for Nérija and leader of the 10 piece band SEED Ensemble. Her politically charged music is encased in harmonically complex passages and lively rhythms, with each composition specifically written in response to situations she has either personally encountered or wider issues such as the lack of recognition for the contributions of Caribbean, African and Asian soldiers during both world wars in the UK. She appeared on my podcast earlier this year and spoke about her wide range of influences including Langston Hughes and Jackie McClean, as well as her views on many issues surrounding the state of jazz today. Cassie was joined by other band members including tenor saxophone and flautist Chelsea Carmichael (who could be seen performing at the BBC Proms this year) as well as trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey to recorded SEED’s eagerly anticipated debut EP earlier this year. Don’t be surprised come summer to see them performing at festivals not only across the UK, but hopefully around the world too.

I’ve had the pleasure of performing with Sheila Maurice-Grey for almost two years and I am constantly blown away not only her musicianship, but by her work ethic. Booking, organising, performing, and writing alongside other projects are just some of the activities that these women do almost daily. It’s not just about the ability to perform that separates these musicians from many others, it’s a statement about work ethic that is familiar to many people of colour; you have to be twice as good to get half as much. Sheila performed with rappers Little Simz and Kano this year, as well as with Nérija and leading the band KOKOROKO to cement her place as a musician to keep an eye on in 2018.

KOKOROKO’s front line consists of Cassie Kinoshi and trombonist Richie Seivwright who play music ‘inspired by Fela Kuti, Ebo Taylor, Tony Allen and the great sounds that come out of West Africa’. This cultural influence is not only heard but seen in how many of these musicians present themselves on stage, removing themselves from the traditional aesthetics of suit wearing musicians and cocktail sipping audiences by wearing West African prints, singing, dancing and inviting their audiences to do the same. As Cassie told me, this is not the result of detailed marketing strategies and planning but rather one of comfort and personal taste; headwraps and jazz are no longer mutually exclusive.

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Nubya Garcia’s 5ive album artwork (source)

Saxophonist Nubya Garcia appears in a headwrap on the artwork of her EP entitled 5ive which also features Sheila Maurice-Grey on the track Lost Kingdoms, a tune which has over 200,000 plays on Spotify alone to date. Since the release in May 2017, she has gone on to perform in Brazil, appear on BBC Radio 6 with Gilles Peterson, headline at Ronnie Scotts as well as playing in the band, you guessed it – Nérija. She has appeared in numerous articles detailing her work and career path, all seemingly vying to speak to one of the faces of the new London jazz scene before she becomes an international star. Her EP reflects her eclectic influences, with her laid-back style of improvisation and rhythmical interaction with her band engaging the listener without the use of clichéd licks and phrases. Like the music of her contemporaries, you can hear an underpinning of a solid jazz theory education, but diffused into the many different styles personal to members of Nérija, SEED and KOKOROKO. Nubya received a British Jazz Rising Star nomination in 2017, a category which also included fellow saxophonist Camilla George. Camilla’s debut album Isang earned her glowing reviews in the Evening Standard and The Guardian, paving the way for her to support legendary singer Dee Dee Bridgewater at the EFG Jazz festival in November 2017 amongst numerous other gigs up and down the country. Next year promises to be another fruitful one Camilla who Jane Cornwell referred to as ‘the girl with the golden touch’.

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Camilla George (source)

#jazzmum was a hashtag used by Nubya herself to describe pianist Nikki Yeoh who won Jazz FM Instrumentalist of the year in 2017. Although she is not new to the scene having performed with the likes of Chick Corea and Courtney Pine, I’m excited to hear great things from her in 2018, having seen her live with Denys Baptiste earlier this year. Honourable mentions go to Yazz Ahmed who released her album La Saboteuse this year to critical acclaim, guitarist Shirley Tettah who is one of the driving forces in Nérija and pianist Sarah Tandy who features in the Guardians top 40 newcomers of 2018.

One of the most striking aspects about all of these musicians’ success is the sense of community. Most of these musicians mentioned have played together either with Tomorrows Warriors or Jazz Jamaica, and still supporting each others’ projects, contributing to the London sound which is gaining international attention. It’s encouraging to see these women utilise the resources available to them and producing music which is able to speak to so many people on a multitude of different emotional and intellectual levels.

It’s not hard to see that Jazz in 2017 belonged to these remarkable women. In addition to creating great music, they carry a sense of humility that seems to acknowledge what they are doing, but realise that the possibilities are endless, and that 2018 looks set to see a continuation of the new London jazz sound as led by these talented and hard working women. 

A Lesson in Reparations

Matt Kenyon for Seumas Milne on world war one

Learning history in school was pretty boring. I remember being in Year 6 and having to learn all of the Kings and Queens of England, from William the Conqueror all the way up to Queen Lizzie verbatim. We constructed model Tudor houses and begrudingly wrote our own Magna Cartas (burnt paper edges and tea stains for those who remember). In secondary school we learnt about World War I, World War II, the Holocaust, the Civil Rights movement and the abolition of Slavery amongst other things. To be honest, most of the information wasn‘t so interesting and even up until GCSEs, didn‘t make me really think about how history had an impact on my own life. Maybe I was just too much into football and girls to think really clearly about the subject, and so for a long time, history was ‘history’ and wasn‘t going to let it affect my life.

One day, our teacher wheeled in the cumbersome Sony TV and VCR player (remember that feeling when you walked into class and saw that?!) and announced that we were going to watch a movie called Schindlers List. We started watching it and quickly grew bored. Maybe because it was in black and white or maybe because some friends and I were sitting at the back, but at any rate, we were talking and laughing about goodness knows what. At the end of class something happened that forever changed how I saw history. One of the Jewish guys in the class was crying and even though I didn‘t ask why, somehow I understood why. That movie had a special significance for him because maybe some of his ancestors were amongst those who weren‘t so lucky to survive The Final Solution. He had a personal connection to what some of us had just watched. That’s when history became real to me. All prior experiences in history involved the class turning to look at me when our teacher asked us a question about the Civil Rights Movement or the Atlantic Slave Trade, and me cringing when I didn‘t know the answer.

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Fast forward to 2014 and I read that Caricom are now seeking reparations from England, France, the Netherlands and other countries. At first I was confused. Why after all this time? Wouldn‘t the best time to have asked been soon after many countries won Independence in the 60’s? There must be a reason why this is happening now as opposed to 10, 25 or 40 years ago. But it is happening. There will be a formal complaint by the end of April, with plans to take the cases to the International Court of Justice if rejected.  Whether or not reparations are granted, I think that this is a great oppurtunity to change the way we learn and teach world history.

I would guess that my year group was made up of about 45% from Asia (Subcontinent and East) 40% White (including Jews) and 5% Black. Roughly. This was my school on the outskirts of East London 10 years ago, but all over London, schools are fast becoming more and more mixed and maybe what is taught in history lessons should reflect this change.
First of all, there was no real sense of shame or embarrassment about what the British Empire actually represente when we were taught. The Empire raped, pillaged and destroyed its way through every continent on earth (save Antarctica) and left not only death and poverty in its wake, but religious ideologies, and divide and conquer techniques which leave us today debating good vs bad hair and people all around the world wanting to become lighter to fit in with a European aesthetic of beauty. Currently the way children are learning directly and indirectly about the Empire in schools, implicitly teaches students merely to accept it for what it was, and not bring into question what the legacy of the Empire still is.
Secondly, the history which we learnt was not mine or many of the other kids in my class. It was almost as though there was no modern day Bangladesh, Jamaica or Togo before the British invaded. We didn’t learn that calculus from the Kerala School of Mathematics in India predates European calculus by over a century. The city of IIe-Ife in Nigeria was paved with decorations that originated in America in 1000 AD (and they say Colombus discovered America?!). Mali was one of the most advanced and thriving cities in the world, with a population 5 times the size of London by the 14 century. Toilet paper was invented in China in the 1300‘s. All of the history of pre-colonial earth seems as though it was and still is reserved for those who choose to go and read history at university or educate themselves outside of formal education. That means that unlike my Jewish friends, in school (thankfully many of us were taught these things outside of school), we were never connected to our history; to learn that whether we were from St Lucia, Pakistan or Ghana, we come from rich cultures and wonderful histories which were either destroyed or simply archived until we decided to search for ourselves. We grew up knowing certain things but viewing our history as inferior and not important to be discussed in class, let alone write an exam on.

‘…accept it for what it was, and not bring into question what the legacy of the Empire still is.’

By Caricom asking for reparations, maybe we can all use this stand as catalyst for us not to simply accept the cards that were dealt us, but to ask to see what the dealer is holding behind his/her back. To demand that children are taught the whole grizzly truth about the Empire and teach them just how ignorant and unacceptable it is for people to demand for immigrants to go back to where they came from. After all, these attitudes start with what is taught in schools and is perpetuated through silence – by not showing dark side of the Empire and the civilisations it destroyed. Maybe if children are taught a wider range of facts, groups like the EDL and NF will slowly die out as children learn that Englands wealth and status was built on the back of slaves and should be held accountable by displaying its history for all to see. Winston Churchill once said that ‘History is written by the victors’. Perhaps it is time for the losers to start blogging, facebooking, tweeting and teaching theirs in mainstream society and not rely on the odd BBC documentary to provide us with knowledge.

I hope Caricom is successful but even if they are not, we shouldn‘t wait 10, 25 or 40 years before we demand that our Middle Eastern, Eastern European, African and Asian histories are taught, and the Empire finally held accountable.

Step up Mr.Gove.

Peace and Blessings