Ezra Collective won the 2023 Mercury Prize for their album Where I’m supposed to be.
After years of jokes about the continued inclusion of the “token jazz album” on the shortlist of nominees for the award, a jazz album has finally won.
As a first-time nominated jazz group, they had to beat off stiff competition but ultimately triumphed over alternative electro-pop duo Jockstrap and south London hip-hop artist Loyle Carner, who were favorites to win the famous award. It became Best British or Irish Album of the Year and comes with a cash prize of £25,000
The band – consisting of drummer Femi Koleoso, bassist TJ Koleoso, keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones, trumpeter Ife Ogunjobi and tenor saxophonist James Mollison – were all present at the ceremony.
Other acts shortlisted for the award included pop singer RAYE for her triumphant and long-awaited debut, My 21st century bluesAfro-swing rapper J Hus and Scotland’s psychedelic hip-hop trio Young Fathers.
When presenting the award, the broadcaster called DJ Jamz Supernova Where I’m supposed to be an “uplifting and timely album” that “represents the best of where we are now in 2023.”
Hearing her name, the five band members seemed thrilled as they celebrated in their seats before taking the stage in a swirl of red confetti.
Frontman Koleoso quipped: “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 happen.”
He went on to talk about the importance of supporting young musicians, stating: “Let me tell you something serious, something real: we have something special in the UK when it comes to young musicians, so let’s keep supporting that.”
Ezra Collective performed for the second time of the evening, delivering an upbeat performance of their aptly titled song “Victory Dance.”
Critics present at the event agreed that this year’s Mercury Prize was one of the most difficult in recent history.
Jazz-pop artist, BBC Radio 2 DJ and regular judge Jamie Cullum told The Independent that this was “a wide-open year of beautiful, complex and extraordinary albums.”
Similarly, RAYE – who was seen in the audience grinning from ear to ear as Ezra Collective’s name was announced – echoed Cullum’s sentiments, praising the quality of each post and suggesting that in some ways felt like “every artist that was shortlisted was a winner”.
The annual ceremony took place on Thursday evening (September 7) at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith, London. It was a high-profile event, attended by the shortlisted artists as well as jurors such as jazz-pop artist Jamie Cullum and musician Anna Calvi.
Many of the nominated acts performed live during the event, including pop singer Jessie Ware, soul singer Olivia Dean, and rapper and singer Shygirl, who delivered a mesmerizing performance of a track from her 2022 album nymphand the Irish folk group Lankum.
Of the 12 shortlisted artists, only three were not present. J Hus pulled out at the last minute due to illness, while Sheffield rockers Arctic Monkeys and dance artist and producer Fred Again are currently on tour.
To conclude the ceremony, Carner delivered a moving and typically flawless performance of his song “HG” to a rousing reception. The 28-year-old was one of the favorites for the evening’s prize with his third album.
Hugo is a powerful and deeply personal work that covers everything from parenthood to race. Tracks like “Hate” and “Nobody Knows” explore his conflicting feelings about his identity as a mixed-race man of Guyanese and British descent, while “Homerton” is a languidly delivered but lyrically penetrating study of legacy.
On the red carpet before the ceremony, Carner said he found it “scary” to share with the world his album, which explores his reconciliation with his estranged father as he became a father to his first child in 2020.
“I did it in lockdown when there was really no one there, so it wasn’t a vacuum, it was a safe place,” he said. “The internet is not a safe space.” Carner, wearing a necklace and pants decorated with designs drawn by his young son, added that his album is “about forgiveness and just not judging people.” .
Several of this year’s shortlisted albums came from previous nominees, including Arctic Monkeys, who were shortlisted for the fourth time with their 2022 album. The carand Carner, who was last shortlisted in 2017 with his debut, Yesterday is over.
In addition to Ezra Collective, Jockstrap were also nominated for the Mercury Prize for the first time. Comprising Cornish-born singer/violist Georgia Ellery and London-based producer Taylor Skye, Jockstrap was formed while studying at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.
Her Mercury-nominated debut album, I love you Jennifer Bwas released last year and spans multiple genres and influences, from classical to dance and techno.
In an interview with The Independent Earlier this year, Ellery said that making music with Skye was a validating experience when it came to her identity: “who I am, how I want to perceive myself and how I want others to perceive me.”
Both the shortlist and the annual award winner are selected by an independent jury of critics, DJs, fellow musicians and industry experts. The award was founded in 1992 by Jon Webster and Robert Chandler as an alternative to the more populist Brit Awards.
Past Mercury Prize winners include Arlo Parks, who won for her debut Collapsed in sunbeams in 2021, and rapper Little Simz, who emerged victorious last year with her critically acclaimed fourth album, Sometimes I could be an introvert.
Last year’s ceremony was postponed following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, moving from its original date of September 9th to October 18th.
Below is the full list of this year’s shortlisted artists:
Arctic monkeys, The car
Ezra Collective, Where I’m supposed to be (WINNER)
Fred again…, Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9, 2022)
J Hus, Beautiful and brutal yard
Jessie Ware, The! Feels good!
Jockstrap, I love you Jennifer B
Lankum, Wrong Lankum
Loyle Carner, Hugo
Olivia Dean, Messy
RAYE, My 21st century blues
shy girl, nymph
Young fathers, Hard Hard