Corey Mwamba

rambles → Critique (Part 2)

Critique (Part 2)

I caught the thread of a very interesting discussion between Dave Sumner, Lee Rice Epstein, Vijay Iyer, and Jacob Garchik about polls, balance and what the rest of us would name as diversity, but the CDC could appropriately call rigour and care. As it's not just an American problem, it struck a chord with me, and I chipped in. And then it made think about the piece that I wrote five years ago. So here are my thoughts from Twitter, edited for clarity, and combined with more thoughts.

It has to be said that here (Britain/Ireland) there does seem to be growing attention towards self-released albums; download-only releases; and musicians outside London. In terms of download-only releases and self-released albums, this was something that was waiting to happen in jazz*1 for a long time, and with some resistance. I remember in 2011 being told apologetically that Jazzwise wouldn't review any of my trio's releases because they were download only, and self-released. By 2013 (don't overthink it) that had changed, and I do think that is a good thing.

The idea that an album needs to be on a label, or physical, to have value is entirely false. That various media would ignore an album on those grounds is potentially financially punitive, since (if we are to accept the importance of press in helping people to decide what to buy) a lack of reviews is a barrier to buying the album. And making physical albums can be expensive! I perceive this barrier as cynical, and at worst spiteful towards the musician. This has been at the root of my discussion about labels and media for the last seven years; I think now we are in a situation where we can talk about it in a more nuanced way than before.

The imbalances in terms of coverage with respect to race and gender are still here, and I am not sure if that is getting better.

The recognition of Black British experimental music practice in the press has been barely a blip, with a few names re-used each time; and the re-use of names is particularly growing and worrying trend2. I think this is an issue of declining curiosity and discovery. Here's an example: larger cities attract musicians from different areas to one place. In journalist narrative terms this can be conflated to a "scene", which I've seen articles (from all media) do several times now. It makes it easier for the journalist, but diminishes and hampers discovery. It also shows the lack of curiosity; that we can have four articles in different news sites about a metropolitan scene that has the same four names indicates marketing or copying, rather than actual journalistic practice. We are in a real danger of "narrowing the narrative" of Black creative music in this country.

In the case of women in jazz*—and I am not even going to into the palpable weirdness of the Glasper/Iverson episode a few months back—we still have articles from writers who are more preoccupied that "the 'girls' can play"—a woefully blind and misogynistic display of privileging form over content that constantly goes unchallenged. Firstly—and I cannot believe I have to say this— it's women, not girls. Most of the artists that journalists write about are adults. They're women. Secondly, these artists who happen to be women don't need your validation in terms of their skill on the instrument. They are creating art. Critique the work; the art. If you can't do that without referring to some misguided notion of gendered skill, then for the love of all that is holy, stop writing. Just stop. Do something else.

When I compare my thoughts now and my thoughts from five years ago, I notice that in fact I am still writing about points 6–10. Still. I haven't gone into points 1–5 this time, but that is no indication that those are settled now, particularly points 1 and 5. So, here is hoping in five years there is a definite change.

  1. this is a shorthand for jazz and improvised music. 

  2. I am not projecting here—I actually do get written about, occasionally—and I am one of those names that gets re-used. But I have come through a path that has relied more on other musicians than press (because I have been around quite a while now!). It's also not to denigrate the success of other "names" that are re-used. My point is that the field is much wider than is shown.