Corey Mwamba


why I'm retiring from live performance

I have been asked in private a few times about these words, which appeared on my site this year:

NOTE: I will be retiring from public performance. I made the decision a few years ago (2014-15). I will still make home recordings—you can hear them at (s)kin—and will be focussing my energies in working for the British/Irish jazz and improv communities.

The countdown itself is a PHP script that I wrote earlier, and placed in the metadata of the site — it's actually still there (use the Info panel of old Opera; or view source, line 9). This has been coming for a while, and I have been dropping public hints of decreasing subtlety about it for the past two years.

My life isn't a comic book and it certainly won't be the fourth Avengers film, so I won't be coming back. I'm really sorry to all the people I should have and yet didn't get to tell face-to-face; but I hope this goes some way into an explanation. I wrote this to someone else a couple of weeks ago; this was the first time I had put it down, so I am reproducing it here.

I'm retiring from live performance for a number of reasons. Before I was put into the world of making music for a living, it was something I enjoyed. My relationship with live performance has always been shaky: I still get stage fright. Music has made me more sociable (and social); but also less empowered in terms of personal decision making. This has affected me physically, emotionally, and mentally. Some people knew I was stopping, and thought it had to do with the travelling (I use public transport to get to gigs, moving the vibes on a heavy duty trolley). But that isn't the main factor. In fact, it was the only thing keeping me fit! And I enjoy travel.

I never planned to be a musician. I started when I was 16, and that was on a large ensemble improv gig with Steve Noble! But I was young enough to be told to do more, and I did.

When I started making my own music, it was predominantly electroacoustic. But here at that time, making that music while Black was not going to work — any conversation about Black British experimental music is a short one, even today, and I am never included in it. So I focussed on vibes playing, as that was something more intelligible. But then the music I wanted to make was towards the totally improvised end. And I don't live (and have no wish to live) in London. And so there was a rejection on that level too, including from the community who thought that improvised music wasn't "real music". And then there are The Usual Things, as well as my physicality being objectified (even in bands, by band leaders or managers) or ridiculed.

And it has been difficult. But I am still here, I am proud of the music I have made, and thankful to those people who have really supported me through that music. However, I am tired, really tired. And some time in the middle of my Master's degree — which was something I really wanted to do — a switch came on that said, "do you want to keep fighting? Or could you just change what you're doing?"

I could see a future self that was gigging, but bitter: and I am an optimist by nature. I connect this very much with live performance, where I am consistently misunderstood or misrepresented. And there are other aspects of music that I really enjoy, like putting on gigs. So I set an end date (23rd March 2019). I've been withdrawing slowly, and this year started recording at home again after a long time.

And it has felt really good. Something has lifted. I am making the music I want (and enjoying making that music); looking at the things I want to (through research and making resources), and trying to make Derby an interesting and good place for new music. I was involved in the Sound and Music's New Voices panel, and I think that is a good way of combating the issues I faced early on. And I am around for people to talk to. These are positive steps for me.

You can still hear me play! But it'll be recorded. As personal sound on the vibraphone is reflected through the body, I'll be working on a way of videoing some things; but I also have a healthy back catalogue of audio recordings that you can work through. I haven't finished yet.

comments (1)

Anton Hunter

27th Jun 2018 | 1:53pm

I count myself fortunate to have seen you live a lot. You know I'm sad you're stopping, sending you loads of love and soppy things like that.

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