Corey Mwamba


Critique (Part 3)

I honestly didn't think there would be a third one of these; but here we are. I was made aware of the following comment made on "Later with Jools Holland":

The UK jazz scene is based on mashing all the cultures that live in London

And I posted some public thoughts to Facebook, but I'm going to post them here as well, and add some more words.

Let's be really clear: above quote is wrong. There may be more to it, but — the above quote is just wrong. And I'm saddened by how wrong it is. However, I am not surprised it has been said. I have already written about the worrying issue of narrowing the narrative; the comment above is just an outcome of that.

I'm all for people talking about their own perspectives. But it's damaging to talk about a personal perspective as a general one, especially when that personal perspective is factually inaccurate.

THE RHIZOME shows a necessarily incomplete yet very thorough representation of musicians and groups in Britain and Ireland. It's currently at 423 groups. Filtering THE RHIZOME to display all bands in London formed since the year 2000 looks like this:

There are sixty-nine groups in the chart above — 16.3% of the dataset. And within those bands, there will be groups that will not fit the definition given in the above quote.

What we have here is an issue of exclusion by geography, which is a long-standing problem I (among others) have with London musicians and the jazz and improvised music media. It's a built-in feature of commodification.

London is not totally representative of the "UK" (whatever THAT means any more); and one group of musicians in London is not totally representative of London either. Once people start forgetting these plainly obvious facts, then we start forming barriers, and hierarchies, and canons; and then all sorts of silly things are said.

Anything outside is seen as a glitch, an imperfection; and thus discarded. Everything has to be polished a certain way. And, because the media pushes those things, they are then easier and more attractive to sell (or write about).

This is why the critical and/or journalistic framing of the musical activity that is happening here is so important. That quote didn't come from thin air. It may be that that is exactly what the person who said it believes. But that belief has been reinforced by some very lazy writing over the last five years, dominated by a lack of curiosity and a drive towards what is selling.

In no way do I blame the musician who made the comment for saying what she said. It is just what happens when we fail to correct the press about the nature of our activity. Maybe it is time that we started doing that.

comments (2)

Peter Marsh

10th Nov 2019 | 11:20am

I don't think you can 'correct' the press. It's not interested in the reality, it just needs digestible phrases, soundbites and vague generalisations like the one you quote. The idea of 'scenes' is one of the big hooks to sell stuff, like genre. Create one (either deliberately or through vague collusion and coincidence) and you potentially create a market, however niche, however fleeting (as Stan Tracey said 'everytime I hear talk of a British Jazz revival I know my phone's going to stop ringing'). Reality is harder to package, harder to attach hashtags to, impossible to sell. Jools Holland's show (and much of the BBC's music output) is fuelled entirely by such vague music industry generated platitudes. Unfortunately musicians often collude with these narratives because they think it will help them, or they don't even realise what's happening...

Corey Mwamba

11th Nov 2019 | 5:03am | replying to Peter Marsh

Absolutely well said Peter.

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