"Sons of Kemet at the Mercury Awards was inspirational. Even if the mainstream gaze gives golden rods to some people, we’re going to keep on doing our thing and that’s the most important win."
On a Friday evening, as partygoers saturate the streets of Shoreditch, we find ourselves at the Autograph Gallery. Presenting work which explores notions of identity and representation, it seems the perfect place to host an event which delves into the culture behind the mammoth genre that is Jazz.
Curated meticulously by Kerian Magloire, we are treated to Fabrice Bourgelle’s We Out Here, a film documenting the subcultures behind London’s Jazz scene, a panel discussion featuring the infamous Moses Boyd and of course, a sensational musical performance to conclude the evening.
The film invites us on a journey through the multifaceted communities behind the genre. It opens against a thronging South London backdrop, showing the improvised dancing of a man embodying urgent shapes in a frenzied kind of musicality, to the pulsating sounds of a double bass. Captured through Bourgelle’s intimate lens, divulging its innermost secrets with surprising eagerness, it is immediately clear that we are in capable hands. Sheila Maurice Grey, Moses Boyd, Shabaka Hutchins and Nubya Garcia, to name a humble few, show their devotion to their city: the soulful, multicultural London. Depictions of a cymbal gently smoking, Peckham’s Bussey Building thriving and a precious moment where three singers unite in perfect harmony, are cinematic highlights showcasing Bourgelle’s skill. One of the closing scenes depicts the sonorous craze of a saxophone, visually accentuated by the strobed lights, a metaphor for the beating heart of the city.
We learn that Tomorrow’s Warriors, an organisation set up by Gary Crosby to diversify the music industry, has sadly lost its funding. This creates a poignant context for a documentary in which so many musicians voice their gratitude to the movement; "Without Tomorrow’s Warriors, music will be limited to the white middle classes."
During the panel discussion, it is declared that ‘Jazz is intrinsic of human behaviour- it is spontaneous.’ Questions about whether the mainstream gaze glosses over the challenges of the genre, and if we can do more to connect the rest of England together, instigate a much-needed conversation about inclusion in the music industry. The prolific composer Emma-Jean Thackray explains how growing up in Yorkshire was slightly alienating; when she arrived in London, it felt like there was a real sense of community amongst those who had been educated through Tomorrow’s Warriors. Nicholas Daley, a designer, talks about the intersection of fashion and music; when he dressed Sons of Kemet for the Mercury Awards, although being ‘robbed’ of the main prize, they were praised by Vogue as the ‘best dressed’.
Arguably the most interesting topic of the night is about documentation. "The power to tell your own story is often taken for granted; this is especially important for black and brown communities." Boyd talks about how he is always trying to inject his story and history into the music. "The lack of documentation can see us lose the potential for intergenerational knowledge to be passed down. Some stories are obscured." The importance of every photographer, designer, writer to fulfil their role in recording the lives of their communities is emphasised.
An electrifying live performance from Neue Grafik and Project Karnak immerses the audience in the music they’d been discussing so avidly. Drenched in the tones of a searing electric guitar, the atmosphere is one that’s only found at a live gig. As the evening draws to a close, we’re left with the image of an enigmatic Fabrice Bourgelle swaying in time to the music, summarised perfectly by Crosby’s line in the film: "The things that bind us together are stronger than what drives us apart."