Jazz quintet Ezra Collective named winner of 2023 Mercury Prize

Jazz quintet Ezra Collective named winner of 2023 Mercury Prize

Ezra Collective have become the first jazz group to win the Mercury Prize, securing the prestigious music award with their second studio album Where I’m Meant To Be.

The London-formed quintet were among a dozen acts who were in the running – alongside Raye, Arctic Monkeys and Fred Again..

The announcement was made by DJ Jamz Supernova during the award ceremony, which recognises the best British or Irish album of the year, at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith, west London, on Thursday evening.

Accepting the prize on stage, bandleader Femi Koleoso thanked God, their team and family who have supported them through the years.

He said: “First of all, 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.”

Koleoso also have praised youth organisations which foster young talent, saying: “Most importantly Ezra Collective represents something very special because we met in a youth club.

“This moment that we’re celebrating right here is testimony to good, special people putting time and effort into young people to play music.

“Right now, this is not just a result for Ezra Collective, this is not just a result for UK jazz, this is a special moment for every single organisation across the country ploughing their efforts and time into young people playing music.”

Following the news, the group took to the stage to give a lively rendition of Victory Dance.

The judging panel said that it has been an “incredible year” for British and Irish music which made their decision “so tough”.

They added: “The album that we have chosen is an uplifting and timely record and it represents the very best of where we are now in 2023.”

Speaking after winning the prize, Koleoso said it “means the world” to the band to hear the judges make such “beautiful” comments about a record they made together as friends.

He said: “It’s a dream. I watched the Mercury Prize growing up and dreamt of one day having a shot at it.

“It’s something so exciting. The Mercury Prize would be the one thing where you could see a jazz moment on the telly and that would be the thing we’d cling on to. So to be here for real is very special for all of us.”

The drummer added that he hopes their win challenges preconceptions that jazz is an elitist genre and that groups can just be seen as “another great band, another great musician, another great artist”.

The five-piece jazz collective is made up of Koleoso, bassist TJ Koleoso, keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones, saxophonist James Mollison and trumpeter Ife Ogunjobi.

The group released their debut album, You Can’t Steal My Joy, in 2019 and followed it up with Where I’m Meant to Be, which was released in November 2022 on Partisan Records.

They will take home a £25,000 prize and join an acclaimed group of previous award winners, including indie rockers Arctic Monkeys, rappers Skepta and Dave and the only two-time winner, PJ Harvey.

Mercury Prize 2023 – London
Loyle Carner was nominated for his third studio album (Ian West/PA) .

Radio DJ and broadcaster Lauren Laverne hosted the ceremony which featured live performances from nine of the shortlisted artists.

Raye dazzled the crowd with her song The Thrill Is Gone while rapper Loyle Carner gave a powerful performance of his track HGU.

Soul singer Olivia Dean also delivered a lively rendition of her track Carmen, Scottish band Young Fathers amped up the energy with their song I Saw and musical duo Jockstrap gave a sparky performance of their song Concrete Over Water.

Ezra Collective, London-born singer Jessie Ware, rapper and singer Shygirl and Irish folk group Lankum also performed on the night.

Mercury Prize 2023 – London
Raye attending the Mercury Prize 2023 awards show at the Eventim Apollo in London (Ian West/PA)

Arctic Monkeys and Fred Again.. were both not able to attend the ceremony as they are on tour in September, but a live performance film was shown to celebrate their albums.

Producer Fred Again.., who is hosting a residency at Alexandra Palace in London this week, sent a video message apologising for not being able to attend the event, adding: “I’m so so so truly grateful to be shortlisted alongside so many people I truly admire.”

Rapper J Hus, who was shortlisted with his album Beautiful And Brutal Yard, was also not able to attend the event due to illness.

Last year, the Mercury Prize was won by Little Simz for her fourth album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert.

The shortlist was chosen by an independent judging panel including BBC DJs Jamz Supernova and MistaJam.