The Importance of the Independents: Record labels and Illicit Grooves.

So yesterday (Saturday 12th July) I spent the afternoon and early evening at the Independent Label Market at Coal Drops Yard, Kings Cross.  A few things crossed my mind whilst there; one, who would have ever thought that Kings Cross would ever be a venue for a family day out.  I still remember working girls, horrible pimps and Scottish and Maltese gangs fighting over control of the sex trade. Two, why does regeneration in London (and elsewhere) always go hand in hand with the negatives of gentrification and Three, how vitally important indie record labels are to The Illicit Grooves Radio Showto UK culture and the music scene and to me personally as a music fan.

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Now gentrification and white on white gang violence from the recent past can wait for other articles in different blogs. The focus of this piece is the indie labels representing at the market yesterday and other labels we play music from on the show and write about in The Return of the Illicit Groove blog and social media pages.

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To be fair, most of the playlists over the past two and a bit years of The Illicit Grooves Radio Show have been a mix of indie and major labels with a clear majority, especially over the last 18 months, of indie music.  Indeed, the rise of the whole LDN Nu Jazz scene and its acts, along with US acts such as Kamasi washington, Snarky Puppy and others have set the music ethos of the show.  Re-issues and compilations of music from Latin America, Brazil, Japan and all regions of Africa have also fed into the #Grooves4TheGlobalLeftfield direction of the show.  Nearly all of this music comes from independent labels or from bands who have been signed by majors off the back of indie recordings and their live appearances.

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Major labels play a huge part in the global music scene, Shabaka Hutchings being signed by Verve/Impulse has undoutably enabled him to have the freedom to be as creative as possible with Sons of Kemet and The Comet is Coming and also stands as a beacon for all those looking to earn a living from their music.  Gregory Porter, the Blue Note back catalogue and new music on that iconic label come to us at a time when it is owned by Universal Music.  So, this article is very definitely not a waxed beard, check shirt and alpaca wool latte, hipster style condemnation of the majors.  Rather it is imply a look at the labels we are lucky to be associated with and/or admire as programmers of #Grooves4TheGlobalLeftfield on The Illicit Grooves Radio Show, our #AcrossThetracks Compilation of the Week and Deep Thrill Mean Something mixes and on our various gigs over the years such as Groove Indigo and Roasted Grooves.

Indeed, such is our admiration of those indie labels which bring out new artists, curate excellent compilations and search out music for re-issue that the annual #IllicitGrooves Awards has  the categories of Favourite Re-Issue and Favourite Compilation in place to highlight and thank the very labels we are discussing.  Both the Favourite Track and Favourite Album categories have also been dominated by music from indie sources as well.

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Indie labels remind me of lower league football clubs which use their Academy systems to search out, sign and nurture new talent in the knowledge that if successful they will earn for that club as players and may well then be signed by a Premier League team.  Either way, new talent has emerged and been brought the notice of fans and the smaller club becomes known for its excellent talent spotting and nurturing.  Translate this to music labels and think of how many brilliant bands and artists have been supported over the years by smaller labels, selling directly via online sites such as Bandcamp or through independent shops such as Honest Jons’s, Sounds Of the Universe, Love Vinyl and others too numerous to mention.

I was listening to music focused morning show on a national station on the 4th of July when the presenter joked about ‘today being ‘Independents Day’.  I liked that and followed it up with a post to the #IllicitGrooves Facebook page paying homage to those labels we are talking about.

Whether for new talent, new homes for established artists to create late career magic, re-issues and re-releases and outstanding compilations here is a roll call of just some of those labels.

 

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#Southern Soul Festival 2019: Back on the black sands of Montenegro.

There are several bands which have really caught the attention of The Illicit Grooves Radio Show playlists this year so far and what an absolute joy it was to be able to see three of them in concert on the main stage of the Southern Soul Festival in Montenegro.

The three bands in question are Polish jazzers EABS, Neopolitan funk outfit Nu Guinea and London based eclectic collective Nubiyan Twist.  Add in Brasillian legends Airto Moreira and Flora Purim and House music don Josh Milan and His Band and there is a line-up of live acts worth shelling out your shekels for.  More on the live acts later.

Now in it’s 7th year the Southern Soul Festival #SSF7 moved locations a few hundred metres down the strip of black sand to the Copacabana Beach near Ulcinj.  With three stages and numerous bars the move also facilitated a purpose built toilet block regularly cleaned by an attendant on hand.  Anyone who has experienced the toilets in previous years will know exactly why mentioning them in this review is so important.

So, a new location besides how did #SSF7 compare with past years?  Well, possibly due to clashing with both the Glastonbury Festival and Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Festival there was a noticeable drop in numbers.  This clash may also have had an impact on availability of bands too.  Although, as already mentioned the live line-up was excellent as was.  The Organic and Cosmic stages were based in beach bars with DJs and main sound (excellent Function One systems) facing beachwards and decked floors behind n the bars themselves serving as off-sand dancefloors with the big DJ monitors working well.

There was a toss up between hearing the better sound and dancing on the muscle sapping sand or sacrificing that quality to boogie on the boards but it worked, none more so than during Joe Clausell’s mammoth and brilliant set on the Cosmic stage on the Sunday night into Monday morning.  An amazing set which all who experienced were treated to a several hours mix which started with Fela Kuti’s 25 minute masterpiece  Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense and which took in House, some Techno, Gospel, Reggae, Soul and included an amazing mix into Stevie Wonder’s Masterblaster which no one can quite explain how. A great set, one of those ‘I was there moments’.

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Other DJ sets which stood out were Coco Maria’s beautifully crafted set of Latin, Cuban, Iberian, Central American & Mexican music in the late afternoon to early evening of Friday on the Organic Stage.  Outernational Sounds’ Harvinder Nagi’s set on the same stage on the Sunday.  An inspiring choice of tunes not least when he dropped Ultra Nate’s 4 hero produced track Twisted which garnered a round of applause and a lot of Discog’s activity. Nick and Tim from Zurich’s Kasheme venue played an outstanding set on the Sunday afternoon with a deck each, back to back vinyl session of real musical depth.

Nick & Tim Kasheme

The same stage also saw brilliant opening night sets on the Wednesday from France’s Lea Lisa and Italian DJ Matisa.  With so many DJ line ups  being male, pale and stale with the bookings of Coco Maria, lea and Matisa there were three genuine highlights on the Organic Stage from these talented women.  I would suggest that because the DJs had sets which were minimum two hours long it also allowed for sets which weren’t rushed and which could be crafted, thus showing of the DJing and selecting skills on offer.

Shuya Akino’s ‘give away’ sets were fantastic.  Playing vinyl LP tracks and giving them away after each track was a brilliant concept which Shuya did on the Friday and the Monday nights.  Forget the give aways though, he also played blinding sets which ranged from classic funk to disco to full on dancefloor jazz.  On a side note I also scored a Rufus and Chaka Khan abum and one from Teramusa Hino.  Thanks Shuya San.

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Wah Wah 45s’ Dom servini played a couple of belting sets too on the Organic Stage on the Thursday and Monday nights and was also on hand to act as MC on main stage introducing the live acts.  He also formed a great partnership with Shuya Akino on the Monday night too.

However, if there was one set which made it for those who were there on the Organic Stage it was that from Patrick Forge on the Friday night line up but which started at 2am on the Saturday morning and was due to finish at 4.30am but which ended with the Sun already risen at something like 7am.  A marathon set and a brilliant set.  What a selecta this man is, whether on his radio show or at Another Sunday at Dingwalls or on a beach in the Balkans, bloody brilliant.

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So to the live acts.  EABS played the Thursday night and for me were outstanding.  Musicians and a DJ and combining brilliantly to bring a contemporary Jazz sound which started with the avant-garde and then went across genres with the sax and trumpet players particularly impressive.

EABS

A double bill on the Friday night with Nubiyan Twist and Nu Guinea doing their thing. Nubiyan Twist alternating vocalists, switching instruments and playing with a real sense of freedom and purpose.  Songs from their recent Strut released album Jungle Run absolutely rocking it.

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Playing with a real gioa della vita Naples based band Nu Guinea were as awesome as Nubiyan Twist were.  Full on driving funk and jazz grooves with a saxophonist holding court and a keyboard player looking like an extra from a Fellini film. This was a marvelous set.  The track Nuova Napoli being the highlight of a set full of life.

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Josh Milan & His Band played the Saturday night and, again, as with the three previous acts they played with a real joy and a sense of ‘wow, we’re really here’.  As Josh said himself, ‘ you don’t normally see a House music act with a full band, and we are enjoying it.’  The highlight for me being the instrumental track Fort Green, a reference to his Brooklyn yard.  The bass and drum duo from the UK was so, so tight and we only knew this was the band’s first gig ever because Josh told us so.  Great stuff.

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Finally, legendary status Airto Moreira and Flora Purim closed the main stage on Sunday night with an infectious mix of Brazilian styles.  Both look old now and it is true that her voice no longer carries the power that it did but my goodness, it is still a beautiful voice.  Airto seems to have lost a little strength in his percussive playing but no speed, none of the deftness is gone either.  Age does catch up with us all but that does not negate genius, what a treat to see this band on this beach in Montenegro.

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Can’t wait for next year and #SSF8.

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The Illicit Grooves Picks of Glastonbury

Glastonbury 2019 will be remembered as the festival where Stormzy had 200,000 people shouting ‘Fuck off Boris, where legends such as Roy Ayers and Mavis Staples played and where the LDN scene Nu-Jazz artists crossed over with US giants such as Kamasi Washington and where soulful female voices linked Walsall to Mali.

For as long as these recordings are available on BBC iplayer here are the highlights of the 2019 Glastonbury Festival as selected by us here at The Illicit Grooves Radio Show and The Return of the Illicit Groove.

Sax man Shabaka Hutchings kicks us off with The Sons of Kemet’s performance on the Park Stage

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and with his other band The Comet Is Coming here.

Next up is fellow Sax player and innovator, the amazing Kamasi Washington’s performance on the West Holt’s Stage.

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Legend is a word which gets slung around too easily some times but Roy Ayers and Mavis Staples have definitely earned the right to that particular epiphet.

Watch Roy Ayer’s performance as he runs through his biggest hits.

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Watch Mavis Staples take us to church on the Pyramid Stage.

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Walsall’s finest the wonderful singer/songwriter Jorga Smith has really had an amazing few yew years and has collaborated with people from Drake to Ezra Collective.

Watch her performance on the West Holt’s Stage.

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Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara is another singer who has been playlisted on The Illicit Grooves Radio Show and when you watch her performance you’ll see why she is such a favourite.

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Definitely one of our favourite bands Ezra Collective have been at the forefront of the LDN Jazz scene over the last few years.  Watch their performance on the West Holt’s Stage.

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Also have to mention that Ezra Collective keyboard Joe Armon-Jones and fellow Tomorrow’s Warriors alumni KOKOROKO also played sets, including a mass jam with Kamasi Washington.  There is no BBC footage of that moment but you can watch a rough video of it here.

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 You can watch KOKOROKO performing their track Uman here for the BBC at Glastonbury.

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and finally to ‘that set’ from UK Grime act Stormzy headlining on the Pyramid Stage on the Friday night.

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Cape Town Jazz During The Struggle Part Two: Black Disco, Pacific Express and Basil ‘Mannenberg’ Coetzee

Part two of a series of articles looking at seminal albums made by Capetonian and other South African Jazz artists in response to apartheid.

In part one of this quick look at Capetonian Jazz in the apartheid and immediate post-apartheid eras we looked at re-issued albums from the Matsuli label by Bea Benjamin, Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim) and Johnny Dyami & Okay Temiz and how they were linked as artists from Cape Town and artists in exile.

In this Part two we look at two further albums which both feature tenor sax player and flautist Basil ‘Mannenberg’ Coetzee; Black Disco’s Night Express and Black Fire by Pacific Express.  Coetzee also played on Bea Benjamin’s African Songbird album featured in Part One, thus linking further the four albums we are looking at.  What also links all four albums is that they were all recorded in 1976, the year in which the racist Apartheid government declared war on the striking students and schoolchildren of Soweto.

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Photo of Basil Coetzee with Abdullah Ibrahim

Basil Cotezee gained his nickname ‘Mannenberg’ after the composition of the same name written by and recorded with Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim). So revered is he in Cape Town that he has a stage named after him during that city’s annual Jazz Festival. Indeed it was this and many other collaborations with Abdullah Ibrahim which could have been the single facet of Coetzee’s working life as a Jazz musician.  However, it was with trumpeter Robbie Jansen that Cotzee formed the Cape Town Jazz-Funk band Pacific Express and subsequently recorded the album Black Fire.

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The Black Fire LP cover

Known as Cape Town’s Earth, Wind and Fire the band would combine Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Rock and RnB.  This in an era when racist laws meant that this Cape Flats based band, made up of of a multi-racial mix of artists classified as ‘coloured’, Black and white, were restricted as to where they could play and to whom.  As band pianist Ebrahim Khalil Shihab said,’ All our lives were affected by apartheid.’  The police warned the band in 1976 that they could not perform on the segregated stage during Love Is In The Air singer  John Paul Young’s South African tour.

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The band holding copies of their album Black Fire

So, whilst living as an act of defiance by being part of a multi-racial line up in a country which legislated against race mixing, Ibrahim said ‘black musicians had more of a certain kind of fire in us.  Black Fire gave me scope to express that energy.’

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Night Express album cover

‘The struggle for Jazz, Jazz for the struggle.’  So goes a popular anti-apartheid and pro-Black Consciousness slogan from mid-70s South Africa.

So how does Black Disco fit into the struggle as a band?  Combining musicians from Jo’burg’s East rand and Capetown’s Cape Flats the hybrid of musical styles on the Night Express album is clear to hear.  Soweto Soul mixes with Cape Jazz and all with Memphis Stax and Philly International undertones.  Originally a covers band Night Express added a harder edge of Black Consciousness to their sound as a response to the Soweto uprisings and the increasing oppression.

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Pops Mohamed

As organist and founder member Pops Mohamed said, ‘ I wanted a reason for playing.  It was no longer enough to have hits.’  Expanding on this this he added, ‘Apartheid tried to divide us as band members and we didn’t accept that situation.  Sipho Gumede (Black Disco’s bass player) would joke and ask me if his basslines feel ‘coloured’ enough.’

‘Black Disco gave me my direction.’  After Black Disco and the hit with the Night Express LP Mohamed formed Movement in the City with Capetonian drummer Monty Webber. ‘The name was a code for let’s fight the system.’  Mohamed increasingly went further to his indigenous roots. ‘I figured that protecting and preserving our indigenous music could be my contribution to the struggle.’

‘We must know our heritage, if the Boers take that from us we’re fucked.’

You can listen to an #AcrossTheTracks Deep Thrills Mean Something mix originally created for The Illicit Grooves Radio Show below.

 

 

 

Cape Town Jazz & Exile During The Struggle: Part One, Johnny Dyami, Bea Benjamin & Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim)

Part 1 of a series charting the responses to apartheid which came from Jazz musicians and artists from Cape Town

Back in late March The Return of the Illicit Groove attended the Cape Town Jazz Festival in order ton report on and review the event. Whilst in Cape Town reporter Bob Hill also took the opportunity to visit other music venues as well as record stores.  It was in one such store, Mabu Vinyl in Long Street, that Bob purchased apartheid  and post-apartheid era Jazz from Cape Town.

Brian Currin (who is also part of the enduring story of the ‘Searching For Sugar Man’ artist Rodriguez)  from Mabu selected a number of re-issued albums which typified the brilliance of Capetonian Jazz in the apartheid era and spoke at length about the contexts in which these albums were recorded; some in exile, some not.

Artists such as Bheki Mseleku, Bea Benjamin, Dollar Brand, Black Disco, Moses Taiwa Molelekwa, Pacific Express and Johnny Dyani are almost impossible to find on their original recordings but thanks to labels like Matsuli and its collaborators, is now available on high quality vinyl re-issues.

What we have to remember is that back in those far too recent and dark days of Apartheid it was forbidden for white, black, Indian and ‘Coloured’ musicians and artists to record and perform together just as it was illegal for mixed audiences to sit, stand. dance, listen together.  As crazy as it seems in an age where we have events such as International Jazz Day to bring the Globe’s diverse peoples together through Jazz, the, then, racist National Party government of South Africa would punish, fine, imprison and/or ban artists for making music across racial divides.  It is small wonder then that musicians from Miariam Makebe to Hugh Masekela went into exile to pursue their craft.

From a Cape Town point of view it is the musicians referred to earlier we will be focusing on as we look at the music they created during this period and in the immediate aftermath of the release of Madiba, Nelson Mandela.

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Bassist Johnny Dyani made his home, like many others, in Europe and worked with luminaries such as Don Cherry, Abdullah Ibrahim (formerly known as Dollar Brand) & McCoy Tyner amongst others.  It was in this period in the 1970s he met and collaborated with Turkish drummer Okay Temiz on their album Witcdoctor’s Son.  Recorded in Turkey for the Istanbul laber Yonca and released in 1976 (the year of the Soweto uprisings) it never was available outside Turkey.

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Dyani, who had been in exile from South Africa since 1964 (the year Mandela was imprisoned) settled down in Stockholm and it was through his connections with trumpeter Don Cherry he met Okay Temiz.

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Temiz, a classically trained drummer from the Ankara Conservatory School, had met with Turkish trumpeter ‘Maffy’ Falay whilst he, Temiz, was touring with the the dance orchestra Ulvi Temel.  Whilst in Stockholm Maffy introduced Do Cherry and Okay Temiz to each other and they started playing together.  It was at this point that Cherry introduced Temiz and Dyani.  They played as a trio and would explore the folk musics of India, Turkey, Bulgaria, China and re-create them through Jazz.

Dyani said of Temiz, ‘ For Okay Temiz, I know him well enough to say he is the best drummer now living.’

He would also tell a journalist in 1983 that the strength of his music was in the folk roots and that’every musician should acknowledge that folk music is the backbone of all of every music.’

As for Temiz would say ‘We were a very special trio, Their raw material was African culture and folklore, like mine was Turkish folklore.  They were fine musicians who knew their own folklore very well.  Not all Jazz musicians know their folklore.’

Whilst touring the USA, where Don Cherry had a teaching role at Dartmouth College, the trio would sometimes play with Dyani’s fellow Capetonian Dollar Brand, playing his compositions and also recording with him in Paris.

Dollar Brand, who would later change his name to Abdullah Ibrahim, would also play a massive influence on Johnny Dyani’s life inn helping him to embrace Islam which then led to the brilliantly written, arranged and played track on Witchdctor’s Son, I’m A Muslim Man.

african song bird dollar brand and Bea Benjamin

 

Vocalist Bea Benjamin met Dollar Brand in 1959, it was the Sharpeville Massacre the following year which led them to leave South Africa for Europe where they would marry in 1965 and settle in Zurich.  It was whilst in Europe they Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, Bud Powell and Duke Ellington.  Ellington would then invite both to record for Sinatra’s Reprise label and come to the USA to perform at the 1965 Newport Jazz Festival.

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It was this time in the USA where Benjamin and Brand would meet and sometimes work with artists such as Don Cherry, Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders Cecil Taylor and Archie Shepp.

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Bea’s 1976 album Songbird, written by her with and arranged and conducted by Dollar, is a masterpiece in both vocal Jazz and political discourse.  With only three tracks on the album Africa, Music and African Songbird it is an album of movements and and is a cry of both Black Power and Black Consciousness.  Remarkable considering that this was originally recorded when they had moved back to South Africa to give birth to their daughter Tsidi. By 1977 however, Benjamin and Brand had moved back to New York to the Chelsea Hotel.

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African Song Bird is a massive celebration of the voice of Bea Benjamin but it is also a yearning for Africa, a rallying cry against the injustices of apartheid and a desire to ‘feel my peoples warmth, to shelter beneath your trees, to catch the Summer breeze.’

You can listen to a selection of tracks featured in this article which were part of a Deep Thrills Mean Something mix created for The Illicit Grooves Radio Show.

The Return of the Illicit Groove at Spiritland: The Full 5 Hour Mix.

Earlier in the year, the 2nd of March in fact, we made a The Return of The Illicit Groove and Illicit Grooves Radio Show guest appearance at the legendary listening bar Spiritland in Kings Cross, London.

The full 5 hour mix is now available for your listening pleasure and you can do so here.

A full track list will be added to this post at a later stage but in the meantime enjoy it in all its #AcrossTheTracks glory.

You can read more about this gig here.

Young Guns Went For It: Nu Jazz LDN Success at the Jazz FM Awards

Ok, please excuse the Wham! reference in the title of this piece but we at The Illicit Grooves Radio Show and The Return of the Illicit Groove are unashamedly excited to see so many of the young London acts that have graced our playlists are doing so brilliantly in established and prestigious awards.

In a week which has seen Ezra Collective hit the mainstream album charts at No.32 with their new album ‘You Can’t Steal My Joy’ and following on the heels of successes in the Parliamentary Jazz Awards and, indeed, in the Return of the Illicit Grooves awards it is so great that the likes of Steamdown, Nubya Garcia and Shabaka Hutchings consistently flying the flag for the LDN Jazz movement.

When the nominees were announced in January the three public vote categories really stood out with a strong set of nominees.  Equally, the nominees in the closed categories also indicated how strong Jazz is at the moment and how diverse the talent is in this music like no other.

In terms of the LDN winners this must be put into the context of the massive and immeasurable contribution of Gary Crosby and Janine Irons of music charity Tomorrow’s Warriors who received a massive cheer when presenting the Live Experience Award.  It is worth noting that of the 39 nominees across all categories 19 are alumni of their fantastic organisation.  Please do donate to the #IAmWarrior campaign supported by Illicit Grooves, among others, with a radio ad. which has and will run throughout 2019.

Anyway, feast your eyes on the list of winners below and relish the exciting musical times we now live in.

Breakthrough Act of the Year: Cassie Kinoshi
The Digital Award: Louis Cole
The Innovation Award: Steam Down
Instrumentalist of the Year: Jean Toussaint
International Jazz Act of the Year: Makaya McCraven
Soul Act of the Year: Poppy Ajudha
Blues Act of the Year: Eric Bibb
Vocalist of the Year: Cherise Adams-Burnett
UK Jazz Act of the Year (public vote): Nubya Garcia
Album of the Year (public vote): Sons Of Kemet, Your Queen Is A Reptile
Live Experience of the Year (public vote): Steam Down featuring Kamasi Washington
PRS for Music Gold Award: Jacob Collier
PPL Lifetime Achievement Award: Don Was and Blue Note Records

 

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