Ezra Collective winning the Mercury Prize proves that right now in music, anything goes

No one was robbed, but the band seemed surprised by the win and did not prepare speeches

Ezra Collective win the 2023 Mercury Prize with their second studio album Where I'm Meant To Be
Ezra Collective win the 2023 Mercury Prize with their second studio album Where I'm Meant To Be Credit: Ian West/PA

At the 32nd time of asking, the token jazz band triumphed at the Mercury Prize. 

Ezra Collective were declared winners of Britain’s artiest, hippest music prize, for their fourth album, Where I’m Meant To Be. The band were clearly as astonished as the crowd and had not even bothered preparing speeches. 

“I need to thank God,” said drummer and band leader Femi Koleoso. “Cos if a jazz band winning the Mercury doesn’t make you believe in God, then what will?”

In one sense, Ezra Collective are clearly not the sound of Britain in 2023. They’ve never had a hit single, and their highest charting album (their current one) only spent a week in the top 40, peaking at number 24. Their triumph isn’t suddenly going to result in kids growing goatee beards, carrying Miles Davis albums under their arms and crowding out basement bars demanding modulated saxophone solos in 7/8 time. Jazz remains a minority interest in the third decade of the 21st Century.

Yet no one could begrudge them their win, because from many perspectives, Ezra Collective are as representative as any of their peers of the explosion of diversity, the free flowing creativity and box defying, genre-blending collisions that constitute the multiplicity of musical styles competing for attention in a shattered streaming environment where no single musical form can claim to hold the pop centre. 

Confetti as Ezra Collective win the Mercury Prize Credit: PA

Ezra Collective may be classified as jazz, but into their melting pot of vibrant sound goes afrobeat, soul, hip hop, electro and funk, mixing and meshing with virtuoso musical skills and a life enhancing quality of undeniable joy. Their sound is broad and expansive, alive to the moment, wide enough to encompass contributions from such eclectic artists as dexterous grime rapper Kojey Radical, explosively brilliant Zambian singer Sampa the Great and chart-topping pop soul singer-songwriter Emile Sande. There is something for anyone who loves music in the mix, and in a perfect world Ezra’s win should prove an inspiration to other young musicians making music that comes from the heart and soul and isn’t simply bent on chart domination.

You can’t say anyone was robbed, or even that this was some kind of tokenistic gesture in a quiet year. There was a lot of interesting music on this year’s Mercury Prize shortlist, but nothing (apart perhaps from electronic dance DJ Fred Again) that had been all pervasive. 

Ezra Collective perform after winning the Mercury Prize Credit: PA

Sophisticated guitar band Arctic Monkeys may be more household name famous, bravura pop soul singer-songwriter Raye may be operating in a more obviously commercial space, and afro inflected rap producer J Hus closer to crafting a recognisable soundtrack to young British life. 

But Ezra Collective could go toe to toe with any of them, and probably will as more people catch up with them. This is a moment that should put this outrageously joyful band on the map, and perhaps introduce fresh ears to one of the most venerable music genres of our time. 

The cover of their album was inspired by Thelonious Monk’s brilliant 1967 album Underground. Imagine a band who love the Monk winning the Mercury? It shows that right now in music, anything goes. Who knows, next year, maybe it’ll be the turn of the token folk band.