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Mercury Prize winners Ezra Collective: Music needs to diversify away from London

Members of Ezra Collective, (L-R) James Mollison, Joe Armon-Jones, Femi Koleoso, Ife Ogunjobi and TJ Koleoso after winning The Mercury Prize during The Mercury Prize 2023 awards show at Eventim Apollo on September 07, 2023 in London. The group all wear white T-shirts and camouflage-style trousers except for Femi, who wears the same pattern on his top. Femi is holding the trophy towards the camera and all members of the group are smiling.
Ezra Collective won album of the year for Where I'm Meant To Be

Mercury Prize winners Ezra Collective say music funding needs to diversify to make more opportunities outside London.

For the ninth year in a row, the prize for best album was awarded to a London-based act.

The capital dominated the nominations as well, making up three quarters of artists in the running for album of the year.

Ezra Collective bandleader Femi Koleoso feels it's due to funding in London which should be better spread out.

"If we were to diversify that, the list would diversify," he tells BBC Newsbeat.

The Mercury Prize shortlist and winner is decided by a panel of industry experts with UK record labels entering more than 200 albums.

BBC Newsbeat has asked organisers about regional representation but has not heard back.

However on its website, it says a founding principle is that "all music be treated equally" and judging is based exclusively on "the quality of the music".

Loyle Carner, Olivia Dean and Jessie Ware attend The Mercury Prize 2023 awards show at Eventim Apollo on September 07, 2023 in London. Loyle wears a white T-shirt and black cap emblazoned with 'Hugo' and looks wide-eyed at the camera. Olivia, about a foot shorter, stands next to him, she wears her dark curl hair loose and smiles at the camera. She wears a green and blue zig-zag patterned dress. To her right is Jessie Ware, who tilts her head towards Olivia. She has short, straight dark hair and smiles at the camera, wearing deep red lipstick. Her dress is formed of connecting black spots. The trio are pictured inside at the ceremony and it is dark behind them with the exception of a blue screen
Album of the Year nominees Loyle Carner, Olivia Dean and Jessie Ware are also all Londoners

Jazz quintet Ezra Collective won the top prize with their album Where I'm Meant To Be, which was written and recorded in lockdown.

It follows their 2019 debut You Can't Steal My Joy, but they've been making music together since they were kids after first being introduced at a youth club.

"I celebrate places like ELAM [East London Arts and Music], The Brit School and all the brilliant things in London that allow people like us to exist," says Femi.

"But at the same time I'd love to see it replicated elsewhere in the UK and then you might have 10, 12 nominees from different regions."

'London pushes you'

Youth Music is a charity which funds organisations like youth clubs and arts venues to improve career opportunities in music.

One of the clubs it works with is Tomorrow's Warriors, where Ezra Collective trained, which is now working with musicians in Hull and Gloucester.

Funding is a challenge, the charity says, and it now dedicates 87% of its provisions to projects outside of London.

"We recognise that areas outside of London are under-resourced and require additional attention," says Daniel Williams, from the charity.

"Ultimately, this comes down to funding. We need to increase investment to youth groups and initiatives across the UK, to ensure every young person has the opportunity to make, learn and earn in music."

The government says more arts funding is now being to organisations outside of London "than ever before".

"We are making sure all young people have access to high-quality music education in schools," a spokesperson told Newsbeat.

Shygirl performing at the Mercury Prize. Real name Blane Muise, Blane wears a pale blue chiffon dress which drapes around her neck. She has long, dark wavy hair which she wears loose over her shoulders. She holds a microphone to her face with her right hand, revealing a rose forearm tattoo, and holds her left palm up. Dark staging can be seen behind her and she is lit by a spotlight.
Shygirl says the wealth of talent in London drives artists to stand out

In August, plans for a second Brit School in Bradford were given the green light by the government.

It will provide free courses in dance, music and theatre for 500 students.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan says she hopes the scheme will unlock more opportunities for students in the north of England.

But for nominee Shygirl, it's not just a question of funding but London's culture which she thinks forces artists to stand out.

"If you're here creating, you're sat next to so many other talented artists in one small city, it makes you push to prove you have something to say," she says.

Members of Jockstrap, Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye attend The Mercury Prize 2023 awards show at Eventim Apollo on September 07, 2023 in London. Georgia stands on the left, she wears a green top over one shoulder and large blue hoop earrings. She has blue eyes and her dark curly hair is tied in a bun on her head. She wears brown-orange eyeshadow and a muted red lipstick. Taylor stands on the right, he has blue eyes, freckled skin and fair hair covered by a dark beanie hat. He wears a white T-shirt and both he and Georgia look at the camera with a neutral expression.
Jockstrap's Georgia Ellery grew up in Cornwall and says musicians don't have the same opportunities there

Nominees Jockstrap, made up of Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye, met at London's Guildhall School of Music. Taylor was born in the capital but Georgia grew up in Cornwall.

"That's where the music industry is - in London," Georgia says. "You definitely don't get that in Cornwall."

"That's why we came to study here," adds Taylor. "I still think this is probably one of the most exciting places to be."

The duo also say they met everyone they work with in London and it's something Young Fathers can relate to as well.

Graham Hastings, Alloysious Massaquoi and Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers attends The Mercury Prize 2023 awards show at Eventim Apollo on September 07, 2023 in London. Graham is a white man in his 30s with shaved dark hair and a short dark beard. He wears a black jacket over a blue shirt. Alloysious stands beside him - he is a slightly taller black man also in his 30s. He has afro hair and a beard about two inches long. He wears a blue shirt with the top two buttons undone, revealing his chest and a gold chain necklace. Beside him is Kayus, who is the shortest of the three artists. He is a black man with his hair styled in dreads and a short beard. He wears a white shirt open over a white vest with three necklace chains and a nose ring
Young Fathers were the last winners of the Mercury Prize not from London - they won back in 2014

The Edinburgh trio were nominated for their album, Heavy, Heavy.

"London is one of the epicentres of the world in terms of music and creativity," says singer Alloysious Massaquoi.

"There's more people there so there's going to be a plethora of artists."

The group was the last winner to come from outside of London - back in 2014 - but Alloysious says they don't want to "fly flags" for Scotland.

"We're representing ourselves and the music that we do," he says.

"You want it to be about that."

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