Through her music, British-Bahraini trumpet player, Yazz Ahmed, seeks to blur the lines between jazz and electronic sound design, bringing together the sounds of her mixed heritage in what has been described as ‘psychedelic Arabic jazz, intoxicating and compelling’.
Yazz has led her ensembles in performances across the UK & Europe, and further afield including Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Tunisia, Algeria, Bahrain, Kuwait, USA & Canada. She has also enchanted audiences at major festivals such as WOMAD, Love Supreme, NYC Winter Jazz Fest & Pori Jazz.
A mark of her growing reputation is the series of sold out concerts in London over the last few years. These include shows at Jazz In The Round, Kings Place, The Jazz Café, the Purcell Room and at the Church of Sound.
Her career is studded with high profile collaborations, which have seen her record and perform with the likes of Radiohead, Lee Scratch Perry, Transglobal Underground, Susheela Raman, Tarek Yamani, Amel Zen, including a world tour with These New Puritans.
As a guest soloist and composer, Yazz has performed with Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra, NYJO, NYOS, and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama Jazz Orchestra.
In 2015, Tomorrow’s Warriors, with support from PRS Women Make Music, commissioned Yazz to write a suite inspired by courageous and influential women. Polyhymnia was premiered by the Nu Civilisation Orchestra at the WOW! Festival on International Women’s Day in March 2015.
Later that year, Yazz received support from Jazzlines at Town Hall Symphony Hall Birmingham, to write her suite, Alhaan al Siduri, premiered in October 2015 at CBSO Centre, Birmingham. This music is influenced by Yazz’s Bahraini roots, drawing from the folk music of the Bahraini pearl divers and traditional wedding songs sung by the women drumming groups. The second performance of this suite marked Yazz’s debut in her paternal homeland, at the Bahrain International Music Festival, 2016.
During her year as an LSO Soundhub composer in 2016, Yazz was able to explore writing music for her newly developed quarter-tone flugelhorn. This is a unique instrument, enabling her to get closer to the spiritual nature of the ‘blue notes’ in Arabic music, deeply infusing her sound with that of her heritage.
Yazz’s debut album, Finding My Way Home, 2011, saw her first explorations of Arabic music, introducing her as an innovative performer and composer, and led Jazzwise Magazine to mark her out as ‘one to watch’. However, it was her second album, La Saboteuse, (Naim Records, 2017), which made a global impact, clocking up multiple rave reviews and making many ‘best of 2017’ lists around the world, including Jazz Album of the Year in The Wire magazine, and achieving the number 18 spot in Bandcamp’s top 100 albums (all genres).
“This is enchanting, late night music that floats on the liminal space between dreams and reality. And for sheer, unconquered beauty, there are few albums of any genre that reach these heady heights. Ahmed, in diving deep within herself, comes back up for air with a mysterious, wondrous artefact humming in her hands,” the2010s.net
Interest in the album grew beyond the traditional boundaries of the jazz community with Yazz interviewed by and invited to contribute editorial articles in publications such as the Vinyl Factory, The Guardian, Harpers Bazaar, Rollingstone Magazine, Downbeat and appearances on BBC World Service, Radio 3 and Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.
Illustrating her growing fascination with electronic music, La Saboteuse Remixed, (Naim, 2018) features collaborations with three of Europe’s eminent electronic DJ’s – Hector Plimmer, DJ Khalab and Blacksea Não Maya. Four of the pieces from the original album have been reimagined, taking her music to a new realm and reaching out to a new audience.
The Planets 2018, a work created especially for a tour of planetariums, is a celebration of the centenary of Holst’s suite and modern astronomy. Commissioned by the Ligeti Quartet, Yazz’s composition Saturn was featured and performed around the UK in October 2018.
Continuing her explorations into space, Yazz was later commissioned by the Open University to write a solo piece inspired by the moon, which was performed at the OU Moon Night in December 2018.
June 2019 saw the coda to La Saboteuse revealed: A Shoal of Souls (IXCHEL Records). Composed as a reaction to Sophie Bass’s striking artwork for La Saboteuse, the piece is dedicated to the thousands of lives lost in recent years by those attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea in search of a better future.
A Shoal of Souls was also featured as the soundtrack to an Apple iPhone 11 advertising campaign.
Yazz’s 2019 album, Polyhymnia, (Ropeadope Records) was voted Album of The Year at the 2020 Jazz FM Awards. Making many ‘best of year’ lists and garnering multiple rave reviews, the release builds on her growing reputation as a notable composer with a strong individual voice, a figure at the heart of the exciting UK scene. Evolving from a performance on International Women’s Day in 2015, the music takes the form of a suite written in celebration of courageous and inspiring women and features an extended ensemble of 25 musicians. The passion and power of this music speaks for itself but understanding the message behind the compositions adds depth and resonance for the listener, taking the experience to another level.
“Whilst gathering ideas for my composition, I came across the character of Polyhymnia, the ancient Greek Muse of music, poetry and dance: a Goddess for the arts. Perhaps inspired by her, I conceived the form of a suite of movements, each dedicated to women of outstanding qualities, role models, with whom I felt a strong connection. Whereas La Saboteuse, the embodiment of my inner-destroyer and the catalyst for the creation of my last album, could be viewed as my anti-muse, maybe Polyhymnia herself became my Muse, inspiring an intense period of creativity, which resulted in the six pieces on this album.
Since its conception the music has evolved and expanded. During the recording process I began incorporating new elements and drawing on a wider pool of artists, including members of my own Hafla band, alongside some of my favourite musicians working on the London scene.
By sharing my musical response to the stories and achievements of these exceptional women, and celebrating the creativity and talents of my co-contributors, I hope to inspire others, in the words of Malala, “to be brave, to embrace the strength within themselves and realise their full potential.”
“Rich, powerful, colourful, exciting and highly evocative. Ahmed’s most ambitious and most successful work to date has the feel of a ‘major statement’ about it.” –thejazzmann.com
The striking album artwork was also picked up by Apple and has been highlighted in their recent iPhone and watch advertising campaigns.
Yazz has been nominated for Downbeat Magazine’s ‘Trumpet Artist of The Year’ and featured in the ‘Rising Star Trumpet’ category in this year’s Downbeat critics’ poll. She also won the 2020 Jazz FM Award for UK Jazz Act of the Year.
More recently, Yazz has been composing music for Jazz FM, Adult Swim, Festival of New Trumpet Music – New York, and performing ‘isolated sessions’ for the Boiler Room and a vinyl set for the Vinyl Factory.
This year Yazz announced her second remix EP, Polyhymnia Remixed (self-release, Nov 2020). Teaming up with fast-rising underground producers, DJ Plead, Asmara and Surly, the record expands on the themes of Polyhymnia, expressing the important stories of the women it celebrates, told by other voices, with a fresh perspective.
“I hope that through my music I can bring people together, building bridges between cultures, and changing perceptions about women in jazz and people of Muslim heritage”.