Where I'm Meant To Be

Where I'm Meant To Be

“The main objective was to be as honest as humanly possible,” drummer Femi Koleoso tells Apple Music. “The result is that this is the most Ezra-sounding record we’ve ever made.” Since they emerged at the vanguard of London’s jazz circuit in 2016, Koleoso’s quintet Ezra Collective have crafted their sound into a blend of jazz improvisation, Afrobeat fanfares, hip-hop swagger, and soulful melodies. It’s a potent mix, one that has seen them turn festival audiences into bouncing masses, rather than the chin-stroking group often associated with jazz, and it has also earned them a legion of famous fans. For their second album, following 2019’s You Can’t Steal My Joy, they have enlisted some of these chart-topping pals, including singers Nao and Emeli Sandé, rappers Kojey Radical and Sampa the Great, and words from artists such as Steve McQueen and the late Tony Allen. The resulting 14 tracks live up to Koleoso’s promise, embodying Ezra Collective’s vibrancy with the thundering rhythms of “Victory Dance,” the neo-soul warmth of “Smile,” and dubby dilations of “Ego Killah.” “It’s music to move you and make you feel moved,” Koleoso says. Read on for his in-depth thoughts on the album, track by track. “Life Goes On” (feat. Sampa the Great) “We end each of our albums with a cover, and we start the next one with a cover too. It’s all about making the albums chapters of the same book of our lives. This record, therefore, samples the Fela Kuti tune ‘Shakara,’ which is the last track on our last album, Steal My Joy. I got really into amapiano in the lockdown, and that’s where the shaker and saxophone sounds come from. When it came to finding a feature, I knew Sampa would encapsulate Fela Kuti and UK jazz—she was perfect.” “Victory Dance” “I was training for a marathon during the lockdown, and it ended up being something of a spiritual journey to go on. I kept thinking about the pain that you endure for that single moment of victory and the involuntary dance you do when you get there. This track is meant to make people shake and dance like that, so the horn part was written like a fanfare, and then it drops into an Afro Cuban salsa where you can’t help but move.” “No Confusion” (feat. Kojey Radical) “Tony Allen was a great mentor of mine, and I wanted to pay tribute to all that he’s taught me on this track. The title is an allusion to the Fela Kuti number ‘Confusion,’ which is one of the few recordings of a Tony Allen drum solo, and it also refers to not being confused about who you are or what you’re capable of. The track opens with a recording of a conversation I had with Uncle Tony on Worldwide FM, and he’s telling me the greatest lesson of all: ‘no one can be you-er than you.’” “Welcome to My World” “Fela Kuti is one of the main influences for Ezra Collective, but this is the first record where we made a tune that really evoked his sound, which was composed by our trumpet player, Ife Ogunjobi. We couldn’t agree on the drumbeat because it defines the direction of the song, but once we landed on what you hear, it became one of my favorites. We’ve been playing this live ever since it was written, and it always goes off.” “Togetherness” “We’ve spent the record traveling through the music of Southern Africa so far, and this track takes us to another of Ezra Collective’s cultural touchstones: the Caribbean. Sound system culture is a massive part of my life, and I go to Channel One every Sunday when I’m in London. If you live in the city, you’d be hard-pressed to not hear the influences of Caribbean music everywhere, and this tune taps into the reggae and dub sounds that are all over town.” “Ego Killah” “Jorja Smith is like an extended member of the group and one of our best friends, so it was only right that she sings the opening to this track. ‘Ego Killah’ stays on the Caribbean influences and goes deeper into the bass vibrations of dub. I always feel that the core of jazz music is paying homage to what’s come before and changing what will come after, so that’s why I wanted to incorporate all these different sounds into our improvisations.” “Smile” “When we started Ezra, all we played were jazz standards, and we always tried to make them original. We’ve been playing ‘Smile’ for 10 years now, and our version is inspired by D’Angelo’s ‘Feel Like Makin’ Love,’ since it’s a neo-soul take on a standard. I like to alter the expectations of what we might be capable of playing in our shows or on our records, and this is just such a beautiful song that makes audiences cry every time.” “Live Strong” “I always try to get every person who is involved with Ezra Collective on the album as it’s a nice thank-you to have their names written on the vinyl forever. The clapping that you hear on ‘Live Strong’ is all the engineers and crew, as well as our manager, Amy, who was heavily pregnant at the time. Now the record’s out, I’ve credited her new daughter, Ivy, too. The track itself is influenced by the group Sault, especially their track ‘Son Shine,’ which has such a beautiful feel that takes its own time. This is one that will get the audiences two-stepping when we play it.” “Siesta” (feat. Emeli Sandé) “This track was written by our bass player, TJ [Koleoso], and has the same amapiano influences of ‘Life Goes On.’ It’s meant to be the moment of rest during the journey that allows you to keep going. I think it’s one of the most beautiful songs on the album, since it’s heavily influenced by Kokoroko and their laidback and pretty melodies, as well as the work of Khruangbin. I met Emeli at Steve McQueen’s birthday party a few years ago, and this was just the perfect marriage for her.” “Words by Steve” “Before lockdown, Steve McQueen reached out and asked to meet me for breakfast. Before I even sat down at his table, he went on the most incredible monologue I’ve ever heard, describing the effects that Black people have had on culture in the UK, and he ended it by saying that we belong in any building in London, since we have helped to make this city. This was the birth of the album concept, Where I’m Meant to Be. We became great friends, and I wanted to give him credit for all of his wisdom, so I featured this phone call between us.” “Belonging” “In 2020, we did a tour with Hiatus Kaiyote and as we got to see them play so much, we grew a whole new appreciation and love for their ability to weave time signatures and feels. This track is inspired by their work, but it plays like the most UK jazz number on the record, since it’s aggressive, complicated, and still has deep emotion. It is the song on the album that was hardest to make as it had the most arrangements, but it’s honest. It’s going to be a hard one to play live!” “Never the Same Again” “Dark and depressing songs don’t come naturally for us as a group—we’re all about spreading joy and positivity through our music. Our keyboard player, Joe Armon-Jones, wrote this track and it really encapsulates that feeling of optimism, using the same Sault-inspired sound that drove forward the feeling of ‘Live Strong.’” “Words by TJ” “We love giving context to our music with words, which is why we keep the mics on in between recording tracks, so we can always collect sound bites and stories from different band members. This interlude is one instance of TJ talking about playing Ronnie Scott’s and giving a testament to the power of the music. We only ever write songs to make people feel how he describes on the track.” “Love in Outer Space” (feat. Nao) “We always end with a tribute to someone who’s come before us. We’ve covered Sun Ra before, and this is one of my all-time favorite melodies of his on ‘Love in Outer Space.’ We have been playing the instrumental version of the track live for years, but I missed the vocals that Sun Ra sings on the original, so I knew Nao would be perfect for our recorded version. It’s a song that I’m so proud of and the best way to end the journey—it gives the listener permission to go anywhere.”

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