Credit: Emile Holba
Saturday, July 13, 2019
Yelagin island, St. Petersburg

A Bahraini-British performer, Yazz Ahmed, is giving a new meaning to nowadays jazz. This trumpet and flugelhorn player has worked with Radiohead and These New Puritans, experiments with electronic effects, and shapes her own musical universe from that legacy. As a part of the new wave of artists who are eager to break the old codes of jazz, such as Kamasi Washington, Yussef Kamaal, Christian Scott, Yazz Ahmed is thrilled by the possibilities of making something new. «I feel like I’m a part of modernising jazz and connecting it with audiences today,» Yazz says. «It’s exciting.»

Her new album La Saboteuse is a deep exploration of both her British and Bahraini roots. The theme of La Saboteuse is the sense of self-doubt that Yazz feels when she is creating, personified in a female saboteur, an anti-muse that spurs her into action.

Yazz spent her early childhood in Bahrain, her father’s homeland, before moving to London with her English mother at the age of nine. There, she became fascinated by her grandfather’s trumpet playing, and vowed to learn the instrument herself. Jazz became her chosen form of expression, because «I loved the spirit of the music, the freedom. There’s a lot of joy, mystery. I connected with it». Yazz’s sound is unique. Her take on jazz weaves in Arabic melodies to evocative, cinematic effect. «I love the sounds of Arabic music. The traditional folk singing is so heartfelt, elemental and passionate. I absorbed it as a child, but only in the past few years has it come to the surface in my playing and writing. I want to embrace my culture and my British jazz heritage, the music my grandfather played to me.»

Jazz has traditionally been a male-dominated sphere. But Yazz is challenging that notion, helped by a new wave of women musicians. «There are more female jazz musicians and attitudes are changing,» she says. «People see that women can play just as well as the men. But there are still areas that haven’t caught up with the rest of society. It’s getting better, but we can do more.»