Stevie G: Mos Def a coup for Cork's jazz festival

Stevie G: Mos Def a coup for Cork's jazz festival

Mos Def bridges jazz, hip-hop, and soul and his presence bolsters the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival’s jazz identity.

The 18 months pause on the live music industry has been bad for everyone, but there might be some opportunities when the smoke clears. The Guinness Cork Jazz Festival took some time out last year, but last week they announced a line-up for a stripped-back return to their traditional October bank holiday weekend in Cork. The festival is our most popular and acclaimed music event, and the time out was probably needed in some ways, as a reboot looked necessary. Last week's announcement was impressive, and it could signal a fantastic new era for the jazz festival in Cork.

The announcement of Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) is a key signature move that is causing great excitement not just on Leeside but elsewhere too. I wrote last week about the many shows Choice Cuts have co-promoted in Cork over the years and their fingerprints are all over some of these impressive jazz festival bookings, with Mos Def being high up the list. He is the perfect bridge between jazz, hip-hop, and soul and he is an artist who would have comfortably moved in any era with the greats of the day. His catalogue is amazing, he is a terrific live performer, and he will be backed by regular visitors to Cork, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.

Most will accept that jazz as a genre is fairly niche. The hands of jazz are all over everything from soul, rap, house and even pop music, so it’s important that a jazz festival acknowledges those artists who still carry the essence of jazz into their identity. When you look at a jazz festival line-up featuring the likes of Aslan as headliners, like we did in previous years, this gets diluted somewhat. Aslan are great at what they do but they are not a signature band that one would identify with when going to a jazz festival.

There’s still room for non-jazz acts. This year's line-up features lots of commercially viable dance music that will sell tickets rather than please jazz fans (Jenny Greene, Declan Pierce, King Kong Company). These are all solid bookings that will do well. But it’s still a jazz festival so bringing along big hitters such as Yasiin Bey is a great move. Most of us who got into jazz through hip-hop will appreciate the relevance of an artist who has never played Cork before.

On the jazz tip, Matthew Halsall is another terrific booking. Another artist who combines the new with the old, the Gondwana Records founder is very much on the spiritual jazz tip, and his gig in the Everyman is hotly anticipated. Choice Cuts themselves are debuting MåsExödus, with Mark Murphy and Max Zaska promising a show that consists of 90 minutes of new material, featuring collaborators such as the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. There will be lots of guests on stage and plenty of fireworks from all musicians involved.

There’s plenty more on too including Paul Dunlea and Cormac McCarthy, The X Collective and Xenia Pestova Bennett and Ed Bennett. For a line-up that could only really be confirmed in the last few weeks, as the easing of restriction announcements came, it is very impressive. A concise but very exciting line-up that should well indicate the shape of things to come. Much of the jazz festival will revolve around a huge pub and venue trail that should also bring some great acts to Cork, and we will detail this here and elsewhere on our full jazz weekend preview on the Thursday before the festival. This is the weekend that restrictions will be eased, so Cork should be buzzing, and we are long overdue a big party.

Going forward we can only hope that the worst of the pandemic is over, and that some degree of normality will return to our lives. Many venues are now gone and it’s harder than ever to run gigs, so we can only hope that the government will offer more support to the industry. Licensing laws, rates, legal fees, insurance and many other barriers still exist, but there seems to be at the very least a willingness to listen to the music industry lately. Only time will tell if it was all just for a photo-op. In the meanwhile, we can look forward to the Cork Jazz Festival once again, and the possibilities and promise of a new era for Cork's busiest and most vibrant music weekend.

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