Something New: Who Am I with Ineza

Written by | Artists, New Releases, News, Women in Jazz Media

Welcome to the fifth interview in our Women in Jazz Media series ‘Something New with Esther Bennett’. Exploring new albums through conversation directly with the artist to share a little insight into their work. As one of the London Jazz scenes’ most experienced, highly respected and widely loved jazz vocalists, Esther juxtaposes sensitivity and a sparky sense of humour in all her work and we are thrilled to have her involved in this series to help platform new female led jazz releases across the world.

Photo by Tatiana Gorilovsky

Born in Rwanda, raised in Belgium, now living in the UK. Ineza’s unique past and present is one explanation for her intriguing and daring mix of Jazz and Neo Soul music. Ineza’s 2018 debut EP ‘Where are you from’ received praise from Bandcamp Daily and Fresh on the Net establishing her as a unique singer and composer dedicated to the art of storytelling. Since the release Ineza has been supported by international music producer, promotor and organizer Serious and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Ineza is currently touring with award winner singer – songwriter Tom Odell. In 2015 Ineza accepted a place at the prestigious Trinity Laban conservatoire of Music and Dance. Before moving to London she studied Jazz at the Maastricht Conservatoire in The Netherlands. Since graduating Ineza has become a prominent performer and educator on the London Jazz scene. Ineza is part of the critically acclaimed London Vocal Project, She holds a residency at Oliver’s Jazz bar in Greenwich and she’s a vocal tutor at ACM.

I really enjoyed listening to this, your second EP. There is very clearly a theme throughout relating to identity and to your own personal journey. Tell us a little about that story and a little more about the title track “Who Am I”

My music so far has been autobiographical. I was born in Rwanda but before the age of one, my biological mother gave me up for adoption. A white Belgian family raised me and for the most part of my childhood I knew very little about Rwanda or my biological family. Around the age of 16, I reconnected with my biological mother and a few years later I travelled to Rwanda to meet her, my 6 siblings and other family members for the first time. This experience has made a significant impression on me. The title track ‘Who Am I’ is about that first meeting with my mother. It’s about the anticipation, all the unanswered questions and how this meeting will change my life and redefine who I am.

I know that you studied at Trinity Laban. Tell us a little about your studies there and a little more about your musical journey and jazz education previous to being in London.

I truly enjoyed my time at Trinity Laban. I learned a lot, got to know my band members and so many other fantastic musicians. Before Trinity I studied Jazz vocals at Maastricht Conservatoire in the Netherlands. I got into Jazz music in a somewhat strange fashion. Growning up I spent a lot of time with my uncle on my mother’s side. He was a huge classical music fan. My mother preferred Andrea Bocelli and Enya. As a young person I listened to American R&B, hip hop and would become obsessed with musical theatre. Which prompted me to change schools to study acting and hopefully make it my career. I lived in a boarding school at the time. A caretaker there, heard me sing in the hallway on a daily basis. She suggested I should look into Jazz music. I did and the rest is history.

You label yourself as a singer of Neo-Soul and R&B though in this EP I hear in the compositions and in your sweet and clear tone, strains of folk and country. What singers and musicians or bands have you been influenced by

I have to thank the London Vocal Project for the folk and country undertones. We did a project focussing on the music of James Taylor, I hadn’t really explored his music before, but he has become one of my influences. Other musicians that influenced me are Esperanza Spalding, Lauryn Hill, Stevie Wonder and the Jazz singer Nancy Wilson.

Photo by Tatiana Gorilovsky

Considering your background and education in jazz it is only natural that you would be working with the finest of our young jazz musicians – notably the pianist Deschanel Gordon and the saxophonist Michael Lack, with whom you seem to have a brilliantly compatible musical relationship. What is your history with these musicians and why did you choose to work with them in particular?

I met Deschanel at Trinity, he came in 2 years after me. It was clear from the very beginning that not only is he a lovely human being, he’s also a killer pianist. When I started my band, I was looking for versatile musicians and he was one of the first people I asked. I met Michael at Oliver’s Jazz bar, at the time I ran the Monday Jazz Jam and he used to come down. I really liked his playing because it’s different. He has this amazing ability to come up with the most beautiful melodies without looking at the chords. He understood my story and knew how to accompany.

A little about a couple of other projects that you’re involved in; The London Vocal Project and your residency at Oliver’s Jazz Bar let’s hear all about these…

The London Vocal Project is a contemporary vocal ensemble specialising in Jazz and groove music.  We are led by educator and composer Pete Churchill.  During my time at Trinity, Pete used to come once a year to run a choir workshop. We would sing his arrangements of Jazz, soul or folk tunes and have a performance at the end of the week. For many of us this was an absolute highlight, I was really impressed with Pete’s choir leading and arrangement skills. In 2019 I got the chance to join the choir, the first project I did with them was the Miles Ahead album with lyrics by John Hendricks. We only had 3 moths to learn the tunes by heart. It was a baptism by fire due to the complicated rhythms and harmonies, but I’ve learned a lot from it. I’ve been in the choir since then.

Oliver’s Jazz bar is a lovely underground Jazz venue and wine bar in Greenwich. It’s one of my favourite places, I used to go there frequently when I was a student. There’s live music every day of the week and plenty of jam sessions. During my final year at Trinity, I had the chance to host a jam session there myself. Running a jam is a great way to develop your stage craft, play with different musicians and learn new repertoire. Now, I host the Sunday Jazz jam every 2nd and 4th Sunday.

As well as being a prominent performer on the London jazz scene you have also become an educator. Tell us about your role as an ACM vocal tutor and how, if at all, this has benefitted your own performance.

I started at ACM in January 2022. As a vocal tutor I help the students with their vocal and performance technique. Being a teacher has been instrumental in my own development as a performer. By helping others, I remind myself how to be a better musician and how important it is to keep practicing. When you’ve developed a skill for a long time, you sometimes forget about the basics. Teaching reminds you of how important the simple exercises really are. It’s an honour to be a part of somebody else’s creative journey, it encourages me to keep on developing my own.

You have been supported by Serious and by The Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Tell us something about this and what your involvement with these organisations entailed.

In 2019 I was awarded a place at the second edition of LEAP, one of Serious artist development programs. I was lucky enough to be one of 8 artists chosen to participate. During a week-long residential at Cats Abbey in Oxfordshire we received support and training in outreach work, work shopping and developing new ways of teaching. After the residency I was put in contact with Norfolk and Norwich Festival to run workshops for disadvantaged children. This proved to be a particular moving and rewarding experience. These children didn’t really have any music classes and I’ll never forget the joy and excitement they had to learn something new.

And last but last least – when and where is the EP Launch and where are your next few gigs.?

The EP launch will take place at Toulouse Lautrec in London on Saturday January 28th. I have 2 consecutive gigs at the EFG London Jazz Festival, One on Saturday November 19th with my good friend pianist Rob Brockway at Woolwich Works and the day after November 20th at Crazy Coqs with the Alex Webb trio. I’m doing a couple of Christmas gigs, one with the London Vocal Project on December 4th at Pizza Express Dean Street and the other one with Michael Lack and our trio at Oliver’s Jazz bar on December 23rd and of course I’m also hosting the Jazz Jam at Oliver’s Jazz bar every 2nd and 4th Sunday, every month.

To purchase Ineza’s new music please click here

To support Ineza  please follow her work here

Last modified: November 9, 2022