Yazz Ahmed is a British-Bahraini trumpet and flugelhorn player.
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’.
Over the last decade, Yazz has led her ensembles in performances across the UK & Europe, and further afield in Algeria, Bahrain, Beirut, Kuwait, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, USA & Canada. She has also enchanted audiences at major festivals such as WOMAD, Love Supreme, NYC Winter Jazz Fest & Pori Jazz.
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, Arturo O’Farrill, Natacha Atlas, and Obongjayar, including a world tour with These New Puritans.
It was Yazz’s self-released debut album, Finding My Way Home, 2011, which saw her first explorations of Arabic music, introduced 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
In between releasing Finding My Way Home and La Saboteuse, 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 2016, Yazz was accepted on the LSO Soundhub composer scheme, giving her the opportunity to explore writing music for her newly developed quarter-tone flugelhorn. This unique instrument enabled her to get closer to the spiritual nature of the ‘blue notes’ in Arabic music, deeply infusing her sound with that of her heritage.
In 2018 Yazz received two commissions with a cosmic theme. 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 that October.Yazz was later commissioned by the Open University to write a solo piece inspired by the moon, Earth’s Reflection was performed at the OU Moon Night in December 2018.
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.
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, commissioned by the EFG London Jazz Festival, 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) built 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, commissioned by Tomorrow’s Warriors, the music takes the form of a suite written in celebration of courageous and inspiring women and features an extended ensemble of 25 musicians.
“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 album was also picked up by Apple and has been highlighted in their 2020 Apple Music advertising campaigns.
In January 2020 Downbeat Magazine named Yazz as one of 25 artists set to shape the future of jazz over the next decade.
At the 2020 Jazz FM Awards, Polyhymnia was voted Album of The Year, with Yazz also winning UK Jazz Act of the Year.
The year culminated with the receipt of the highly prestigious Ivor Novello Award for Innovation.
During the pandemic, Yazz composed and recorded music for American streaming channel, Adult Swim, the Festival of New Trumpet Music – New York, and a sound installation commission by WOMAD to accompany Luke Jerram’s, Museum Of The Moon sculpture. She also performed ‘isolated sessions’ for the Boiler Room and streaming gigs for WOW! Istanbul, the Jazzed app, The EFG London Jazz Festival, Sage Gateshead and Tim Garland’s Spring Encounters series.
In November 2020 Yazz released Polyhymnia Remixed, teaming up with fast-rising underground producers, DJ Plead, Asmara and Surly. The EP expands on the themes of Polyhymnia, reflecting on the important stories of the women it celebrates, told by other voices, with a fresh perspective.
2021 saw the release of Solo 7”s Vol.1, a single featuring two tracks recorded at home, inspired by Yazz’s experience of performing solo sets during the pandemic.
As live work returned in 2021, she began performing again on the continent, but the year culminated in a spectacular collaboration with Yazz’s quintet and the BBC Concert Orchestra at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, performing new orchestrations of her works as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival for BBC Radio 3.
In 2022, Yazz was commissioned by Blue Note Records to arrange and record a track for the second Blue Note Re:imagined series. Yazz’s Turkish-proggy-jazz take on Chick Corea’s It, which featured his long-time collaborator, Tim Garland, on bass clarinet.
In December 2022, Yazz curated an evening at the Barbican Hall, London, where she shared the stage withlegendary Lebanese oudist, Rabih Abou-Khalil (whose album Blue Camel was a seminal influence on Yazz) and Emel – the avant-garde Tunisian-American singer and producer, whose soaring voice was a soundtrack to the Arab Spring and who has long been crafting a unique sonic universe, crushing stereotypes and forging a path all her own.
“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 Middle Eastern heritage”