Contrary to what the producers of La La Land may have you believe, jazz is very, very healthy right now. For reasons as yet unclear, a new generation of musicians has embraced the genre, drawing on its various periods and movements to find their voice. After decades of languishing in middle-aged obscurity and being mocked as the preserve of Howard Moon and men that still think trilbies look cool, jazz has been rediscovered by a young, diverse and supremely talented generation of musicians from across the world and right now there’s none cooler than Poppy Ajudha.
Born in the underbelly of South London, Ajudha grew up listening to the greats. Her dad ran a nightclub and would “would blare roots reggae and funk from his car speakers on every outing,” while her mum educated her on Simone, Gaye and Vandross, culminating in the soulful, heady take on jazz she crafts today. It’s proved a winning formula, drawing in growing numbers of fans and landing her a spot on the highly coveted COLORS BERLIN YouTube channel before her debut EP has seen the light of the day. “I think [my music is] often quite nostalgic and reflective, which kind of represents my own personality,” Poppy tells us. “I want it to be both personal and inviting.” It’s that sense of nostalgia that’s seen her work and her voice, which has been compared to the likes Ella Fitzgerald and Etta James, embody a warmth that instantly soothes the listener. However, Poppy’s determined to make sure her work is more than a throwback, placing herself amongst South London’s current creative explosion and striving to work with musicians outside of her cannon. “Musically, I often take inspiration from classic soul, jazz, funk and reggae but find myself working with a bunch of amazing forward thinking producers and exciting young musicians to develop my own sound.” It’s this vibrancy and desire to experiment that separates the likes of Ajudha and her peers from the innumerable lounge- jazz revivalists that have found favour on BBC Radio 2 and Magic FM over the years. Like many of the genre’s greats (Davis, Coltrane, Simone and, more recently, Washington, Lamar and aTunde-Adjuah) Ajudha’s music seeks to balance self-reflection with meditations on society and having just finished a degree in Social Anthropology, she wants to explore “feminism, race, gender politics, hypersexuality and diasporic identity” in her music as well as her academia.
But jazz has always been a genre of dreamers and like any young person, there’s more to Poppy than critical theory and the Birth of the Cool. This summer, she plans to spend her free time at the lido and longs to “to go away alone again, explore Indonesia or Brazil, write songs on overnight coaches and trek through rainforest mountains.” In reality, though, she’s got an EP to finish and an ever-growing wave of hype to ride. The legendary critic Robert Christgau once said that the essence of jazz is “inventing meaning while letting loose” and it’s hard to think of a better way to describe Ajudha’s approach to music. As the summer draws in, Ajudha’s generation will continue finding solace and empowering each other, one track at a time.
This article first appeared in Notion 76.
Poppy wears jacket Mavera, earings UnoDe50, rings Pebble London
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