What have you got in the Box?

Soweto Kinch brings an eclectic programme to Birmingham with the relaunch of his Live Box night
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The Independent Culture

The Live Box is a loose collective of artists that has been performing at a variety of club venues across Birmingham for the past three years. The artistic director is Soweto Kinch, the acclaimed saxophonist and nu-jazz star, who made the Mercury music prize shortlist last year with his album Conversations with the Unseen, which mixes post-bop jazz and rap with an ease that few have managed to date. A 2003 Mobo award followed, for best jazz artist, and recently he earned a best band and best instrumentalist award at this year's BBC jazz awards.

The Live Box is a loose collective of artists that has been performing at a variety of club venues across Birmingham for the past three years. The artistic director is Soweto Kinch, the acclaimed saxophonist and nu-jazz star, who made the Mercury music prize shortlist last year with his album Conversations with the Unseen, which mixes post-bop jazz and rap with an ease that few have managed to date. A 2003 Mobo award followed, for best jazz artist, and recently he earned a best band and best instrumentalist award at this year's BBC jazz awards.

Perhaps unusually for a jazz musician, Kinch is an Oxford graduate with a degree in modern history. He was brought up in Birmingham and feels a close affinity with the area. "I've been in Birmingham since I was nine and am now very much naturalised. Here, anyone who has a passion about their craft wants to find kindred spirits, find people who share their vision, and that's how the Live Box was set up. It was a house for other people to come forward and develop, and show new and exciting creativity."

Despite being a jazz specialist, Kinch is keen to emphasise the eclecticism of the Live Box. "It's going to be inter-disciplinary. The jazz edges are because of me, I suppose. But we've programmed some really exciting people, such as Jonzi D and Eska Mtungwazi, and by enlisting a wider spread of collaborators and some big names, I guess we've tried to become a broader church stylistically. There will be singers, musicians, poets, performers, actors and dancers, but we aim to retain the artistic excellence that jazz has at its core."

Kinch feels that Live Box was "born of necessity. I'd come up from university and I realised that I needed to cut my teeth as an improviser, besides just playing in London at the Jazz Café. When I returned to Birmingham, I was quite saddened that, despite all the prolific talent up here, there wasn't a comparable session or movement to do justice to it."

After initial difficulties, which Kinch attributes to the "fad-based nature of much of the interest in jazz in the area", the Live Box has returned stronger. "I guess that all the closures - Ronnie Scott's had closed down; jazz was seen as no longer lucrative - forced us to be aware. We had to become aware that we were an alternative to club culture and big business."

Kinch is proud of the eclectic mix of people attracted to the gigs. "We always have a trickling of people from lots of different social strata. It was a diverse spread, even then. What's different now is that the artists lead it, not the venue. We allow them to dictate the style and nature of the event."

The Live Box also hopes to nurture young talent in the Birmingham area, with a series of workshops for 11-18-year-olds. Kinch says: "We're showcasing the work we've done with the people in the workshops, teasing out original material, going over songwriting technique, going over harmony jazz theory. There will be about an hour's worth of performance from that group on 19 September, when the Live Box returns."

Live Box Launch Night, The Drum, Birmingham (0121-333 2444; www.the-drum.org.uk) 19 September

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