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Contributor: Juwon Ogungbe
A Joyful Noise

Since the onset of the recession, a whole scene of British musicians have had to reassess their decision to play Jazz oriented music for a living. These performers, usually inspired by members of big bands such as Jazz Warriors and Loose Tubes, worked on a well-defined circuit of multi-purpose wine bars during the 80s economic boom. However, when the recession came, many promoters diverted their attentions from this scene towards more commercially viable music genres, leaving many Jazzists high and dry. Nowadays, many of the musicians tend to eke out a living working as session players for the Deejay producer types who are currently regarded by the business as the new breed of "musicians".

Although few venues or promoters are willing to take on jazzists, a notable exception to this disquieting trend is Biyi Adepegba's Joyful Noise. This organisation, created by Biyi in 1992 is probably the only promotional company interested in keeping this progressive area of British music alive. Adepegba is a dynamo with a mission - to be Britain's first truly successful Black music promoter. So far, he has financed his events through private sources and a lot of people in the know have started to take notice of his ideas and events.

Biyi is not the most communicative of people and an interview with him proved a difficult task. He was paranoid and believed yours truly intended to stitch him up. However, he became less reticent when I started the interview by asking him why he started Joyful Noise. He replied: "To provide a platform for concert music for mainly African and African-Caribbean musicians and composers." Is that all? "Obviously I hope to make the events work financially and artistically. The proceeds from each concert are ploughed back into other events."

I asked about his unique and controversial approach in which he creates his own "dream team" of performers for each event, in contrast to the usual system where performers work in units of their own creation. "The idea of collaboration is to allow people to share ideas to fit into the concert music format. Each event is a one-off. However, some performers, such as Flute Soulfulness, (the pairing of flautists Keith Waithe and Rowland Sutherland) decide to continue with the collaboration." What are the criteria for such permutations? "It varies according to the availability of artists and the feasibility of the collaboration."

Apart form his dealings in the music business, Biyi holds a day job as a civil servant and finds time to work on a PhD thesis. Besides this pressure, his rise in the music business has been through the school of hard knocks. After an unsuccessful stint at the original Jazz caf?, trying out his collaborative ideas on African musicians, he started promoting events at Holborn's Conway hall. These events mixed music and poetry performances and were critically acclaimed received but financially disastrous. "Over a period of a year, a great deal of money was lost on the Conway hall events". He was cagey as to exactly how much, but admitted that even now he hasn't recouped the losses incurred then.

A change of venue brought a change of fortune. He set up in Highbury's Union Chapel, word soon got around and his big break came when he promoted some events for the 1994 London Jazz festival. Suddenly influential people were more sympathetic and more interested in his proposals. Conversely, during the festival, he was physically attacked by a musician. "When I started out, I made some mistakes in my relations with performers. I didn't totally understand how musicians worked and I stepped on a few toes. Now I am more careful."

On a brighter note, Joyful Noise was invited to put on regular events at the SouthBank Centre, particularly in the Purcell room. Most of these shows have been runaway successes. However, things are not much easier. Biyi still has to sell his ideas for collaboration to the musicians he has in mind for his events.

Would he collaborate with other Black promoters to make the scene "healthier" (a word he used several times in our conversation)? I have an understanding with Kola (Kola runs the Multikulti club at the Union Chapel). But one gets the impression that Mr Adepegba is a one man band, too squeamish to get involved in cut and thrust negotiation which is central to any such joint venture.

And the future? "Hopefully, Joyful Noise will continue to promote events at the SouthBank Centre."
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