Written by Sophie Wyatt

The female jazz scene is evolving. Earlier this year we spoke to growing platform Women In Jazz to discuss the appalling gender imbalance within the scene worldwide. Launching workshops, classes and lending advice, Women In Jazz are working hard to encourage female instrumentalists and singers who may have otherwise been disheartened, to enter the jazz scene. It is work like this and the introduction to inspiring female artists that is paving the way for a equally balanced music industry. And female led music groups such as COLECTIVA are further solidifying a place for womxn in the community. The nine piece collective are using their musical knowledge and talent to show the world that female jazz musicians are here, and they mean business. We got a chance to chat to a few of the members about their music, exploring the boundaries of Afro-latin music and jazz, and the importance of encouraging young female musicians to follow their dreams.

Like with any power group, we wanted to know where it all started. How COLECTIVA came to be. Viva gave us a brief sum up of how the team of women met each other and what it was about Afro-Latin Jazz that started a fire in all of them.

Viva: ‘It felt like the right moment to experiment with a new way of doing things. I was excited by the concept of the collective, and how a fluid project membership that dismantles hierarchy could allow for experimentation, ownership and freedom for all members.

With the London Jazz scene blossoming, it was impossible not to catch the vibe, and having been hugely inspired by the Latin scene in New York in the 1970s, and its relationship with the Jazz scene in that era, I wanted to bring these two worlds closer together and explore sounds outside of the strict Afro-Latin tradition, coming up with a new sound, London-style. In terms of gender, the project was born at a time when I needed space to heal, and I was very curious to know how it would feel to create music and tour with other women.

I wanted to create a space where female musicians could come together as equals, and do more than just play covers, which is something that wasn’t happening a lot on the UK Latin scene at the time. I felt bored of the structure of traditional bands, where there was one musical director who composed all of the music for the project, and a hierarchy with the rest of the band falling below. My vision was to work towards making records and creating a unique sound.

In the end, our core band has actually become quite set – but we have a constellation of amazing female musicians who we also collaborate with and look forward to more of this in the future. We met playing in other bands, at jam sessions and through mutual friends. Female instrumentalists versed in Afro-Latin and Jazz music are quite a niche group, so we feel incredibly lucky to have found each other!

COLECTIVA are a prime example of how genre as we once knew it is becoming obsolete. Artists around the world are taking a different approach to making their music and are starting to blend multiple sounds and genres to create their own definitive music. In light of this we asked COLECTIVA to sum up their music in a broader sense than just ‘genre’.

Alley: ‘I would say that today, the term ‘genre’ feels rather limiting and confined, due to the amount of experimentation that is happening between genres, cultures and disciplines. Therefore, it’s difficult to narrow it down into one sentence, but what we can say is that within our collective, there is a multitude of nationalities and musical backgrounds, which gives way to a myriad of influences within our music. We experiment with heavily percussive music, using sharp horn lines which ride over pockets of jazz harmony.’

Viva: ‘On the one hand, it feels as though we are at the beginning of our musical journey, and there’s still so much fertile ground within our influences to be explored. It’s undeniable though that a COLECTIVA ‘sound’ has emerged… What could we call it?

Lya: ‘Experimental Jazz Tropicaliente.’

Viva: ‘Yes!

Haste had the good fortune to be able to interview the founders of future-minded platform Women In Jazz earlier this year. The platform itself has highlighted facts that many probably wouldn’t necessarily know, such as the fact that only 5% of jazz musicians are women. This is due to female jazz musicians talents being down trodden by a predominantly male community. We asked COLECTIVA what they think needs to change for a more inclusive music scene.

Alley: ‘Ultimately, what Colectiva’s members strive for, is to be recognised as good musicians, not just good female musicians. The music should come before the gender discussion. Female instrumentalists, however, are beginning to populate the jazz and Latin scenes, but we are still hugely underrepresented. In order for female instrumentalists to be viewed as ‘normal’, it is absolutely important for female instrumentalists to gain exposure by releasing music. Ladies – release your music!

While the number of women in the music scene is growing rapidly, the attitude towards them is not always as willing. And entering the music scene as such a large collection of musically talented women has not been easy for COLECTIVA either. We asked them to explain what they think needs to change in the music scene to make it more inclusive for women and non-binary artists.

Lya: ‘Firstly, some people have underestimated our musicianship due to us being women in a genre more commonly populated by older, male musicians.

Sexual harassment and not being taken seriously is another key issue for women in the music scene. It seems that often we have to work harder for opportunities in order to be listened to and supported.’

Viva: ‘The project itself has revealed sexist attitudes in a number of industry contexts. Our hope is that alongside making great music, we can continue to have conversations and make work that carves out a space for female and non-binary perspectives. We want to empower and inspire others to collaborate and create together.’

Following this question, we wanted to know how the collective would advice young girls that want are aspiring to be in a similar position as them one day. Statistics show that only 5% of jazz musicians in the industry are female. This shocking fact means that artists like Colectiva are vital in encouraging young women to follow their musical dreams. Lya summed up their advice perfectly.

Lya: ‘Don’t ever be shy to explore and blend ideas, remember to do music for yourselves and let go of the ego when creating with other people, to be open is one of the most important things because it allows you to have a different approach to ideas and the cherry on top would be not to be so judgemental and perfectionist.’

The past year and a half has seen the creative world turned on its head. Musicians and artists in all countries have faced transitioning from live shows to live streams. For musical collectives such as COLECTIVA, social distancing has made creative work even harder. Lya gave us some more insight into how they have dealt with the pandemic as artists.

Lya: ‘We were lucky to participate in a couple of livestream sessions which helped us to keep in touch and had cheeky rehearsals. We were also able to work online writing new tunes and preparing the release of our first single ‘Under The’, and its video.’

We ended the interview by simply asking what we can expect from the growing collective. Aside from the promise of eventual live shows (finger’s crossed), Lya let us in on some exciting plans the musicians have lined up for the future. And to say we are excited is an understatement.

Lya: ‘We are going to be playing some festivals over the summer, and hopefully filming the music video for our 2nd single that we’ve just finished recording (release date to be announced soon!) We would love to continue writing new material and record a full album by the end of the year. Watch this space…

Head over to COLECTIVA’s Spotify page to hear more of their redefining music, including their latest track ‘Under The‘.