New Sound 010 \\ Jelly Cleaver: The next artist to make an impact on London’s Jazz scene

23rd April 2019

Following in the footsteps of numerous London musicians including Moses Boyd and Nubya Garcia is guitarist and vocalist Jelly Cleaver. 

With an ethereal and slightly psychedelic sound showcased in her most recent single ‘VI II V’, Jelly Cleaver is the next musician to graduate from the mentorship of Tomorrow’s Warriors. If you’re a regular gig-goer on London’s Jazz scene, you might have seen Jelly performing with the Tomorrow’s Warriors Female Frontline. Fans of Esperanza and Hiatus Kaiyote should take note of Jelly’s upcoming album; quirky songwriting and mysterious lyrics meet with big topics in Jelly’s solo tracks. 

With ‘The Dream Jazz Manifesto’ landing at the end of May, we talk to Jelly to get a glimpse of what to expect from her hotly-anticipated debut album. 

\\ We love the debut single; tell us about the story behind it

I wrote the lyrics for ‘VI II V’ about five years ago as a stream of consciousness poem. Because of the way I wrote it, it mixes references to things that had happened to me recently, such as conversations or images, to more major ideas I was grappling with around Buddhist and Existential philosophy. I was also studying a really great art history module looking at post-impressionist art, and I think a lot of that imagery influenced my lyrics.

\\ You also play guitar in Tomorrow’s Warriors Female Frontline – Nérija must be a big inspiration for you guys?

Yes, I went to see Nerija’s album launch a few weeks ago. I’m a big fan of their guitarist Shirley Tetteh; I follow her around quite a lot in a friendly way, she’s just awesome. The girls in Female Frontline are also a massive inspiration to me. We’ve been playing together for almost two years now and I feel so comfortable being creative and learning and making mistakes in front of them, which is massively important. Most of the girls in my band now are from Female Frontline and I love my band to bits.

\\ Going solo from the band, we’re loving the harmonies and interesting lyrics that you play with. Tell us about what it was like to go solo?

It’s actually my origins. I’ve been gigging as a singer-songwriter with a voice and guitar set-up since I was 14. It’s pretty hard to adapt that to jazz though. About a year ago I started experimenting with performing with beats I produced on my laptop. I’m still trying to work out how to perform some of my songs solo without a band – I think I’m going to have to use lots of loop pedals.

\\ The album is coming out soon! We can’t wait to hear it – do you play with any concepts?

Thanks! ‘The Dream Jazz Manifesto’ is definitely a concept album. I try and tell a story through it. Basically it’s a cycle of breaking preconceptions and learned social constructs similar to Buddhist teaching or Satre’s Bad Faith, and also de-colonial and feminist analysis, but it ends with a purpose to help others through activism and community. The message is about building a better world and finding your own purpose and meaning in it. The protests around Yarl’s Wood and the UK’s detention and deportation systems have been massive inspirations to me, and I’m trying to use the album to raise awareness of those issues. 

Read our interview with rising guitarist and vocalist Nardeydey

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