JazzAhead, Bremen

Chico Chica, that is, Hilary Cameron, Barbara Snow and me, felt we’d reached a time when we should look further afield for our work, and since we sing in a variety of languages, this seems a natural step. But we are more than a trio; we are a business partnership, so I had to convince Hilary and Barbara that a trip abroad would be worthwhile and I promised I’d keep the costs to an absolute minimum.

So, for the first time in my life, and with the advice and encouragement of Jazz Services, I found myself at a music trade fair – JazzAhead in Bremen, Germany. I had a vague notion I would look for a booking agent in each territory, but there were over two hundred of them so I had to filter some out. I remember reading somewhere that to be successful in business you need to recognise patterns and at JazzAhead I spotted a couple: 1) Scandinavian musicians nearly all have bushy beards, 2) The further south you go, the less edgy the music becomes; there’s more singing; more world influences; musicians smile in the photographs and there are more women. So I decided to give the beardies a miss and focus on France, Spain, Italy and Turkey.

But even that doesn’t quite work. I wrote up a list of people to speak to but everybody was wandering around like me so in the end I just spoke to whoever was standing next to me and this is what seems to work best. Work expands to fill the time available for it, so agents will always be too busy to take on new artists but I never let that discourage me

Although I had CDs of the album Mélangerie to give away, the Chico Chica show is a different entity and I took pains to describe the elements which make the band stand out: songs in English, French, Spanish and Arabic; three part harmonies; musicians taking it in turns to sing the lead vocal and performance poetry. The French were particularly interested in the latter – they even have a name for it: Le Slam Jazz.

But after a while I grew tired of selling myself. If I were selling paper clips, I could create a distance between the product and me, but my band is the product. By 5pm, many of the stands provide drinks and nibbles. After a few glasses, my practised spiel became less coherent and I started to ask myself: Is this now a social occasion? If so, I could become one of those bores we try to avoid at parties; those people who bang on about themselves and their careers. I become conscious of how vanity is the prime motive of nearly all human activity and that we mustn’t be too vain to admit it. So before setting out, it’s important to pack a fair amount of self-awareness.

The showcase programme became a welcome distraction away from business. For one thing, it meant I could sit down. But I’m no good at describing music – I end up using words like wonderful and spellbinding. It was great meeting other British musicians there – Zoe Rahman, Idis Rahman, Jim Hart, Georgia Mancio and Robert Mitchell. I gave away all the CDs that Ryanair allowed me to bring and brought back a huge pile of business cards which I need to find the time to follow up. It’s hard to gauge the effect the event will have on Chico Chica’s work but I feel I have made a good start to relationships which will last many years.


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