Jazz pianist, composer and long-standing MDX Senior Lecturer in Jazz Nikki Iles has received two top accolades in a matter of weeks.
In the New Year’s Honours List, Nikki was awarded a BEM (British Empire Medal) – a gong which particularly recognises hands-on community work.
And at a ceremony at the British Museum before Christmas, Nikki was named winner of a hugely prestigious Ivor Novello Jazz Composition Award for The Caged Bird, beating four other nominees. The Ivors Academy judges hailed it as a “beautifully crafted, balanced and realised” piece.
“I was absolutely delighted and honoured to win the Ivor Award and the BEM” said Nikki, who also teaches at The Royal Academy of Music, The Guildhall School of Music and Bedford School. “I was notified [about the BEM] just before Christmas with a letter from the Palace, and to be honest, was initially very surprised and even phoned them up to check they had the right person!”
“The Ivor Award was for a piece commissioned by the Jazz Society of Arrangers and Composers in May 2020, after all of my performing work was cancelled due to Covid which was pretty devastating.
“The opening is a lament to the loss of flight, the birds depicted by the woodwinds, their wings by the brushes of the drums. The piece grows to a feeling of elation and hope, with the birds flying free in the last section.
“This piece gently drew me back into the music and has opened up a new phase working with the fantastic radio jazz orchestras in Europe as one of the very few female writers and directors in this field”.
Nikki has taught in MDX’s Jazz Department alongside saxophonist Rob Townsend and trumpeter Chris Batchelor for the past 24 years. “The department has always offered a uniquely different experience from other colleges, producing ground-breaking and resourceful alumni who continue to push the boundaries of the music, even through lockdown,” Nikki says. “In these difficult times, self-reflective and exploratory practice can be our saviour and certainly has been for me!”
⬤ Elsewhere in the Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries, two final year BA Fine Art students, Madina Aw Tall and Jane Scobie, have won fellowships to spend a month at the 2022 Venice Biennale, based at the British Pavilion. They are among around 70 successful candidates selected by the British Council, after being put forward by MDX. They gain a month’s exhibition work experience at the Pavilion, and will also work on a personal project in response to a theme set by the British Council.
Senior Lecturer in Visual Culture – Fine Art, Alexandra Kokoli says it is “particularly poignant” that Madina and Jane will get to work with the UK's representative at the 2022 Biennale, pioneering painter and multimedia artist and former MDX academic Sonia Boyce. Sonia has left a “significant legacy at MDX, not least through the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project Black Artists and Modernism, in which MDX was a partner,” Alexandra says.
“Being part of one of the biggest art events in the world is mind-blowing” says Madina. Her recent work has involved engaging with people from ‘invisible’ communities in society, to elevate their voices and bring change. In Venice she proposes to run mixed-media workshops to help young people express ideas about themselves and their self-perception through portraiture similar to those she has developed in London. She hopes to connect marginalised young Venetians with groups in the UK, Spain and Senegal.
Mature student, Clore Fellow and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts Jane Scobie is extending a project she started with MDX students to create individual care maps, transferred onto second-hand ceramics to be used as sharing plates. The work reflects on how we care for one another and “our relationship with nature, how it nurtures us and can be nurtured… hopes and fears on environmental and climate justice issues”.
Madina is excited at the “most wonderful learning opportunity” of working alongside Sonia, and sees her as a role model as both are working in a collaborative and participatory vein with an interest in race, class and gender.
Jane says “The Milk of Dreams [the title of the Biennale] and Sonia Boyce’s work both resonate with me. The curatorial vision is optimistic and imagines other forms of coexistence and transformation. Collaborations which create, deepen and expose our interconnectivity to nature are core to my practice”.
⬤ Last October, 2021 LLB graduate Daniel Tella won the inaugural vLEX Dictum legal research competition, designed to enable students to fine-tune their skills via using machine learning tools for analysing legal documents.
Daniel’s “lively and thought-provoking presentation” in the second round of the competition “successfully demonstrated his understanding of the set question as he used vLex to thoroughly research each element of a criminal case and identify key issues within it,” said the judges.
One of more than 250 students entering, nine of whom who reached the final, Daniel won £500 in cash and an internship with legal information and technology provider vLEX later this year.