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Mutual Mentorship for Musicians holds its first in-person festival

Sara Serpa's new album, 'Intimate Strangers,' is a collaboration with Nigerian writer Emmanuel Iduma.
Ebru Yildiz
Sara Serpa is one of the founders of Mutual Mentorship for Musicians, which presents its first in-person festival this week.

Jen Shyu and Sara Serpa have a number of things in common. Each is a gifted vocalist of fearless musical instinct; a resourceful composer drawing from an array of traditions and modes; and a conceptualist with a strong sense of engagement with social justice.

They're also both advocates for women's equity and visibility in the field of improvised music, a cause that formally brought them together several years ago, with the formation of an organization called We Have Voice. More recently, over the course of pandemic lockdown, they came to the realization that mentorship among women and non-binary artists should be a particular area of focus.

"I didn’t have any women mentors, at all," reflects Serpa. "So I think we started realizing: what did we miss and lack during our education, and what are we still missing? You know, even though now we are kind of established, mid-career musicians, what are we missing in our careers?"

Those questions led to the formation of Mutual Mentorship for Musicians (M³), whose stated mission is "to empower, elevate, normalize and give visibility to women, non-binary musicians and those of other historically underrepresented gender identities in intersection with race, sexuality, or ability across generations in the US and worldwide, through a radical model of mentorship and musical collaborative commissions."

Jen Shyu performing here piece 'Zero Grasses: Ritual for the Losses' at Roulette in April 2021
Wolf Daniel
Roulette Intermedium
Jen Shyu performing here piece 'Zero Grasses: Ritual for the Losses' at Roulette in April 2021

Over the last two years, M³ has commissioned 48 women and non-binary musicians to create 24 collaborative compositions across four cohort cycles, each lasting six months. There have been three online M³ Festivals, premiering 18 music/video commissions, and two anthologies of writing under the title The Art of Being True, edited by Jordannah Elizabeth (Vol. 1) and Naomi Extra (Vol. 2).

Now the first in-person M³ Festival is set to take place at the Greenwich House Music School, Thursday through Sunday night. It will feature 19 live performances, including six new duo commissions. Along with Shyu and Serpa, participating artists include pianists Michele Rosewoman and Sumi Tonooka, vocalists Fay Victor, Malika Zarra and Miriam Elhajli, and saxophonist Caroline Davis.

"I think it's really profound, the fact that there are 19 groups all led by women and non-binary artists," says Shyu. "We just hope that this can go to many festivals, many places around the world. Our network is growing very quickly, and the interest in being involved in such a thing is also growing. And we hope that a lot more models of mentorship come to fruition, inspired by M³."

In addition, an M³ Gala on June 22, hosted by music writer Kyla Marshell, will present the inaugural M³ Lifetime Achievement Award to Shanta Nurullah. See the festival schedule below; to learn more, visit Mutual Mentorship for Musicians online.

All events at Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow Street, NYC

Proof of Covid-19 vaccination and ID are required to enter the venue for all events; masks are highly recommended when indoors.

M³ Festival Schedule (EDT time zone):

Thursday, June 16, 2022

6:00pm: Camila Nebbia’s La permanencia de los ecos - Hamburg/Argentina

7:15pm: Malika Zarra Quintet - Paris, France

8:30pm: Michele Rosewoman's Textured Trio - NYC

9:45pm: Maya Keren’s Careful In the Sun - NYC

11:00pm: Lesley Mok's The Living Collection - NYC

Friday, June 17, 2022

6:00pm: Jen Shyu's Zero Grasses: Ritual for the Losses (excerpts) - NYC

7:15pm: Miriam Elhajli - Brooklyn, NY

8:30pm: Monnette Sudler - Philadelphia, PA (Noriko Kamo, piano / Byron Landham, drums / Nasir Dickerson, saxophones / Richard Hill, bass.)

9:45pm: Caroline Davis' Portals - Brooklyn, NY

11:00pm: Romarna Campbell Showcase - London, UK

Saturday, June 18, 2022

7:15pm: aden - NYC

8:30pm: Fay Victor's SoundNoiseFUNK - NYC

9:45pm: Improvisational Friendship Ensemble (Maya Keren, Isabel Crespo Pardo, Lesley Mok, Eden Girma) - NYC

11:00pm: Cleo Reed - NYC

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

6:00pm: Shanta Nurullah's Sitarsys - Chicago

7:15pm: Sumi Tonooka - Philadelphia, PA

8:30pm: Sara Serpa - NYC/Lisbon

9:45pm: Alchemy Sound Project: Erica Lindsay’s Meditation on Transformation - Rosendale, NY

11:00pm: Rémèd: Val-Inc aka Val Jeanty SoundChemist - Haiti/Boston

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

6:00pm - 9:00pm: World Premiere Screenings of Cohort 4 duo commissions & Closing Night Gala hosted by Kyla Marshell, in-person and livestreamed - BUY TICKETS FOR GALA HERE ($25 - $27)

• Honoring Shanta Nurullah with M³’s Lifetime Achievement Award

• World Premiere Screenings of Winter Solstice 2021 Cohort Duos:

Jessica Ackerley + Cansu Tanrikulu

Goussy Célestin + Francesca Remigi

Leonor Falcon + Paula Shocron

Ruth Naomi Floyd + Wenjun Wu

Devon Gates + Naomi Moon Siegel

Gabi Motuba + Ni Nyoman Srayamurtikanti

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.
Doug Doyle has been News Director at WBGO since 1998 and has taken his department to new heights in coverage and recognition. Doug and his staff have received more than 250 awards from organizations like PRNDI (now PMJA), AP, New York Association of Black Journalists, Garden State Association of Black Journalists and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.