Mutual Mentorship for Musicians To Launch Inaugural In-Person Festival


Jen Shyu is a co-founder of Mutual Mentorship for Musicians, which presents its inaugural in-person M³ Festival June 16–18 and 21–22 in New York.

(Photo: Daniel Reichert)

When the COVID-19 lockdown began in March 2020, musicians Jen Shyu and Sara Serpa co-founded Mutual Mentorship for Musicians (M³), an initiative recognizing that the music and performing arts worlds have been mostly shaped by male power. The resulting imbalance manifests in deeply unequal environments and presents multiple challenges for musicians from underrepresented groups to have access to meaningful mentorship or career opportunities.

In just two years, M³ has commissioned 48 women, non-binary and mostly BIPOC musicians to create 24 new duo music/video compositions across four cohort cycles, each lasting six months, all while mentoring one another with wisdom that could be imparted from those who have experienced the injustices of the music industry.

Now, this month, following three virtual festivals, M³ will stage 19 live performances and six new duo commissions at its inaugural in-person festival, co-presented with NYC Winter Jazzfest. The concerts will feature musicians including Fay Victor, Val-Inc aka Val Jeanty SoundChemist, Shanta Nurullah, Michele Rosewoman, Monnette Sudler, Malika Zarra, Sumi Tonooka, Erica Lindsay, Caroline Davis, Jen Shyu & Sara Serpa and more.

The M³ Festival will present 19 women and non-binary bandleaders. The 19 bandleaders were members of M³’s first two cohorts — Summer Solstice 2020 and Winter Solstice 2020. The festival will span five days (June 16–18 and 21–22) as performers, M³’s commissioned composers and workshop leaders provide powerful examples of women and non-binary perspectives to music lovers, students, families, children other musicians and music industry professionals.

“After two years of remote artmaking, it feels momentous to be back in-person with our talented cohort of M³ musicians performing for live audiences,” Serpa said.

Co-founder Shyu added, “Representation at music festivals is a crucial step for gender equity, not only for the performing artists, but for younger generations and all artists who rarely see themselves represented in high-profile events.”

The festival, curated by Serpa and Shyu, highlights intersections between race, sexuality or ability across generations.

“A festival with this volume of our generation’s most powerful underrepresented voices in jazz and creative music is a huge milestone for our organization and for the artists and audiences we serve,” Serpa and Shyu said in a statement. “We hope that in the future, gender balance will be the rule and not the exception in the programming decisions of all artistic directors and curators around the world.”

On closing night, June 22, M³ will present its first Gala, hosted by music critic Kyla Marshell, presenting the inaugural M³ Lifetime Achievement Award to Shanta Nurullah, who will receive a $5,000 unrestricted award in honor of their past and future work. This award fills a gap that exists in honoring elder women in the jazz and creative music scenes whose musical contributions have remained nearly invisible due to racism and misogyny.

For more detailed information on the festival, visit the M³ website. DB

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