“A vital example of not only jazz’s new form but the shape of things to come for British music.” – The Guardian
Kokoroko are determined to keep pace. After the success of their early EP in 2019, their debut full-length Could We Be More was long-awaited. Following its release in 2022 and a subsequent European tour, this London outfit is already back in the studio to resume writing and composing music for their next phase.
Fronted by a female horn section, Kokoroko has gone on to expand far beyond just paying tribute to those who came before. With Sheila Maurice-Grey on Trumpet, Anoushka Nanguy on Trombone for live shows, Ayo Salawu on drums, Onome Edgeworth on percussion, Duane Atherley on bass, Tobi Adenaike-Johnson on guitar, and Yohan Kebede on keys and synths to complete the vibrant ensemble, their debut album saw them find the sweet spot. They seamlessly blend a melting pot of influences and experiences to usher in a new future, while drawing from the past and present. Whether that’s through the dreamlike synths that weave around the urgent percussion, distorted electric guitar solos, or a horn section so melodic and expressive that it makes you forget to miss lyrics. There’s a dynamic, bustling trademark London energy to the arrangements at times, alongside a sense of space and weightlessness that resists location and categorization altogether.
“One thing that we spoke about before writing the album was the intentionality of it, what we wanted it to be. So much of what we’d written before was music trying to be like Afrobeat or highlife or to directly imitate it,” Sheila notes. “So the main thing we said was let’s be ourselves. We want to make something that sounds like us. And with most of us being from London or just outside London, of Caribbean, West African, East African descent, I think inevitably those cultures are gonna come into it.” Onome agrees, “[In London] you just grow up with every influence in the world and so from when we let go of trying to be anything as a band, trying to be an African band or trying to be a jazz band or any of that, you just open the door to everything naturally, all of that experience.”
Performing live is another way that the group’s London heritage has shaped their practice too, in terms of sparking feedback and participation from the audiences they play to. “When you do things right in London, you get energy from the crowd. When you do it wrong, you get nothing,” Onome laughs. And that organic, improvisational element is present even in how Kokoroko builds and paces their recorded music too, taking their audiences on a journey of patience and release. In June, they’ll bring that spirit and more to one of Europe’s biggest arts institutions, Southbank Centre, as part of Christine and the Queens’ Meltdown festival. Fresh off the back of an Australian tour and live dates in Canada, it’s a highlight amongst a jam-packed schedule of European summer festivals, including Brussels, Madrid, Rotterdam and Copenhagen.
Beyond the summer, when it comes to their philosophy for the future, as of now it’s very simple: “come as you are and share joy”. In channeling the open-ended joy that fuels their collaboration, what comes next for the collective will bring light and offer up a soundtrack for life’s most precious moments. “I think the last one was a long journey of trying to work ourselves out and find where we land. And with this one, we really just want to enjoy the next few years. So what’s the best way to create that experience, to have fun, to enjoy and enrich our own lives?” Onome says. “And doing that by not trying to be like everyone else, but being ourselves,” Sheila adds, “and making our own legacy.”