Written by Sophie Wyatt
Last week saw the start of the 28th edition of the UK’s longest-running artist-curated music festival, Meltdown Festival – this year curated by Christine & The Queens’. Kicking off the 10-day festival in the Royal Festival Hall on last Friday was art rock group Django Django. Followed by African Baddie Yemi Alade the next night. With many other artists on the lineup throughout the next few days including Bat For Lashes and Riff Cohen, this year’s lineup has been one to remember already. And tomorrow see’s winning Jazz powerhouse KOKOROKO.
The legendary 8 piece band KOKOROKO will arrive in the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday 14 June bringing their eclectic blend of jazz and Afrobeats to the stage. After creating a huge cult following back in 2018 with their record ‘Abusey Junction’ that garnered 23 million views on YouTube, they have gone on to shake up the London music scene; pushing the boundaries with their extraordinary ability to weave together bluesy rhythms of the past with brassy, futuristic electronics. Lacing together influences from jazz, Afrobeat and highlife, this eight-piece band have come to represent all that is blissfully sweet about London’s music scene.
After reaching critical acclaim for ‘Best Group’ at the 2020 Urban Music Awards 2020 and the 2021 Parliamentary Jazz Awards in 2021, KOKOROKO went on to release their debut album ‘Could We Be More’- a celebration of West African and Black British music. In just 4 years they have performed on some of the biggest stages across the globe from Glastonbury and Meltdown Festival to SIM São Paulo BBC6 Music Festival.
We caught up with Sheila and Onome from the group to discuss how the band are redefining the jazz genre, why it is important for them to shine a light on the rich depth found in West African Seventies soul/jazz music as well as give an insight on their exciting new ventures/projects ahead.
Shelia explained that herself and Onome were in Kenya doing charity work and got on to the topic of Afrobeats in London. And after agreeing that there needed to be more young black people playing Afrobeat music in the city, KOKOROKO was born. Currently a 7 piece collective, the pair explained that the groups numbers are constantly fluctuating. “It’s been fragmented,” Onome started. “The first lineup didn’t stick. People have moved around from the beginning, since the beginning we’ve had about 32 drummers,” he laughed. “It’s always been very natural when it expands or gets smaller at different times.”
While the group is currently growing and shrinking, while simultaneously learning more about their sound, Sheila explained that the group will always “want to bring joy and good energy to people’s lives – pure sweetness, love happiness.” She went on to explain; “sometimes I feel like we have such a clear sound, but it is such a constantly developing thing. The core of it is Afrobeat and Highlife, but we essentially wanted to write music that represents us. Not necessarily just our heritage but who we are and what we love. We’re currently writing our new album and it sounds so different already to the one we previously released.”
And with such a large group of individual creatives to work alongside, the pair explained “we’re trying to find a way to employ 7 different people’s tastes, so it is a constant exploration.” But how even though there are a lot of different ideas and opinions, when they’re in the studio “there’s definitely a unity.”
With a final comment of “a big thank you to Christine & The Queens‘”, we left the pair to their sunny afternoon and look forward to seeing them alongside their fellow musicians on stage for Meltdown Festival tomorrow evening – book your tickets HERE.