Kokoroko is a young London-based collective of musicians strongly influenced by Ebo Taylor’s Ghanaian Highlife music style, by Tony Allen or Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat while also incorporating contemporary West African and European jazz sounds.
While some of the band members met at London’s Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, the collective emerged in 2014 out of the vibrant London live scene and has been lighting up stages at countless venues and festivals ever since. Released on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings on 8 March 2019 last, Kokoroko is the group’s long awaited self-titled début EP.
Meaning “be strong” in Urhobo – one of the many ethnic groups and languages spoken in Nigeria – Kokoroko is comprised of eight members, seven of which hail from the wider African diaspora. Led by trumpet player and visual artist Sheila Maurice-Grey, the instrumental band is fronted by an all-female horn and vocal section (Cassie Kinoshi on saxophone and Richie Seivwright on trombone). Oscar Jerome (guitar), Yohan Kebede (keys), Mutale Chashi (bass), Ayo Salawu (drums) and Onome Edgeworth (percussion) complete the line-up.
Kokoroko Afrobeat Collective covering Fela Kuti’s “Colonial Mentality” in 2016
Testament to the ebullient dynamism of the London scene, composer and alto saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi is also the leader of the emerging ten-piece Seed Ensemble alongside Sheila Maurice-Grey while both musicians are also part of the Nérija collective.
Back in February 2018, in an effort to showcase the diversity and vibrancy of the London jazz and roots live scene, Brownswood Recordings released the remarkable We Out Here compilation featuring established names like saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings (who worked as a musical director) alongside new emerging acts. The closing track on the record featured Kokoroko’s Abusey Junction, a superbly lyrical and meditative theme. To date, the song has clocked an impressive 32M views on YouTube, a rare feat for an independent jazz release.
The track was penned by guitarist Oscar Jerome while touring in Gambia. Quoting George Benson as a major influence and steeped in the South London jazz scene, Jerome is already a distinguished vocalist and guitarist with his own solo career.
“This is not idle music!” notes Sheila Maurice-Grey. Motivated by the desire to preserve the spirit of the Highlife and Afrobeat vibes on the London scene, the musician also hints at the underlying social commentary in the band’s music. The collective’s unbridled energy and infectious grooves reflect both the struggles of second or third generation immigrant communities born in England and the wider contemporary identity crisis brought about by Brexit.
Anchored by an impeccable rhythm section, trumpet, saxophone, trombone and guitar trade solos on every track. “Adwa” draws on the syncopated rhythms of Ethio-Jazz while “Ti-De” borrows from old West African folk melodies.
A marvellous début at the intersection of Jazz, Afrobeat and Afro-Caribbean dance music.