London based soul and afrobeat-tinted jazz collective KOKOROKO are among many who have had their 2020 plans disrupted by the current lockdown. It is unfortunate that their tour has been disrupted due to COVID-19, but it is encouraging to know they are remaining positive. “We are focusing on trying to find more ways to make music. We are brainstorming at the moment”.
The band consists of eight members, a combination of drums, guitar, trumpet, keys, bass, saxophone, vocals and more. “The benefit of having so many talents within the band means there are so many influences coming together to create music. Most of the members went to jazz school, so we were able to get a lot of jazz influences”, they reveal.
Most people within the band either went to or were a part of the music hub ‘Tomorrow’s Warriors’. Their journey together began with Sheila & Onome in Kenya, frustrated with the state of the afrobeat scene in London.
They turned their frustrations into a vision which brought to life, the band KOKOROKO, which means “be strong” in the Nigerian language Urhobo. “We were looking for names and ‘be strong’ is what stuck with us”.
The band is predominantly West African and Caribbean but also have members from Ethiopia and Uganda. With Fela Kuti as one of their many inspirations, KOKOROKO’s music is driven by the great sounds that come out of West Africa.
Unpacking their sound and how it will evolve, the band admit that, “we started out playing afrobeat and highlife and that was the core influence and inspiration for the band. That’s always going to be one of the strands in there but it’s not always going to be a controlling influence”.
Unsurprisingly, KOKOROKO are very popular overseas with their most engaging audience being from South America, with the band revealing that, “according to Spotify numbers, we get the most listeners from France but we get the most feedback from Brazil and the rest of South America”.
Creating such a buzz internationally, it is exciting to hear who the band would like to collaborate with in future. “Mr Eazi because he has shown some interest in our work so it would be nice to do something with him but there are many people we would like to work with. We are happy and open to work new vocalists”.
People will tell you eight heads are better than one, but creating music with such a big group can be challenging, as they tell us. “With the type of music we play, trust is a big part of it“, and it goes without saying that you need to be a team player. Things are not always going to be smooth sailing when working together.
They expand further, “It’s the right amount of clashing and fitting together. When we are on stage there are always moments where we are like ‘this is chaos’. We are then able to find a solution and it all comes together at the right moment.
You’ve got to be comfortable working with people who you vibe with and you don’t mind making mistakes with. That’s what we have learnt and it helps us push our boundaries. Continue to play with people and the right people will grow with you”.
KOKOROKO’s latest release “Carry Me Home” emits positive energy and cheerful vibes, and about the inspiration behind the track, the band share that the single “was heavily influenced by Dele Sosimi“.
Staying with how the song came about, they add that, “there was one time where we met up with him and he was telling us about afrobeat music and the certain ways it should be played. We went away and came up with an idea based on that conversation. It’s funny because we spoke about afrobeat but we went away and did not make an afrobeat song”.
Words by Claudia Namu