Under the bright lights, fancy shiny cars, and casual criminality of the Ocean’s film franchise lies a soundtrack of carefully selected electronic jazz, funk, and soul that makes the bad guys winning feel satisfying. The blurry pans and jump cuts are paced by crashing cymbals, hit-hats, and a thick double bass that keeps you in suspense.
Music releases in the digital age serve at the mercy of the algorithms and short attention spans of the modern listener. However, the debut album of London-based eight-piece musical group, Kokoroko, performs at the mercy of ears and souls hungry to hear music that sounds like a beautiful film.
Could We Be More is Kokoroko’s debut album, and it sounds like the soundtrack for Ocean’s 13, but black. It is jam-packed with energetic jazz elements that bustle like a spirited jam session of musicians who woke up on the right side of the bed and are in sync.
While it is primarily a traditionally jazz instrumental album, the soft vocal hooks are scattered like feathers and pop up as a lovely surprise between the instrumental intensity.
Kokoroko’s debut album is a follow-up to their critically acclaimed 2019 EP, which garnered the attention of the Guardian, the BBC, and the Urban Music Awards. The all-black group, based in the predominantly white city of London, pays homage to their Yoruba roots. “Tojo” means ‘take care’, “Dide O” meaning ‘get up,’ and “Ewa Inu” meaning ‘inner beauty’, leaving a strong taste of Nigerian pride on the tongue.
Kokoroko’s commercial growth occurred at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic when many were forced to be still and face their good, bad, and ugly. “Abusey Junction” is their break-out single with 50 million views and counting on YouTube.
You have to wonder how a simple animation video of a flashing room and streetlights clustered around a red fox captured the hearts of millions worldwide. I do not think the answer is as simple as citing the subtle percussion and tribal harmony accompanied by the freestyle picking on the guitar.
The answer is that their sound and voice are ready for the global stage, and Could We Be More is the certification of their readiness to take the world by storm.
Many debut albums are rough around the edges, exposing the youth of the artist through the production, but this album is a strong debut structurally and musically.
Insecure debuts usually have shy intros, moderate mid-sections, and pretentious endings, but Could We Be More keeps getting better as you listen, hooking the listener to the exponential growth of the sonics from song to song.
The project welcomes you with a symphony of wind instruments, allowing new and old listeners to judge the album by its introduction immediately. A sharp turn to the group’s ethnic identity is taken as tribal sounds make an entrance before the soulful jazz in “Age Of Ascent”. After “Dide O”, the album takes an energic soulful turn, inaugurating the sultry voice of Sheila Maurice-Grey in “We Give Thanks” and “Those Good Times”.
The Ocean’s 13, brightly-lit casino analogy takes its fullest form in songs like “War Dance” and “Something’s Going On”. The album’s high-quality, music score-like essence makes it sound like nothing is out of place, and everything was intentional.
The slow fade out on “Outro” and “Blue Robe (Pt II)” leaves you lingering and wondering why the party ended so soon. Even so, a great film will have a memorable ending, and this album manages to have an outstanding everything. Real instruments performed in an alternative attitude is a common trend in new music, allowing even the most garden-fresh ears to appreciate the care and consciousness of the album.
The tried-and-tested metric I use to measure the quality of an album is called the replay value. It is an honour to announce that Could We Be More by Kokoroko has a very high replay value. The atmosphere the drums create connects with your deepest self, and the melodies make you feel good.
Kokoroko can be securely added to the small group of artists who released good music in 2022. The streams and the views matter to some extent, yet the album’s originality encourages you to focus on what matters to you most.
Listen to Kokoroko’s Could We Be More album below and enjoy the full shopping experience here.
Words by Nonjabulo Malinga