Afrobeat band Kokoroko released their self-titled debut EP on March 8. The London-based group is a collective of eight musicians inspired by Afrobeat artists such as Fela Kuti, Tony Allen, and Ebo Taylor. The album features sounds fused from West Africa and inner London with soulful jazzy vibes. Horns and guitars go off on passionate tangents only for other instruments to caress you afterwards with warm, smooth Afrobeat rhythms created with the use of traditional African instruments such as a shekere (a West African percussion instrument made of a dried gourd covered in beads). What comes of the combination is a beautiful, lively, and complex collection of sounds.
Kokoroko includes four tracks, one of which, “Abusey Junction,” was featured in a compilation album from Brownswood Recordings, We Out Here. The 2018 album featured artists from London’s young jazz-influenced scene, a growing and tight-knit community.
Kokoroko opens with “Adwa,” a track that is going somewhere, and feeling good about it. Each instrument takes its turn to shine through in an upbeat and playful, but relaxed way. Bursts of horn cry through and make you want to dance while fast snappy drums are complemented by crashes of symbols. Halfway through, brief but expressive guitar licks add a layer to the music.
“Ti De” gives off chill vibes and good feelings while lazy horns sway between notes and a soft bass adds comforting undertones. With subtle vocals that soothe the soul, this song is laying on the beach with no cares or worries.
The third track, “Uman,” opens with a trio of horns. Trumpet, trombone, and saxophone combine here to create a soulful, sorrowful lead into a heavy medley of bassey drum beats and the snap of beads from the skerere. It features a quick, foot-tapping rhythm with funky, muted notes jumping out of a clean guitar. This track invokes the wild but meticulous rhythm of a busy city.
“Abusey Junction” is the last track and the pinnacle of the album. This track takes its time; it’s got nowhere to be. Long, low notes from the horns complimented by dabbles from the guitar induce chill vibes and will leave you swaying and snapping while also stimulating your mind, adding a dash of thoughtfulness. The pop of conga drums and heavy bass roots immerse your senses. This is the most accessible and modern-sounding track on the record and could appeal to a wide variety of listeners.
The album features cultural roots with a modern take, like most jazz, and the music reflects its particular space in time. Everything about Kokoroko is subtly powerful, intentional, and reflective of its environment and the musicians behind its sound. Each track is heavy with its own feeling and each instrument has its own strong personality, each taking their turns saying their piece. It really is a collective, as each sound plays off the others and adds to the whole. Horns and clean guitar are featured with minimal vocals, while the Afrobeat percussion keeps your foot tapping. Each track is smooth and careful. If you’re looking for an album to carry you calmly into the nice weather, this just might be it.