Kojo Funds: King of Afroswing
Afrobeats is now well and truly alive in the UK.
It’s almost crept up on us, but thanks in part to the path carved out by international artists such as Wizkid and Dbanj, and local stars such as Fuse ODG, the Afrobeats scene is now a popular and profitable branch of music. One of the biggest music stars in the world, Drake, couldn’t resist the urge to hop on a track with Wizkid. The rise in Afrobeats has coincided with a surge in confidence amongst the African British diaspora; no more are we looking to assimilate to the ways and cultures of other groups of people – particularly the Caribbean influence that has dominated the country from day dot. Now, we have fully realised that we have the sauce.
Kojo Funds stands out as a pioneer of the UK scene. But the confident 22-year-old from East London isn’t easily labelled as just an Afrobeats artist. Instead, his ability to shine on everything from Afrobeats to road rap, via pop and RnB, is uncanny, making him stick out as a true chameleon in the game. He walks around London’s Peanut Factory studio with self-assurance but with an air of nonchalance – like he’s there but, at the same time, not – and his physical demeanour resembles his chameleonic status in the game. Such a unique sound merits its own label: AfroSwing.
“It’s a mix of different genres,” he tells me with purpose, in a baritone drawl, twiddling his fingers with as much ease as crafting his sound. “Dancehall, Afrobeats, you get a new jack swing vibe and RnB vibe mixed in as well. That’s the ‘swing’ part of it, and there’s no one else in the scene doing it except me. I’m not trying to be defined as an Afrobeats artist.”
Afroswing can be extracted from Kojo’s musical leanings. His breakout single, 2016’s Dun Talkin, has all the rhythms of conventional Afrobeats, but with drum sequences that can be found in dancehall. Such a diverse sound has transcended into recognition in the popular sphere, aided by collaborations with Wretch 32, Mabel, Chip and Liv Dawson, and over 10 million views of his songs on YouTube.
This overnight success is a far cry from three years ago, when Kojo was merely contemplating the idea of music. “Me and my boys were just freestyling one day and then one of them put it out there that I can do one or two bars and I’ve got flow,” he remembers. “But he said I should try it on a beat, so I did and that’s when I made my first tune, Want From Me. I continued to make music, but I wasn’t taking it seriously – I wasn’t in the studio everyday or anything – but after Dun Talkin, I decided I could really pursue music.”
“[Dun Talkin] was meant for the streets but in a wavy way,” he continues. “Man was just talking about what was going on in my life, but I can’t lie, I didn’t expect the reception it got.” Since then, Kojo’s run has been nothing short of infectious. After his breakout hit, he kept it consistent with My Wish, My 9ine, and his star assists on Yxng Bane’s Fine Wine as well as Mabel’s single Finder Keepers. Finding that balance between appealing to the mandem and mainstream can be difficult but, in such a short career, Kojo has mastered the form. “I think it’s a natural thing,” he reflects. “I like wavy music, so I try to put that all in one, and it comes off naturally.” The waviest thing about Kojo Funds’ music, you could argue, is how relatable it is. Beneath the vibrant sounds are down-to-earth lyrics preaching personal growth in the trials and tribulations of a young black African British boy in the ends. As he sings in Warning: “The feds want my people/ And they say Kojo Funds is evil”.
Now becoming a household name, the sky is limitless for Kojo Funds, who sees nothing but his vision to win accolades, awards and the respect of fans beyond the confines of Afrobeats. “I’m not really paying attention to anyone else, I just know to stay in my lane,” he insists. “Not to be big headed, but I’m not making the same music as other people. So for me to focus on myself, that would benefit me.”