KOKOROKO are harnessing the transformative nature of Afrobeat for a new generation
There’s no denying Afrobeat’s impact on youth culture today. The genre, originating in Ghana in the 1920s, has informed a fresh chapter in UK music. But the new generation of musicians playing the sound are less visible.
Led by London-based trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey, KOKOROKO aim to change that. The eight-piece band channel their West African influences through a soul-shaking blend of neo jazz and Afrobeat. “We wanted better representation,” Maurice-Grey tells me over the phone. “[Afrobeat] needed younger musicians playing, especially from the Afro-Caribbean diaspora.”
Emerging from the same ranks as jazz polymaths Shabaka Hutchings, Nubya Garcia and Moses Boyd, KOKOROKO are integral to London’s jazz scene. Their debut single Abusey Junction featured on Brownswood Recordings’ prolific 2018 We Out Here compilation, amassing over 20 million views on YouTube alone. Since then, they’ve sold out shows up and down the country.
As part of KOKOROKO, Maurice-Grey harnesses the transformative nature of Afrobeat and jazz. “It’s that freedom to be yourself,” explains Maurice-Grey. “That’s essentially what improvisation is – to be expressive in that moment.”
But Maurice-Grey feels the scene tends to focus on the fact she is a woman more than the music she creates. As a result, she resents being asked about her gender, though she agrees sexism in jazz is an important issue. “I feel like the first thing people should see me as is a musician rather than female,” she continues, “which frustrates me because when you see a guy playing, you’re not thinking, ‘Who is that man playing that instrument?’”
“We wanted better representation. [Afrobeat] needed younger musicians playing, especially from the Afro-Caribbean diaspora”
Questions surrounding her gender have been more prevalent after KOKOROKO released Uman earlier this year. Translating to “woman” in Krio, the national language of Sierra Leone, the song arrives as a celebration of women, black women in particular. Uman, like Abusey Junction, will appear on KOKOROKO’s forthcoming self-titled EP due in March. “It’s just a presentation to be like, ‘Hey guys, this is who we are’”: the young Afrobeat musicians the UK’s been waiting for.
Sounds like: Blissed out Afrobeat rhythms
Soundtrack for: Sun-soaked strolls in the park
File next to: Moses Boyd/Nérjia
Our favourite track: Abusey Junction
Where to find them: kokoroko.bandcamp.com
KOKOROKO EP is out now via Brownswood Recordings