TFword Review: Kokoroko’s Debut Album

The prodigious London-based octet has released their long-awaited debut album ‘Could We Be More’ on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings.

It was in 2018 when the globally celebrated record label Brownswood Recordings released their ‘We Out Here’ compilation to give the world a slice of London’s rich and bubbling jazz scene. The compilation’s last record was from a new act that was using bongos with contemporary jazz, R&B, that takes its roots from West African highlife, and Afrobeat.

A year later, ‘Abusey Junction’ was included in the act’s debut EP on the album, which racked up over 70 million streams; and that marked the start of Kokoroko’s ascension. Taking influences from Fela Kuti, Ebo Taylor, Tony Allen and adding their signature psychedelic grooves with Afrobeat and highlife at the heart of their productions, Kokoroko are reinvigorating and pioneering their Jazz music in their own way.

The band’s name is an Urhobo – a Nigerian tribe and language – word meaning ‘be strong’. The 8-piece band comprises of trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey, saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi, trombonist Richie Seivright, percussionist Onome Edgeworth, keyboardist Yohan Kebede, guitarist Tobi Adenaike-Johnson, bassist Duane Atherley, and drummer Ayo Salawu.

Drawing as much from nightlife, the musical influences of West African Pentecostal churches, jazz and Western classical, a large part of their music released on Brownswood Recordings. Continuing their journey on the label, Kokoroko have now released their debut studio album called ‘We Could Be More’.

Bringing their deep respect for culture and fusing it with  jazz, Afrobeat, soul, and funk, the band has created a 14-track magnum opus that will go down as one of the most influential albums in the modern jazz space. The album opens with a high-syncopated dash of soul and funk on ‘Tojo’; followed by ‘Ewà Inú’ which means ‘inner beauty’ in Yoruba, kickstarts the album’s happy and euphoric narrative with its horns and crisp drums.

‘Age of Ascent’ brings out the album’s tantalizing and passionate style with the band’s use of their trademark ska elements. Then comes the brassy and moody number ‘Dide O’ which means ‘arise’ in Yoruba. Then comes a surreal blend of London and Afro jazz on ‘Soul Searching’, whose energy is complimented immaculately by the Afro-Cuban horns laden ‘We Give Thanks’; before giving the album a breather with its spaced out electronics and vocals on ‘Those Good Times’.

The band’s famed hypnotic grooves kick in on ‘War Dance’ where the album signals its closure with the enchanted and spaced out rhythms. ‘Something’s Going On’ closes the album with Kokoroko giving us their take on 21st century Afro-funk and jazz.

A mix of culture, influences, and technique, Kokoroko has put together a contemporary and timeless album that will have far-reaching effects in jazz music.

Listen to the album here:

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