Kokoroko’s brass-heavy blend of Blue Note Seventies soul and West African groove surfaced when their song “Abusey Junction” exploded online. The song went viral after the Brownswood ‘UK jazz renaissance’ compilation We here came out in 2018. Four years later, the band are an internationally established live band whose 60 million Spotify streams come from three singles and an EP – in total just seven tracks.
No wonder then that their first album, Could we be more, comes with great expectations. And, for the most part, the London eight-room delivers on its promises. All-female horns solo well and add spicy vocals. Swirling synth textures and punchy rhythmic blending make up for the lack of harmonic movement below.
The album opens with an ascending sweep of harmonized horns backed by a watery synth and an insistent reminder of rhythm guitar. The production is clearly reminiscent of the Mizell brothers, but as “Tojo” progresses, heavy bass guitar and well-suited Afrobeat riffs signal other factors at play. The African influence is strong: traditional on the brief interlude “Blue Robe (pt i),” Tobi Adenaike-Johnson delivers undulating highlife guitar on “Dide O,” and soca surfaces alongside contemporaries throughout the album.
But it’s not a random collection of disparate shapes. Kokoroko brings together the different musical currents with which the members of the group grew up and mixes them in a contemporary form. Harmonious synth and horn whispers add the Afrobeat edge and punchy horns deliver highlife bite. Jazzy solos by Sheila Maurice-Grey, Cassie Kinoshi and Richie Seivwright on trumpet, sax and trombone make the most of their rhythmic backing.
Sometimes an instrumental track requires more than solid solos to make it catchy or a lead vocal is unsure. But at their best, Kokoroko delivers an inspiring and original take on London’s melting pot of musical influences. ‘Soul Searching’ with highlife roots has a twist in its story, trippy vocal harmonies refresh ‘Those Good Times’ and ‘War Dance’ is an explosion of afrobeat mixed with funk.
‘Could we be more‘ is published by Brownswood