Neu Kokoroko: “We don’t do two shows in a row that are the same”
Having proven their live chops time and time again, the London octet are finally translating their West African funk fusion onto record with debut ‘Could We Be More’.
Kokoroko could have been in danger of becoming victims of their own vibes. As anyone who has caught one of their incendiary live shows can attest, the London eight-piece channel astonishingly giddy levels of manic energy on stage, their blend of West African rhythms and classic funk/ soul passion having resonated with audiences since they first started playing together in 2014. So successful is their live incarnation, that it was starting to become a daunting prospect to translate it into a studio environment.
They’ve attempted it in the past but, as percussionist and group co-founder Onome Edgeworth explains, the transition was not as seamless as they would have hoped. “It sounded flat, all of our mistakes sounded horrible, it was all exposed,” he begins. “So finding Miles [James, the producer known for his work with Little Simz and Foals], who was able to say, ‘OK, this is how we translate that energy, that feeling, to a record - to something that people can move around to outside of the live setting’, that was amazing.”
The band decamped to Eastbourne with James in late 2020, and the resulting album ‘Could We Be More’ bursts out of the speakers with an irrepressible zeal, pulsing with the spirit of Pat Thomas and Ebo Taylor. It maintains all of the enthusiasm of their live shows, but with a rounded, confident finish that few groups can boast on their debut.
“I think we let go of trying to recreate that energy and we started viewing the studio completely differently,” says Onome. “We listened to a lot of records and the way things were recorded in the 1970s in Africa. We listened to a lot of Zamrock and old highlife records and loads of Earth, Wind & Fire and Funkadelic. What made those records sparkle? What can we take from those?”
“Influences are being plucked from everywhere on every single song. It’s a strength, if you get it right.”
— Onome Edgeworth
Guitars pop and strut; trumpets, trombone and saxophone parp and jostle for the centre of attention, while drums and bass conduct the traffic. The eight band members each breathe their own life into the tracks, drawing from disparate musical traditions and genres. “Kokoroko is a vehicle for our tastes and our ideas,” says Onome. “We’ve got the shared references of Afrobeat, highlife and soul music, so it’s about how we each interpret it. Influences are being plucked from everywhere on every single song. It’s a strength, really, if you get it right. And it’s a mess when it goes wrong, but those songs will never come out!”
Onome also credits the unwavering support of legendary DJ, broadcaster, and Brownswood Recordings label boss Gilles Peterson as pivotal to the album’s success. “Having his voice and his feedback, I respect how honest he’s been with us,” he says. “When he feels like we’ve got something, or when he feels like there’s not something there, having someone who has that knowledge has been super valuable to us.”
The nature of Kokoroko’s instrumentation has led to them being peripherally associated with the booming London jazz scene, and although the band would be quick to point out that what they do is decidedly not jazz, they have definitely benefited from the scene’s generously collaborative spirit. “In terms of a community and knowing all of those people for the last six or seven years, we are very much part of it,” Onome nods. “You go to a festival halfway around the world and someone you know very well is playing on your stage on the same day. It’s a good feeling, it’s nice.”
Sharing a stage with Kokoroko, however, is no joke. Their 2022 live shows have taken on yet another dimension, with the band incorporating covers of select tracks from the past that they feel worthy of their respect. “A big part of our story is paying homage, finding ways to tell stories,” says Onome. “To say, you know what, this song that came out in 1970-whatever really connects with our song here, so let’s play them both together. That keeps it fun and fresh for us as well, and keeps it challenging. We don’t do two shows in a row that are the same, ever.”
Having now proven that they’re as deadly on record as they are live, Kokoroko’s minds are already turning to making another album, but this time their ambitions know no bounds. “We learned so much about the power of the studio, we just want to do it all again. We can do ten times more next time,” says Onome. “I want to record in West Africa in a totally different climate.”
‘Could We Be More’ is out now.
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