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Kokoroko updates Afrobeat on their debut album

Kokoroko celebrate Afrobeat and more on their new album
Vicky Grout
48 Hills
Kokoroko celebrate Afrobeat and more on their new album.

The London-based octet Kokoroko formed in 2014 and released their debut album this year. The resulting music on Could We Be More reflects the time taken to get the sound right. The album's combination of soothing sounds and rhythmic propulsion honor African roots with the innovation of a new generation.

The band emerged with the standout "Abusey Junction" on the landmark 2018 compilation We Out Here from England's Brownswood Recordings. Could We Be More builds on the relaxed vibe of that song adding a diverse array of tempos and shades of Afrobeat.

Kokoroko owes much to the music's West African originators like Fela Kuti and Tony Allen who found eager musical collaborators in the jazz and pop scenes of 1960s London.

Today's modern London musicians are well educated in the language of jazz, incorporating the African music their parents played for them as kids.

Kokoroko's bandleader, trumpeter and vocalist Sheila Maurice-Grey borrows from her West African ancestry and also from her South African stepfather just as young American jazz musicians look to the blues and soul of their predecessors.

Could We Be More opens with a brash horn riff leading to the lazy keyboard wash of "Tijo." The tight trio of trumpet, saxophone and trombone offer staccato phrases before opening up to flowing individual horn lines. The contradiction of at times martial beats and easy-going sounds define much of the album's fifteen tracks.

"Age of Ascent" builds a catchy brass melody over a mellow, soulful groove. Dub and hip-hop production elements add to the modern vibe while the solos recall the globally inspired modern jazz of trumpeter Christian Scott, known as Chief Xian aTunde Adjuah.

The dance-focused music of Seattle's Polyrhythmics comes to mind when "War Dance" begins its dark minor chord journey. Electric guitar and effects-soaked trumpet solos inject rock energy to the mix. All the while, Kokoroko percussionist and co-founder Onome Edgeworth keeps the up-tempo beat at a tasty simmer.

The slower pace of "Something's Going On" has echoes of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder with vocals from the band singing variations of the song's title in unison. Kokoroko seems to create a soundtrack to a world beyond prejudice where the culture of immigrants is fully ingrained into society.

Soft funk guitar and more vocals energize the relaxed mood of "Those Good Times," this time including a verse of lyrics with Maurice-Grey singing romantically of "soulful, endless nights."

Kokoroko's confident new album Could We Be More is sure to be part of many good times for fans of Afrobeat, soul and modern jazz. This is also a young band promising great musical times to come.

The New Cool airs Fridays at 9 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Washington. LISTEN ON DEMAND

The New Cool The New CoolKokorokoSheila Maurice-GreyPolyrhythmicsFela Kuti
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Abe grew up in Western Washington, a third generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.