Kokoroko: “It’s not a sequel, it’s a different story”

With a new album on the near horizon, the eight-piece band shares insight into their journey and new sounds

Photography by Vicky Grout

Likely a familiar name to UK dwellers and even those living further afield, Kokoroko is an eight-piece London-based band that’s gone from strength to strength in recent years. Fitting the bill of the old saying “like music for my ears”, the band is indeed something that anyone will be happy to hear as it fuses Jazz and Afrobeat into a harmonious merging of rhythms, improv and honey-dripping melodies. Fronting the band is Sheila Maurice Grey – vocalist and trumpeter – who plays alongside her musical family: Yohan Kebede (synthesisers and keyboards), Cassie Kinoshi (alto sax and vocals), Onome Edgeworth (percussion), Tobi Adenaike-Johnson (guitar), Ayo Salawu (drums), Richie Seivwright (trombone and voals) and Duane Atherley (bass, synthesisers and keyboards). And honestly, it’s important to think of them that way – a group of kins who each share different interests and insights. Because when they come together, no matter their differences or likeness, the music is what binds them. Below, in anticipation of the launch of their new album Could We Me More, set to release in August, I chat to the band about their journey and what we can expect from their new sound.

I’d love to hear about how you all met.

We all met at different times and in different places. Clearly we all met for a reason, though! That reason is something we’re still exploring.

To those who haven’t heard your music before, how would you describe it?


What are you all like as individuals, do you all share the same music interests and taste? 

We all have different music interests and taste, I think that’s the special thing about the band – it’s taking the things that make us individuals and marrying them together as a celebration of who we all are and where we come from.

As an eight-piece, what’s it like being part of such a big group? What’s the dynamic like?

It’s amazing. When you find one person jarring, there’s another seven people to talk to, ha. Working and playing in a big group is amazing, but it also has its challenges. This includes learning how to allow space for others as well as figuring out where you fit into the equation of a song. It sharpens you as a musician, and forces you to simplify and revisit the essence of the craft, which is songwriting.

You’re currently on tour, which sounds incredible! Where did you play, are you teasing out your new album?

We just finished an incredible run in the Netherlands and Belgium, with highlights being two sold out shows at Paradiso in Amsterdam and Ancienne Belgique in Belgium! We appreciate the love we get shown all over Europe and we’re looking forward to the France leg of tour next week! We might play a new song here and there.

We’ve been teasing bits of the new album and reworking some classics that kind of tell the story of why and how a band like us exists. 

Speaking of, can you share some details about your new album? What can we expect to hear, and how does it compare to your previous releases?

Our album is a reflection of where we are at in our creative process; it’s an honest album in every sense of the word. Expect to hear mistakes that capture the essence of the song better than perfection could. 

The album is a moment of time captured, similar to our first EP. It’s hard to compare them – they’re from a very different time and a very different place. I think we would all encourage people to try to be present when listening to the album or any album, rather than listening comparatively. It’s not a sequel, it’s a different story.

Can you pick out a couple of favourite moments from the new album and talk me through them?

We Give Thanks was special; it’s a song that really captures the energy of the band. It was amazing to watch Sheila step out of her comfort zone, being adventurous with the way she sang while also paying homage to the 70s and 80s Afro rock/psychedelic bands that paved the way. Another moment is the outro to Somethings Going On; it was the last thing we all recorded together in the studio and the energy in it perfectly sums up the weeks we spent together writing and recording the album. I think a favourite track might be Good Times, I’m torn between that one and Home.

Is there a certain feeling or emotion you’re hoping to evoke from the new album?

There is no specific feeling or emotion we are trying to evoke, we just want people to connect with our stories. Different people will connect with different things and that’s something we’ve learned from each other. That’s the exciting thing about creating something – it kind of takes on its own life as soon as you let it go. We all have different favourites!

What’s next for the band?

Hopefully to start working on another album, a film maybe; some people want to delve deeper into fashion. We are quite ambitious as a collective ha, but basically whichever medium allows us to express ourselves in the best and most fulfilling way.

Ramsey Lewis on Jazz

From his early years to now, the three-time Grammy award winner reflects on his career as a jazz pianist, the transformation of the genre and what it means to him 

In the voice of Ramsey Lewis there’s a tempo that gently nudges at the American jazz pianist’s lifelong affair with music. You hear it in the soft, measured cadences that rise and fall in conversation. They move, sway even. And yet there’s earnestness to this ebb and flow, as if it’s being guided by the 82-year-old’s penchant for notes in motion.

It’s unsurprising that Lewis has long been sensitive to different rhythms and tonal sonorities. The three-time Grammy award winner began taking piano lessons in Chicago, his birthplace, before he had reached his fifth birthday. That said, it wasn’t until his teenage years that he would greet jazz music with fresh understanding. “When I started playing jazz with my first group called the Cleffs, I didn’t know a lot of jazz songs – they had to teach me. But unknowingly, I had my own sound,” he tells me, recalling life at the age of 15.  

While Lewis has since witnessed the transformation of the contemporary jazz scene, observing that “there’s not as much live jazz as there was twenty years ago,” his creative approach remains, for the most part, the same. “I know to keep things fresh it’s important to take a break,” he says. When it comes to whether or not he wants to take time away from the piano, however, Lewis’s fondness for music stills reigns supreme. Without hesitation he adds, “I never need a break.”

I ask what jazz is to him and Lewis pauses. Having been shaped by both gospel and classical music – direct results of his time spent playing at his local Church and studying the likes of Bach, Chopin, and Brahms, to name a few – it’s easy to see why. More than a genre or dominant presence in his life, jazz, like these other musical forms, is a natural part of him, as if another limb or facet of his personality. His answer – “it’s a serious form of expression” – sufficed to describe that which was undoubtedly, for him, impossible to translate.

Ramsey Lewis will next be performing live at the Long Beach Jazz Festival in Long Beach, California on 13 August. See his tour dates here.

Miles Davis, Modern Jazz & The Ivy Look

In an extract from Jazz Festival, a new photo book by ‘the Father of music photography’ Jim Marshall, writer Graham Marsh remembers the Ivy league-inspired style championed by Miles Davis and other Jazz greats 

For any hipster or Young Turk ‘riding on a blue note’ in the 1960s, jazz festivals were the genuine article. Whether it was at Fort Adams State Park in the resort town of Newport, Rhode Island in August, or at the 20-acre oak-studded Monterey County Fairground in California in September, it must have been something else. Both festivals were like a vinyl record collection coming to life. Gerry Mulligan, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington and the endless roll call of jazz luminaries live on stage at Monterey and Newport was an outstanding experience for all those lucky enough to have been there.

You can almost feel the sun’s warming rays and an ocean breeze emanating from Jim Marshall’s evocative photographs in this book. Jazz Festival is not a nostalgic yearning for the past, but a celebration of the continuing cultural craze for all things relating to Modern Jazz and Ivy Look clothing which for some people, who care about these things, is important. Sartorially and musically, both are still intrinsically linked and both are without doubt the essence of cool.

John Coltrane with Wes Montgomery photographed at The Monterey Jazz Festival in Monterey, CA September 24, 1961 © Jim Marshall Photography LLC
Miles Davis, the coolest man on the planet during his Ivy-suited period was probably most responsible for both the ‘look and sound’ of Modern Jazz. The look was predominantly East Coast Ivy League, but the sound was uniquely his own. Miles used to get most of his Ivy clothes from Charlie Davidson’s Andover Shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just off Harvard Square. Davidson was a sort of bridge figure between Modern Jazz and the Ivy Look. As well as Miles Davis, Davidson was a friend of George Wein and Charlie Bourgeois, who were both closely associated with the Newport Jazz Festival, and at the same time to a fame famed journalist, George Frazier 111, himself a well-known connoisseur of clothes and jazz. Indeed, Frazier christened Miles, ‘The warlord of the Weejuns!’ If Miles wore it, it was instantly hip.

In the 1960s, when it came to jazz, style was part of the equation in both clothes and attitude. At Monterey and Newport black culture was openly embraced and integrated audiences were the norm. Nobody cared – as long as you looked sharp and dug the music – anything else was just jiving, there was strictly no room for squares. At both festivals, on any given day it was a sea of Bass Weejun loafers, natural shouldered seersucker jackets, essential Lacoste tennis shirts and Clarks desert boots. Definitely on the money were also button-down shirts, chinos and 501 Levi’s. Topping off these proto-cool clothes was a formidable array of men and women’s hats.

Left: Photographed at Monterey Jazz Festival in Monterey, CA September 21, 1963 © Jim Marshall Photography LLC – Odetta photographed at Monterey Jazz Festival in Monterey, CA September 4, 1960 © Jim Marshall Photography LLC
Left: Photographed at Monterey Jazz Festival in Monterey, CA September 21, 1963 © Jim Marshall Photography LLC – Right: Odetta photographed at Monterey Jazz Festival in Monterey, CA September 4, 1960 © Jim Marshall Photography LLC
From straw pork-pie snap-brims with deep Madras bands, back-buckle Ivy sports caps and deeply hip berets to Audrey Hepburn-influenced wide-brimmed straw hats and head scarves, plus a confection of chapeaus that would not look out of place on the catwalks of a Parisian fashion show. It was a veritable catalogue of Ivy cool. It was dressing fine, making time and moreover, a visual feast for Ray-Ban and Persol-shaded eyes.

Although the Ivy clothes may have been de rigueur, at the centre of it all was the music. It was Ornette Coleman on stage playing his yellow plastic Selmer Alto Saxophone, accompanied by Don Cherry on Pocket Trumpet. It was John Coltrane endlessly riffing on some standard-issue show tune. Miles Davis and Gerry Mulligan paring the music down and laying it out, looking like fashion plates to the assembled congregation. It was saxophone colossus, Sonny Rollins taking care of business, always ahead of the musical curve. His insouciant trademark top button only fastened on his three-button jacket. These musicians were the cat’s whiskers and in mid-20th century America it was Modern Jazz that fused the connection between music and the Ivy Look.

Jazz Festival is out now via Reel Art Press