Increasingly, it’s hard not to think that in ten, twenty, thirty years time, Giles Peterson’s We Out Here compilation will be viewed as the seminal British music event of the 2010s. If you’d have said ten years ago that London would be home to one of the world’s most exciting and innovative contemporary jazz scenes, few would have believed it. Fewer still would have believed that said jazz scene would become genuinely popular and have mainstream crossover appeal. That compilation ended with a hypnotic, looping track from Kokoroko – perhaps the most Afrobeat inspired act on the compilation, as much concerned with polyrhythm and groove as they are bandleader/trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey’s harmonic changes
Kokoroko formed in South London a few years ago, galvanised by the idea that afrobeat and jazz needed representation from within the community. “I remember us having a conversation in Kenya about afrobeat” explained Maurice-Grey in an interview, “and afrobeat bands in general in the UK. We said there aren’t enough afrobeat bands that represent the diaspora and I was like we should start one.” Their name came from the Nigerian Urhobo term for ‘be strong’. Though initially the band began by playing covers of their heroes – Pat Thomas, Ebo Taylor, Fela Kuti and Tony Allen – they quickly began to write original material, which fed into their self-titled debut EP, released earlier this year. Since that release, Kokoroko have grown into their own, and that track that closed We Out Here, the sublime ‘Abusey Junction’ has accrued over 15 million plays on YouTube and 2.5 million on Spotify – kind of epitomising the crossover appeal of this new jazz moment.
Funky, meditative and communal, this female-led, multicultural collective are the sound of young Britain, and the ideal way to start your New Year.