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KOKOROKO – “Something’s Going On” Track Review

In their latest track, “Something’s Going On”, the 8-piece collective find hope amid lockdown despair.

KOKOROKO arose out of a feeling of lack; upon discussing their shared love of London afrobeat groups, co-founders Sheila Maurice-Grey and Onome Edgeworth realised that the scene was failing to represent the diasporas they grew up in. True to their name (which means ‘be strong’ in Urhobo) the female-led collective has continued to carve out a unique musical style – one that refuses to be pigeonholed or categorised.


Even with their genre-defying sound, KOKOROKO acknowledge their forebears with pride. Following in the tradition of Afrobeat and Highlife pioneers such as Fela Kuti, Tony Allen, and Ebo Taylor, the group combine these influences with the jazz legacies of Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, and Patrice Rushen.


Yet, rather than looking to the past with rose-tinted nostalgia, KOKOROKO highlights the importance of bringing this music to new ears, whether through contemporary Highlife bands such as The Cavemen, or Nigerian singers Wizkid and Temz. Speaking to Best Fit, Trumpeter Maurice-Grey (who also performs in the jazz groups Nérija and SEED Ensemble) highlights how the group are “always excited by people who are pushing their sound and individuality in different corners of the globe.”

Following the viral success of “Abusey Junction”, which fuses Maurice-Grey’s trumpet harmonies with Oscar Jerome’s delicate guitar riffs, KOKOROKO has attracted a diverse range of listeners to their sound. As Maurice-Grey explains, the hit record “allowed people to connect with [them] in ways that [they] didn’t think were possible,” providing them with the chance to refine their sound in real-time.


KOKOROKO have distilled these live performances into two singles, a self-titled EP, and now a new, full-length project. Modulated keys and King Krule-esque chords wash over “Something’s Going On”, before breaking into a lo-fi drum groove, interjected by the chant: “Something’s goin’ on, something’s happening now”.


For a group in which lyrics are only featured sparingly, those words which are included come to assume a far greater significance. As bassist Duane Atherley admits, the lyrics of “Something’s Going On” became a rallying cry, a call of solidarity for the things that are “going on […] at different levels of life – society, family, close friends and personally.”


Structurally, the song mirrors our shared lockdown experience, in which tentative hopes for a new decade are jolted into sudden uncertainty by the global pandemic. Yet, as the horn section takes centre stage (with Maurice-Grey on trumpet, Cassie Kinoshi on tenor sax, and Richie Seivwright on trombone), the track’s underlying optimism shines through. As Maurice-Grey affirms: “we always hope that our music is going to uplift whoever our audience is, and we always want to create a positive change in our society.”


Over its five-minute run-time, the track manages to navigate between polished performance and meandering improvisation, between intentionality and spontaneity. KOKOROKO’s collaborative approach is on full display here, incorporating each member’s response to the song’s blueprint to produce a collective vision of hope.


The group are set to embark on their 11-night headline UK tour next month. As they return to live music, KOKOROKO will continue to honour the legacies of those who have come before by inviting future generations to “experience something spiritual and out-of-body at [their] concerts, something that really resonates and connects people together.” Let’s hope they continue to do so for many years to come.


“Something’s Going On” is out now via Brownswood Recordings. Find KOKOROKO on Instagram here and catch them live at Electric Brixton on 6 April.


Photograph: Vicky Grout

(This article was originally published in The Line of Best Fit)

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