Could We Be More

Could We Be More

“Our philosophy as a band is to do things properly—to take the time to make what we want, exactly how we want it,” Kokoroko guitarist Tobi Adenaike tells Apple Music. “We never rush.” It is an ethos that has served the eight-piece jazz-fusion group well. The 2018 single “Abusey Junction”—featured on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label’s scene-defining UK club-jazz compilation We Out Here—was an online hit thanks to its slow-shuffling, soothing encapsulation of harmonic warmth, and helped build the London collective a strong following. Since then, there was a self-titled 2019 EP, high-profile shows, and an awful lot of expectation. The long-awaited Could We Be More is a sprawling set of 15 tracks spanning jazz swing, uplifting highlife melodies, and kinetic Afrobeats that reflects the collaborative nature of the ensemble. “This album is all eight of us exploring our own life experiences to create a record of who we are,” drummer Ayo Salawu says. “There is no agenda, just the inspiration of joy.” Read on for Salawu and Adenaike’s thoughts on the album, track by track. “Tojo” Tobi Adenaike: “We recorded the album at a live-in studio in Eastbourne, over the course of a month at the end of 2020. During that time, we picked apart the material we already had to create something new together. This track came from an initial idea from our keys player, Yohan Kebede, which we ended up reworking. It’s a throwback to a 1970s psychedelic sound with a heavy Afrobeat and jazz influence. The mishmash of atmospheres on this song feels like a perfect, grand opening.” “Blue Robe (Pt.I)” Ayo Salawu: “I grew up in Nigeria until I was 10 years old, and the rhythm on this interlude is an ode to the traditional West African rhythm I would always hear in church, or just on the street. It has a 6/8 signature over a 4/4 feel, which makes it instantly recognizable. The ‘Blue Robe’ of the title is to signify the regal vibe the rhythm has, and it’s a great segue to the next track, which works on the same rhythm but at a faster tempo.” “Ewà Inú” AS: “This song was based on an Afrobeat and highlife rhythm, which was one of the first drumbeats I ever played. When I work on this rhythm, it releases pure joy and reminds me of my childhood. The title means ‘inner beauty’ in Yoruba, since the song represents the experience of encountering beauty to us all.” “Age of Ascent” TA: “People have been waiting and asking for this song to be released for some time. We’ve been playing it ever since our trombone player, Richie Seivwright, came up with the initial idea a few years ago. The ethos of the song is all in its title: It’s about rising into a spiritual awakening through the music. This album feels like the right way to finally release the track, and it sits as a meditative, peaceful moment alongside the other songs.” “Dide O” TA: “The roots of this song come from jamming in sound check with Ayo during the tour we completed—just before the pandemic hit. I recorded a rough version of the tune on a voice memo and then brought it to the studio to be worked on. ‘Dide' means ‘get up’ in Yoruba, since the song is based on the journey I would make every weekend as a child visiting family in North London. I’d fall asleep in the car and wake up at home to my mum and dad saying ‘dide.’ It’s a memory of that peaceful time.” “Soul Searching” AS: “Our producer, Miles James, worked quite heavily on this one, workshopping it with the rest of the band to add certain sections and remove others from the initial idea our saxophone player, Cassie Kinoshi, came up with. The title says it all: Musically, the song inspires an awakening and a sense of longing to find yourself and your place of belonging in those who surround us.” “We Give Thanks” AS: “We had a lot of midtempo songs at this point in the recording process, and we needed something upbeat to add into the mix. [Bandmate] Sheila [Maurice-Grey] came up with the idea of ‘We Give Thanks’ as joyous and congregational, and it fit perfectly with what we were looking for. This was one of the beats I’d play in church at seven or eight years old, and when I was recording it, the song really reconnected me to those roots. We recorded the whole thing in one take, since we tried to recreate the good energy of the song itself in the studio.” “Those Good Times” TA: “Before this album, none of the male members of the band used to sing, but one of the main goals with this project was to push us out of our comfort zones, so this song meant every member of the group getting behind the mic to vocalize the call-and-response sections. It was a really exciting experience, and it’s one we’re much more comfortable with now, especially during the live shows.” “Reprise” TA: “We use interludes in the record to help tie the album together, and this one is a reverse synth part of the track ‘Something’s Going On,’ with the vocal refrain added in. It’s an ode to the ’70s psychedelic era, creating something trippy to prelude to the full number, which comes later in the album.” “War Dance” TA: “‘War Dance’ is exactly what it sounds like: It’s aggressive and unrelenting, and the solos aren’t playing games, since it’s an anthem for getting yourself energized for going to war. The horn lines are reminiscent of Sierra Leonean people and their music. The seeds of the song come from a tune Sheila brought in that we would jam in sound check during our last tour. It has a huge sound that feels like 10 horns, while the melody is like a chant.” “Interlude” AS: “This track opens with a voice note taken from a video that references the Lekki shooting, which happened in 2020 when the Nigerian army opened fire on a group of protesters. We were reflecting on the horrors of that tragedy and made a piece asking for more from our fellow humans, so something similar would never happen again.” “Home” TA: “This track is from the same references as ‘Dide O,’ since it is an ode to the experience of home as a comforting environment and the feeling of looking forward to being back home when you are on tour. It plays like a stripped-back version of ‘Dide O’ also, soothing us towards our end point.” “Something’s Going On” AS: “Our bassist, Duane Atherley, is a soulful old soul, and he has an old-school approach, even down to the way he improvises around chord changes. He brought this one to the band, and it adds to the overall blend of the record, since we are eight people influenced by West African sounds, ’70s funk, and soul. An album allows us to delve further into our soundworlds and different influences.” “Outro” TA: “We were in the studio on our last day of recording, and this track came out as an organic moment that we managed to keep. We were all singing on ‘Something’s Going On’ and just kept improvising after the tune ended to capture the natural joy in the room as we celebrated reaching the end of the album.” “Blue Robe (Pt.II)” AS: “It felt necessary to call back to these foundational West African rhythms on the last track of the album. ‘Blue Robe II’ sounds, to me, like a journey into whatever we end up creating next. It is an end but also a beginning, taking the listener to a different destination from where we have just come throughout the album.”


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