Aug 21, 2009
Kokolo - Love International
In just a few years, KOKOLO's infectious blend of social commentary, charisma and musical appeal has taken them from the tangled streets of their native New York to the world's stage, firmly establishing them as premier innovators in rhythm-based music, and drawing scores of afro-beat lovers, funk heads, salsa aficionados, dance club punters and jazz connoisseurs along the way.
KOKOLO (a name derived from Spanish-Harlem slang used to describe hardcore followers of afro music) formed in May 2001, at a time when the Big Apple's nu afro-beat scene began to take shape. Formed by lead singer and songwriter Ray Lugo and English trombonist Chris Morrow, the duo soon blossomed to eight core members, and within weeks became mainstays at New York's venue for the avant-garde, the Knitting Factory.
Turning to the DIY ethic of his formative punk days, Lugo self-produced and released the octet's urgent Fuss and Fight debut through a deal with England's Afrokings label in 2002, under the shadow of the World Trade Center attacks. That same year, KOKOLO undertook the first of many visits to the U.K., giving European audiences an initial taste of the live energy the band is known for.
"My aim" Lugo explains, "was to fuse the socio-political awareness of punk and the confidence of hip-hop with the sophistication of afro-beat, funk, Latin music and beyond - in order to create something unique based on my own experiences".
Lugo's music demonstrates a continually evolving ear for song craftsmanship, writing and producing works that owe an equal amount to Fela Kuti and Ruben Blades as they do to The Clash and Hip Hop. The man's music, always danceable, always grooving, has something to say as well: "The fair and balanced distribution of information, education, natural resources and economic opportunities among all inhabitants of this planet is the key to our collective well-being over the long term".
In 2004, KOKOLO returned with their second full-length, the ambitious and aesthetically superior More Consideration, which, like their first CD, took its inspiration from present circumstances. But instead of being fueled by the paranoia of a post-WTC attack world, like Fuss... was, this rhythmic masterwork drew its subject matter from the humanist writings of Eastern philosophers like Osho, Krishnamurti and from the life of French/American artist Marcel Duchamp.
More Consideration featured guest appearances by a score of accomplished players, including guitar virtuoso Charlie Hunter (Disposable Heroes of HipHoprisy), drummer Jojo Kuo (Fela Kuti/Manu DiBango), keyboardist Greg Lewis (Chocolate Genius), bassist Gabe Roth (Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings), and keyboardist Mike Weitman (Project Logic).
The band have cemented their reputation as an explosive live act through a healthy dose of international shows that have taken them from CBGB's, to London's Jazz Cafe, to the stages of the Montreal Jazz and Glastonbury Festivals, where they've shared the spotlight with acts ranging from Gilles Peterson, Roots Manuva, Taj Mahal and Issac Hayes to Zap Mama, Chic and Roy Ayers.
Active involvement in social causes emphasizes KOKOLO's belief that music, more than just providing entertainment, can also serve as a tool for raising awareness and effecting change. KOKOLO has contributed songs for causes ranging from relief for victims of Sudan's Darfur crisis (Afrobeat Sudan Aid Project) to environmental protection (One Love Vol. 1). In addition, the band consistently performs on behalf of a variety of social organizations.
In keeping with KOKOLO's open approach to experimentation, they have released a number of remixes by in-demand producers such as Faze Action (Bebel Gilberto, St. Etienne), Word of Mouth, Richy Pitch, Beatfanatic and White Mike. These collaborations have expanded the band's cross-genre appeal, and helped KOKOLO reach new audiences through a number of releases that also feature acts such as Zero 7, Femi Kuti, Masters At Work, Ladysmith Black Mambaso, Quantic Soul Orchestra, Tony Allen, Afro Celt Sound System, Jazztronik and many others.
Though justly characterized as "tampering" with the afro-beat tradition for world audiences, by remaining intent on exploring sounds that take them out of the mainstream afro-funk sphere while keeping scores of fans who get it, KOKOLO have proven themselves perennial favorites and destined to remain such.
01. Our Own Thing
02. Vote Black President (Yeah Yeah)
03. Love International
04. The Way Up
05. Congo Bongo
06. The Magnificent Seven
07. While I Got The Microphone
09. Let Compassion be Your Fashion
10. Nueva York
Labels: Kokolo Afrobeat Orchestra