Since the very start of her career, Mikayla Simpson, known worldwide as Koffee, has been a pioneering force for many types of change. From modernizing the face of reggae, revitalizing its sound to ensure it resonates with a new generation, to injecting the modern global music scene with her clean, sun-filled energy – this is a figure who is bursting with good vibrations.
And, at only 20 years old, she has continued to use her success to positively influence young people in her home country of Jamaica, launching her “Haffi Mek It” school initiative last year, performing in schools and giving motivational talks. During this pandemic, she has turned the tour virtual, with all proceeds going towards children’s education.
It makes perfect sense, then, that the young talent has been made an ambassador for the Jordan Unite campaign. Collaborating with the brand in a mission to create positive change, Jordan will help to amplify her advocacy and continue her commitment to creating a more equal world through education. “Jordan puts forth a very positive outlook and message,” she tells British Vogue. “When I saw the Unite project that we were to collaborate on, it inspired me in a positive way. I think it’s the way that the youth should be going.”
All this while additionally working on her hotly-anticipated forthcoming debut album, for which she is learning new instruments. Already having taught herself guitar as a 12-year-old, she is learning to play the piano. “I’ve always had a fascination for instruments,” she explains. “Quite a few of my new songs were just recording with live instruments.” Here, in a conversation with Vogue, the force for change talks about the power of positivity and how best to achieve freedom and equality.
What inspired you to revitalise reggae for a new generation?
At school, a lot of my peers listened to music that was not necessarily for our age, about drugs and stuff. When I recognised reggae as a part of my culture, listening to Chronixx and Protoje and their messaging, realising also that they’re very musically talented, I became a big fan and got a guitar. I started trying to emulate them and create a way for myself.
Your music is so uniquely positive, why is that so important to you?
Two reasons: One, I grew up in church. I had a very Christian mum, and she taught me a lot of values that I still hold as an adult. Two, I’m also very young – I’m 20, fairly young for an artist and part of my pride is being able to have my family and my younger peers and even toddlers and old people listening to my music and be able to enjoy it. And, you know, not feel like ‘What is the young people doing?” I take pride in uniting people.
And positivity has done so much for me. When I left high school and graduated fifth form, I didn’t get accepted into the one and only sixth form that I applied for or any job, so if I didn’t follow a musical path, I don’t know what would [have] become of me. The positivity that I put in my music has put me on the map, has helped me to put my country even more on the map, has brought me across the world and showed me a lot of different things. So, that’s something that I wish to continue to hold at the forefront of what I represent.
How have you been staying positive this year?
I’ve been able to appreciate the ability to spend time with my family. I had a lot of travelling back to back in the first few years of my career. This has been the first chance to really ground myself, feel at home and get back in touch with Jamaica in a way I didn’t get to before. I know it’s a time that’s very difficult for a lot of people across the world and I really send my prayers to those people. My team and I are thinking of different ways to help relieve people during this time.
What were the other values you learned and held onto?
The first and biggest was gratitude. Humility is something I aim for and that’s a part of it. Love is definitely a part of it, and just peace and literal positivity. Not trying to fight people around you. Love your neighbours. Small stuff that seems cliché, but goes a long way.
Humility is something that I constantly aim for, and I recognise as something I have to work on every day. I don’t know if that has become more of an effort since I’ve become more successful, but it’s something that I constantly work on.
Where did the inspiration for the “Haffi Mek It” school tour come from?
Well, my manager Tammy is a big inspiration in that regard, because when I met her she was already a giver-back. That has always inspired me about her. When she brought the idea to me of doing a school tour, it definitely resonated with me being young, just leaving school and seeing what my peers experienced and being in a good place to assist, so we made it happen.
How do you think your schooling experience helped you?
Growing up and going to school in Jamaica [afforded] me a wide variety of people to be around. My schools brought together different people from all walks of life: Chinese people, Rasta people, Christian people… it was very varied.
Why are you partnering with the Jordan brand?
It’s a brand that I wore growing up, and [now I am] in a position to inspire my friends based on knowing that they wear it too. Saying positive things, putting forward positive music, and positive messages will always inspire my peers to reach for heights but still remain grounded and not become corrupt. That’s a huge inspirational point, and a great opportunity for myself. And I generally wear a sports style, a lot of sports clothes like sweatpants, sweatsuits, and sneakers, so Jordan’s already within my style and what I represent.
What does freedom and equality mean to you? How do you think it can be achieved?
I think freedom starts within yourself – knowing how to emancipate yourself from mental slavery. Emancipation starts within the mind and it’s something that you have to process for yourself before you emancipate yourself in the physical world. Learning, reading books, educating yourself on your history and what’s going on around you is always a good armour in this world. Then, I think believing in yourself and confidence. It starts there. Confidence begins with self-love and self-belief. I don’t really know how to tell somebody to love themselves, necessarily, but even me, I have to find a way to love myself, to emit love into the world.