Koffee’s Début Album ‘Gifted’ Is Appealing Reggae From Jamaica’s Next Biggest Star

Koffee: Gifted review – eclectic and appealing reggae by Jamaica's next big  star | Music | The GuardianLast month, the twenty-two-year-old Jamaican singer and rapper Koffee appeared as a musical guest on the “Tonight Show.” The studio’s stage had been outfitted to look like a casual and haphazard dance party, with a couch, rugs, strings of lights, and a crew of dancers performing seemingly unchoreographed moves. A structure made of speakers and red, green, and black storage crates served as a d.j. booth. The scene was a monument to one of Jamaica’s most cherished musical traditions: the sound system—a giant portable wall of speakers used for parties and d.j.’ing competitions.

In front of the set, Koffee (born Mikayla Simpson) sang “Pull Up,” her new single, which is a bit less beholden to the trademarks of her native country than the art direction onstage was. Produced by JAE5, a Ghanaian Brit known for his work with the U.K.’s biggest Afro-Caribbean talents, “Pull Up” is a gentle party anthem with an international appeal, its sweet bounce more reminiscent of the most effervescent strains of West African pop than of reggae or dancehall. On the track, Koffee has a warm swagger as she casually reels off, in Jamaican patois, the luxury items—Prada, Audi, Cartier, Ferrari—that she plans to show off at a party. “I nah watch nobody but you,” she teases.

Koffee: Gifted review – eclectic and appealing reggae by Jamaica's next big  star | Music | The GuardianThe performance’s meld of musical styles and visual signifiers was apt for Koffee, whose work reconciles the demands of local history and tradition with those of the contemporary global pop marketplace. Born and raised in Spanish Town, Jamaica, Koffee developed her musical sensibility within the Seventh-day Adventist Church, where she absorbed the rhythms and melodies of hymns and chorales. Later, as a teen-ager, she was drawn to reggae not so much through its big names but through a group of emerging young talents. In recent decades, roots reggae has yielded to dancehall, a style that’s often faster, more digital, smuttier, and more aggressive—which is to say, better suited to the commercial mainstream. But in the early twenty-tens these young artists—intent on paying homage to reggae’s traditions—began proudly revisiting their country’s musical history, and together they forged a movement that was widely described as the reggae revival.

Chief among them was Chronixx, a twenty-nine-year-old (also from Spanish Town) with a honeyed voice and a knack for the hypnotic offbeat grooves that standard reggae is known for. It was Chronixx, along with another contemporary reggae star called Protoje, who inspired Koffee to begin recording. She taught herself guitar and studied music theory and vocal technique as a member of her high-school choir. After her conservative religious upbringing, Koffee was captivated by Chronixx’s and Protoje’s righteous ideologies and their musical styles. Like Bob Marley and many of his contemporaries, Chronixx and Protoje have an almost messianic desire to provide uplift, unity, and social awareness to their listeners. “For every pain, there’s a melody,” Chronixx sings on one of his most popular songs, “Skankin’ Sweet,” from 2017. (The song has been streamed more than forty-two million times on YouTube and twenty-four million on Spotify.) When Koffee recorded her début single, “Burning,” she adopted the unity approach as well. “Neva be ungrateful, life is such a teacha,” she sings with soulful wisdom.

Gifted” The Debut Album By Koffee Will Touch The Road In 2022 – Radio  DubplateThe history of music is a constant push and pull between the past and the future, between continuity and disruption. Just as the music industry runs on novelty and innovation, it also heavily rewards talented newcomers who have a taste for tradition. In 2017, Koffee, who was unknown at the time, recorded an acoustic tribute to the sprinter Usain Bolt that showed off her musicality and her reverence for Jamaican culture. “Ah so mi know, you’re a legend,” she sings, her voice clear and full of awe. A video of her performing the song spread so widely that Bolt himself reposted it, launching her into the music business. Shortly afterward, she began appearing on major stages and working with her idols, Chronixx and Protoje among them. By 2018, she was collaborating with high-profile names such as Walshy Fire, of Major Lazer, the d.j. collective best known for translating Caribbean music for hard-partying crowds at festivals around the world. Koffee’s single “Toast,” an anthem of gratitude, became a smash, and her début EP, “Rapture,” won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album in 2020. She was the youngest artist and the first woman to win the prize, a testament not only to her talent but to the award’s woeful limitations. Since the category was introduced, in the nineteen-eighties, a third of the awards have gone to projects with the name Marley in the title. The year before Koffee won, it went to an album made by Sting and Shaggy.

Koffee pays homage to mother on 'Gifted' | Entertainment | Jamaica GleanerOne of Koffee and her contemporaries’ goals is to broaden global understanding of reggae beyond the Marleys. This month, Koffee will release her début album, “Gifted,” in which she delicately walks the tightrope between heritage and innovation. The record’s first track, “x10,” starts with a sample of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” but before he can utter his opening line, about marauding pirates, Koffee cuts in: “Hot ina sun, ina snow, live by the sweat of mi brow.” From that point on, the Marley sample fades into an echoey interpolation, a spectre of history.

Marley’s is one of the only voices besides Koffee’s that we hear on “Gifted,” an album shaped in part by the pandemic. Koffee was inspired by the solitude of lockdown to strip some of the noise away from her still-developing sound, and several of the songs have an acoustic, off-the-cuff feel. (One can imagine an overly produced version of the record, featuring a dozen of-the-moment collaborators, awkwardly grafted onto the music.) On these songs, Koffee adheres to earlier eras of reggae tradition in both sound and sentiment. “Felonies, bad energies don’t look good ’pon you,” she sings on “Shine,” a featherlight acoustic track with a signature reggae backbeat. She switches effortlessly between buttery-smooth singing and zealous rapping, the default hybrid mode of so many of today’s pop and hip-hop stars. But this versatility also places her neatly into Jamaica’s lineage of singjays—the rapper-singers who came to prominence in the country decades before the style began to dominate Western pop charts.

It's such a blessing”: Koffee on her debut album, Gifted – ReggaeSpace  Online RadioOn “Gifted,” Koffee seems to understand that traditionalism has its pitfalls. To adhere too strictly to any strain of reggae music would be a disservice to her talents and to her audience. The second half of the record is much more in step with the constantly evolving styles of the broader Afro-Caribbean diaspora, a musical network that mixes Nigerian pop with U.K. hip-hop, pugnacious West Indian dancehall, and American electronic music, often to thrilling effect. The growing influence of these styles is one of the most exciting developments in Western pop over the past decade, echoing across nearly every style of radio hit. A handful of the songs on “Gifted,” including “Pull Up,” subtly incorporate wider Afro-Caribbean ideas, transforming Koffee from a local hero into a globally minded stylist. These moments sound more like carefully considered experiments than like concessions—opportunities for growth rather than bald commercial grabs.

Koffee’s stylistic influences also allow her to play with new themes in her lyrics. She sounds just as ready for a party as for a protest or a sermon, and she imagines various forms of reverie. Still, there is a chasteness to “Gifted.” (Koffee proudly sports braces on her teeth.) When she sings a line like “Put your body ’pon lockdown,” on a track called “Lockdown,” about the celebrating she’ll do post-quarantine, she sounds as if she is carefully tiptoeing up to a libidinal line, wondering who might be eavesdropping. It’s the sort of moment that transcends time or place—it’s the sound of growing up.

Source: Koffee’s Début Album Blends Old Reggae and New | The New Yorker

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