Kokolo Afrobeat Orchestra
|Origin||New York City, U.S.|
|Genres||Afrobeat, Afrofunk, Afro disco|
|Labels||Afrokings, Freestyle, Record Kicks, Little Boat, Peace & Rhythm|
|Members||Ray Lugo – vocals|
Chris Morrow – trombone
Kavin Paulraj – bass
Neil Chastain – drums
Ando Kal – guitar
The band's name was taken from a 1970s term, "cocolo", that originated in parts of the Caribbean and was later used in New York City's Latin communities, often as a pejorative, to describe non-Hispanic African descendants, many of whom were fans of Afro music. Kokolo aimed to invert the negative connotation of the term through the positivity in their music.
History: From punk to Afrofunk
Fuss and Fight
Prior to founding Kokolo, Lugo's musical background was rooted in New York's downtown hardcore punk and rock scenes, associating with groups such as Bad Brains, Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, Gorilla Biscuits, Jawbreaker, Youth of Today, Anthrax, Leeway and Warzone. Warzone's lead singer, Raymond "Raybeez" Barbieri was a close personal friend of Lugo and an early mentor on the ins-and-outs of independent music, inspiring the DIY ethic that would become a key characteristic of Kokolo.
By the summer of 1995, Lugo ran Underhanded Studios, a recording facility on Ludlow Street which he shared with Mark Anthony Thompson from Chocolate Genius, Sim Cain from the Rollins Band and Yuka Honda (Cibo Matto/Sean Lennon) . While at Underhanded, Lugo befriended Bosco Mann and Phillip Lehman, who soon recorded the first albums for Desco Records at Underhanded and who would go on to release the Daktaris album, which spearheaded the Afrobeat revival in New York. Also during this time, while producing King Chango's debut recordings, Lugo recruited Martin Perna and Mike Wagner as the group's horn section. Perna and Wagner would go on to form Antibalas, along with percussionist Fernando Velez (Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings), another former King Chango alumni.
Lugo's search for a new musical direction let him to form Kokolo in the spring of 2001, enthused by the template of his friends in Antibalas and informed by the music of Fela Kuti, James Brown and the Fania All-Stars and by the live power of groups like Bad Brains, The Clash and Mano Negra.
Initially a traditional Afrobeat ensemble, the group consisted of 14 members from various parts of the world, and as a result of a revolving door of musicians coming in and out of the group, the initial months proved frustrating at tightening up the group as a live unit. During this time Lugo met English Trombonist Chris Morrow, the only other original member currently in the group.
In the summer of 2001, Lugo turned to Gabe Roth to produce Kokolo's debut album "Fuss And Fight", so called because Lugo wanted to denote the friction and internal bickering going on within the group at that time. Recorded at Daptone Studios in Brooklyn, featuring some of the musicians in Antibalas and released on the UK Label AfroKings, "Fuss And Fight" quickly gained the band a following, in particular with European audiences, due in part to the relative novelty of the genre, but also due to their high-energy performances and undeniable talent, and the band soon toured the UK for the first time. Prior to this maiden tour and a result of internal disagreements, most of the initial group left to form the Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble.
Finding themselves stuck with an upcoming tour and no band, Roth came to the rescue by connecting Lugo and Morrow with longtime collaborator and former Fela Kuti/Manu DiBango drummer Jojo Kuo, enabling them to carry on with the tour.
Initially panned by critics, "Fuss And Fight" drew its share of negative, or at the very least, suspicious, press upon its release. Long accustomed to Fela-esque prototypes, purists found the group's radical take on Afrobeat not to their liking. Although initially stung by the lukewarm response, Lugo quickly set off to write Kokolo's second album during a stay in Amsterdam in 2003, noting only the criticisms from a selected number of writers whose opinion he respected, more inspired than ever to solidify an original sound for the group.
The result was the critically acclaimed More Consideration, which featured more complex orchestrations and sophisticated compositions. The album benefited from the participation of players such as Charlie Hunter, Gabe Roth (Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings), Mike Weitman (Project Logic) and Jojo Kuo (Fela Kuti/Manu DiBango), and was released by London taste-maker Adrian Gibson's Freestyle Records imprint in 2004.
The enthusiastic response to More Consideration allowed the band to reach a broader audience and to perform on some of the world's premier stages, from the main stage of The Montreal International Jazz Festival, Glastonbury Festival and scores of others around the world, where they shared the spotlight with acts ranging from Roots Manuva, Manu DiBango, Taj Mahal, Isaac Hayes, Zap Mama and Gilles Peterson to Chic, Pete Rock, The Itals, Bloodhound Gang, Roy Ayers and Seun Kuti and Egypt 80.
Also during this time, the group began to experiment with remixes of their original songs, something which some found somewhat taboo, but was viewed by the band as another vehicle with which to reach listeners. To date Kokolo has been remixed by Faze Action, BeatFanatic, Lack Of Afro, Diesler and many others.
Kokolo's third album, "Love International" continued to expand the group's sound as Lugo incorporated elements of Hip Hop, Dancehall and a more pronounced Latin influence throughout the songs. The group's "Afro" version of The Clash's "The Magnificent Seven", a nod to one of Lugo's musical heroes, was well received by DJ's around the world and featured Jamaican dancehall artist Joe Daddz on lead vocals.
"Love International", released in July 2007 on Freestyle Records, confirmed that Kokolo possessed "Our Own Thing", as one of the album's more driving songs proclaimed, and helped the band tour a number of new countries as a result, and were the first group to bring live Afrobeat music to countries such as Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria and Romania, among others.
The band's fourth studio album, "Heavy Hustling", found them meshing Fela Kuti poly-rhythms and Fania All-Star cadence into a number of James Brown classics, with Lugo providing original vocals, turning classics like "Soul Power" into tongue-in-cheek come ons through lyrical plays on sexual themes and a marked emphasis on West-African Afrofunk.
"I thought it would be interesting to make explicit the implicit connection that exists between Nigerian Afrobeat and American Funk and explore the musical dialogue that took place across the Atlantic during that golden era, a dialogue that also included the New York Latin sound, which was also highly regarded and influential in Africa at the time", states Lugo.
Kokolo continued to further expand their sound via the group's fifth studio album, "100 Fevers", released in January 2017. The work featured songs influenced by Afrodisco, contemporary club rhythms and West-African Afrofunk.
"Kokolo vs.Terricos", a vinyl EP of remixes of music by both groups was released in November 2018 on American label Peace & Rhythm.
Style and influences
Originally formed as a traditional Afrobeat ensemble, Kokolo quickly developed a far spikier sound, often played faster and more emphatically than many of their contemporaries. They have also proven adept at broadening their sound by incorporating influences from a variety of other genres. Although Kokolo sing in English primarily, they have released several numbers sung in Spanish and Portuguese.
Lugo's songwriting approach is largely informed by punk, rock and reggae, and contrary to many contemporary Afrobeat groups' reliance on more "Jazzy" instrumentals, Kokolo's songs feature re-occurring vocal choruses, which are designed to engage and energize audiences at live shows.
Their live performances also vary drastically from that of their peers, as Kokolo's shows are more frenzied and akin to rock concerts, another indication of the influence of groups like Bad Brains and Mano Negra on the group.
Since forming, they have evolved into a prolific recording machine, with over 50 releases on their discography and features in scores of notable international compilations, alongside artists like Femi Kuti, Ska Cubano, Tony Allen, U-Roy, Caetano Veloso, Masters At Work, Quantic, Salif Keita, Gerardo Frisina, Baaba Maal, Jazztronik, Zero 7, Afro Celt Sound System, Joe Bataan, Common, The Orb, Eric B & Rakim and many more.
Kokolo are also notable as practitioners of the Simple Living lifestyle, and followers of the writings of J. Krishnamurti, whose concepts heavily influenced the lyrics on the band's second album, "More Consideration", as exemplified by the maxim found on their album jackets: "Live More, Consume Less.. With More Joy and Less Stress". They have donated songs, performed and raised funds on behalf of scores of projects ranging from Youth empowerment organizations to AIDS relief groups and environmental causes.
|Album||Label||Year of release||Available formats|
|The Best Of||Little Boat||2017||iTunes|
|100 Fevers||Little Boat/Peace & Rhythm||2016||LP, iTunes|
|Remixed Worldwide||Little Boat||2013||iTunes|
|En Español||Little Boat||2011||iTunes|
|Heavy Hustling||Little Boat||2009||iTunes|
|Love International||Little Boat||2007||iTunes|
|More Consideration||Little Boat||2004||iTunes|
|Fuss and Fight||Little Boat||2002||iTunes|
12" singles | EPs
|12" single | EP||Label||Year of release||Available formats|
|Kokolo vs. Terrificos EP||Peace & Rhythm||2018||LP|
|The Magnificent Seven EP||Shiftin' Gears||2010||LP|
|Nueva York 12" Malena Rework||Freestyle||2007||LP|
|Balkan Beat Box split EP||Sol Selectas||2008||LP|
|Roy Davis Jr. split EP||Jamayka||2005||LP|
|More Consideration EP||Freestyle||2005||LP|
|Mister Sinister 12"||Jamayka||2004||LP|
|Root to the Fruit 12"||Freestyle||2004||LP|
|7" single||Label||Year of release||Available formats|
|Afrika Man (feat. Jojo Kuo)||Record Kicks||2009||7"|
|Soul Power||Record Kicks||2008||7"|
|Girls on Film||Record Kicks||2008||7"|
|The Magnificent Seven||VampiSoul||2008||7"|
|The Way Up||Tramp||2007||7"|
|Our Own Thing||Freestyle||2007||7"|
|Each One Teach One||AfroKats||2006||7"|
Compilations featuring Kokolo
|Compilation||Label||Year of release||Available formats|
|Club Anthems: The Cure and the Cause||Vanilla OMP||2012||iTunes|
|Afro Club Night 2||Kittball Records||2012||CD, LP|
|Plaintaste of Funk||Piola Libri||2011||CD|
|Contemporary Afrobeat||Tramp||2011||CD, LP|
|Soulshaker Vol. 7||Record Kicks||2010||CD, LP|
|Kokolo: Pegao Pegao||Radio Pirata||2010||CD|
|City Lounge 7||Wagram||2010||CD, iTunes|
|Deep Funk Vol. 3||La Suite||2010||CD, iTunes|
|Mo' Record Kicks||Record Kicks||2010||CD, iTunes|
|Soul Shaker Vol. 6||Record Kicks||2009||CD, iTunes|
|H2G Japan||H2G Factory||2009||CD|
|Planet Up the Planet||Planetwize||2009||CD, iTunes|
|Funk Aid for Africa||Dubspot||2009||CD, iTunes|
|Republica Afrobeat 3||Love Monk||2009||CD, iTunes|
|Balearic Beach Sessions||Cool Pool||2009||CD, iTunes|
|Afrobeat Club||Union Square Music||2009||CD, iTunes|
|Rough Guide to Afrobeat Revival||World Music Network||2009||CD, iTunes|
|Soul Shaker Vol. 5||Record Kicks||2008||CD, iTunes|
|Collected Singles Vol. 5||Freestyle||2008||CD, iTunes|
|Collected Singles Vol. 2||Freestyle||2008||CD, iTunes|
|Collected Singles Vol. 1||Freestyle||2008||CD, iTunes|
|Nu Afro||Wagram||2007||CD, iTunes|
|Soul Shaker Vol. 4||Record Kicks||2007||CD, iTunes|
|The Afro Sound of House||Traxsource||2007||CD, iTunes|
|Timeless Anthems||Jetstar||2006||CD, iTunes|
|Feel the Beat: Afrofunk||Big Sur||2006||CD|
|Freestyle Remixed||Freestyle||2006||CD, iTunes|
|Loft Party||Kinky Sweet||2006||CD, iTunes|
|Beginners Guide to Afro Lounge||Nascente||2006||CD|
|Africa 100||Pitchfork Media||2005||CD|
|Afrique C'est Chic Box Set||Kinky Sweet||2005||CD|
|Even Nice Girls||Public Release||2005||CD|
|Frequent Flyer Mile High||Kinky Sweet||2005||CD, iTunes|
|Afrique C'est Chic 3||Slip 'N Slide||2005||CD, iTunes|
|Future World Funk…On the Run||Ether||2005||CD, iTunes|
|House Afrika||House Afrika||2004||CD|
|Afrobeat Sudan Aid Project||Modiba||2004||CD|
|One Love Vol. 1||Pure Hemp||2004||CD|
|Big Daddy Volume 3: The Showstopper||Big Daddy||2002||CD|
|Live from WFMU||WMFU||2002||CD|
- "Kokolo". Allmusic Guide.
- "Entrevista Con Ray Lugo En Barcelona". BioRitmo, Spain.[permanent dead link]
- "Ray Lugo Interview". 209 Radio, UK. Archived from the original on September 27, 2011. Retrieved February 27, 2010.
- "Rough Guide To Afrobeat Revival". World Music Network. Archived from the original on July 6, 2009. Retrieved February 25, 2010.
- "Africa 100 The Indestructible Beat". Pitchfork.
- "African Music Radiates From The 25th Annual Montreal Jazz Festival". Afropop Worldwide. Archived from the original on June 26, 2010. Retrieved February 25, 2010.
- "Glastonbury 2005 Festival Lineup". BBC. Archived from the original on June 26, 2010. Retrieved February 25, 2010.
- "Kokolo, Referencia Mundial Del Afrobeat". El Diario Montanes, Spain. August 4, 2009.
- "Kokolo Afrobeat Al Rama Beach". Caserta News, Italy.
- "Au Beat De L'Evolution". Voir, Quebec.
- "Κερδίστε προσκλήσεις για το Block 33". Cosmo Magazine, Greece. Archived from the original on November 15, 2009. Retrieved February 28, 2010.
- "Kokolo Interview". Myspace.
- "Fünf Sterne Deluxe, Afrokalle". AllMusic.
- "Fünf Sterne Deluxe, Flash". Discogs.
- "Kokolo vs. Terrificos". Discogs.
- "Afrobeat Latino Con Actitud Punk Made In NY". Tribuna Latina, Spain.
- Danton, Eric R. "The Beat Of Sudan Relief". Hartford Courant.
- "Kokolo Afrobeat Discography". Discogs Marketplace.