Live reviews

KOKOROKO at Royal Festival Hall, Meltdown Festival

(Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre’s Meltdown, 14 June 2023. Review by Leah Williams)

Kokoroko on stage at Royal Festival Hall
Kokoroko at Royal Festival Hall, 14 June. Photo credit Victor Frankowski

Fresh from a trip down in Devon writing material for their next album, KOKOROKO admitted they’d not actually been planning any more gigs in London with this current set of music. But when Meltdown and the Royal Festival Hall come calling, you don’t refuse, as percussionist Onome Edgeworth joked.

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Having played regularly in Southbank venues as part of talent-nurturing organisation Tomorrow’s Warriors (given a deserved shout out), this is a special place for them. Apparently, they’d been worried about ticket sales and whether they’d manage in such a big venue. They needn’t have. Playing to a sold out crowd, they were showered in applause and enthusiasm throughout.

Mostly dedicated to material from their 2022 debut album Could We Be More (which followed their earlier eponymous 2019 EP), their infectious blend of afrobeat rhythms, ethereal guitar, and punchy brass was present from the very opening notes of Ewà Inú, taking us through to Dide O and Something’s Going On.

One of the amazing things about this band is the ease with which they move between danceable rhythms and mellow fluidity and that was more than evident at this gig. Whether bopping along to Baba Ayoola or closing your eyes to absorb the dulcet vocal harmonies of Carry Me Home, the transitions feel completely natural and take you along for the ride. There were moments where Anoushka Nanguy’s trombone and Sheila Maurice-Grey’s trumpet/flugelhorn played in such understated yet sumptuous unison that it felt really quite special.

Richie Seivwright playing trombone and Sheila Maurice-Grey playing trumpet
Anoushka Nanguy and Sheila Maurice-Grey. Photo credit Victor Frankowski

They also gave a sneak peak of some of the aforementioned new material; sometimes this makes unwilling guinea pigs of the audience but here it was a real pleasure to get an insight into what’s yet to come. Indeed the catchy rhythms and lyrics of the very last tune they played, Never Lost, had all the makings of a firm favourite-to-be. And any first-time-performance hesitations during Time and Time were outweighed by some fantastic playing, especially the grand piano solo treat from keys player Yohan Kebede.

Notably absent from the line-up was Cassie Kinoshi, who left the group earlier this year. It was hard not to feel that lack of energy, texture and richness the alto sax player/composer brought to the band’s sound.

Still, as they neared the end of the gig and rewarded an enthusiastic audience with the piece that “brought them this career and is very special [to them]” – none other than Abusey Junction – it was clear the magic of their music was able to transcend any missing parts. Having heard them play this song live in various different settings, it never fails to bring a room of any size to a standstill.


Meltdown Festival 2023

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