Koffee is the name on every reggae fan’s lips right now. The 19-year-old from Spanish Town was a popular choice for Reggae Newcomer Of The Year in 2018, despite having only released a handful of tracks since being discovered by the world champion runner Usain Bolt just 18 months ago. She’s been living in the fast lane ever since – and especially after signing to Columbia Records late last year.
Koffee, real name Mikayla Simpson, knew a few chords on guitar but hadn’t been thinking of a career in music when her teacher suggested that she write a song about a hero – someone she really respects. Her mum was first choice – “She was a single parent and she was the only person I basically knew,” she says – but Usain Bolt is Jamaica’s biggest hero after Bob Marley and so she wrote a song about him instead, called Legend. She then posted a video of herself singing it on Instagram, Bolt reposted it and, by the time she entered the studio for the first time a few weeks later, she had 15,000 followers…
As much as Donald J. Trump’s ongoing term of office has seemed like the sourest of jokes on the world, at least we’ve been able to find a degree of refuge in the cultural response to his continued shithousery. He’s easy meat for the comedians and satirists, of course, but the musicians have lately been stepping up to the plate too.
Alicia Olatuja’s newest album, Intuition: Songs From The Minds Of Women, for example, can definitely be seen, in part, as a reaction to the misogynistic and generally abusive treatment of females that have famously found recent expression in the Pussygrabber-in-Chief’s off-podium antics, as well as the career-long [and now -ending] behaviour of such as Harvey Weinstein.
“Absolutely,” agrees Alicia, as we speak ahead of her recent European tour dates. “It’s often conflict and unrest that unleashes a wave of creativity…
Since she’s already an accomplished and award-winning songwriter, it’s perhaps a little curious that, for her debut single as a solo artist, Oakland-born soul singer Conesha “Ms. Monét” Owens should elect to release a cover of Billy Vera & The Beaters’ all-American prom-night staple At This Moment,instead of choosing one of her own. Especially given that her credits include co-writing the Lucy Pearl hit Don’t Mess With My Man, the less well known [but equally fantastic] Can’t Stand Your Motherand Leela James’Rain. Surprising, that is, until you actually hear her take of Vera’s ‘80s chart-topper, which is turned from a slight, pop-soul standard into a showstopping five-and-a-half octave gospeldelic belter – the kind of gazump that cover specialists Donny, Aretha or Whitney would have relished.
“Well, I wanted to do something as Ms. Monét that represented me now,” she explains on the phone from her new place of residence in Las Vegas, Nevada. “It had to sound timeless and classic: a song that I could recreate, but do it in this soul fashion… ”
Over the years writers have been referenced many times by musicians, usually because the words of the former can somehow resonate with the thoughts [and notes] of the latter. London pianist Sarah Tandy has put her own stamp on this lineage by way of the thought-provoking title of her debut album, Infection In The Sentence.
“It’s a play on inflection,” Tandy says. “I first came across Inflection In The Sentenceas a chapter of Madwoman In the Atticby Sandra Gilbert; it’s originally a quote from an Emily Dickinson poem. What appealed to me was that I liked the wordplay on ‘inflection’ and ‘infection’, because of my experience. When I moved back to London and engaged with the jazz scene I found myself sharing the stage with people from different backgrounds, and learning something from their own use of language… ”