Jojo Jones attended Koffee’s headline show at EartH Hall (Evolutionary Arts Hackney), on the 25th of March 2022, to celebrate the release of the Jamaican artists’ debut album, Gifted. With reggae, Afrobeats, dancehall and pop on the menu, Jojo gives us the low down…
Leading up to the days before Koffee’s show, I excitedly told colleagues, friends, and family my plans for seeing her live. Sometimes mentioning the Jamaican-born singer’s name is met with blank faces, until you recall her infamous song ‘Toast‘, or start singing the first few bars of the infectious tune. ‘Toast‘ was everywhere in 2019, and became the song of the summer for so many. Koffee was 18 at the time of releasing this single, produced by izybeats and Walshy Fire (of Major Lazor), but despite her young age has tackled issues of gun violence in her hometown through her lyrics, and taken risks such as crossing over into Hip-Hop with her Gunna collaboration, ‘W.’ Born Mikayla Simpson, Koffee was also the first woman, and youngest person ever, to win Best Reggae Album at the 2020 Grammy’s for her 5-song EP/album Rapture.
The queue for the basement venue of EartH Hall snakes around Dalston Kingsland High Street. Approaching it you can tell which line is waiting to be let in to hear the sounds of ‘Ragamuffin‘ and ‘Pull Up‘. The girls in front of me are all smiles and glitter, leather jackets and selfies. They seem about Koffee’s age, which makes it all the more impressive that we are about to go and see the 22 year-old command a 1200 capacity venue. A big reason I was so excited to see the ‘Pull Up‘ singer live, was the sheer joy that comes through in her music. The singer’s EP Rapture follows traditional reggae tropes and tones but incorporates Koffee’s trademark singing/rapping style to keep it sounding fresh upon every listen.
After descending the steep stairs into EartH Hall, I am met with an already packed out venue. I have been eager to attend an event at the recently renovated EarTh. As a Hackney resident, I was thrilled by the news that an old art deco theatre in Dalston was going to be transformed into a music and live art venue, perfectly located in the beating heart of creative London. That was back in 2018, and today the venue did not disappoint. The generous stage gave support DJ Rachel Anson enough room to literally bounce across the stage, conducting us like an orchestra to match her sway to the thumping reggae, club, dancehall & afro-bashment tunes she spins. Anson proves herself a star within seconds of her warm up set. With laser focus on the decks, complete with personal branded stickers on her laptop and air-horn sound effects, Anson blends and flips tracks with sensational ease, something that, as a beginner DJ myself, I was beyond impressed with, and immediately made me whip out my phone to follow her on Instagram. After a quick 20 minute warm up set, the Rapture singer arrives promptly on stage.
Joining Koffee on stage is a singular guitarist, and Anson, who acts as hype-woman and DJ. The singer starts this headline show, hours after her debut album, Gifted, has dropped everywhere. Koffee, with her braids in a messy bun above her head, and a matching striped blue trouser & shirt combo, gives effortless style and grace up on stage. Amidst the screams from the crowd, she hushes us and asks ‘who came to see me earlier today in Shoreditch?’ The reggae-star has a huge billboard up next to Shoreditch High Street station, which she hung around near earlier in the day to take pictures and meet fans. I was gutted not to be able to go to this, but it showed to me as that a young Gen-Z star who could communicate with fans through a screen, the Gifted (double meaning) songstress knows the value of connecting with people in real life. Music has become such an online, technological part of our lives, I think we often forget the human-ness that is needed to ever create it.
Rapture is chosen as Koffee’s opening song, receiving a raucous response from the crowd. My friend who came with me to the concert turns to me with a smile saying, ‘how do we always go to the sickest concerts?’ I notice that we as an audience are incredibly mixed genders and ages, proving the scope that Koffee’s music has achieved. She is all smiles as she breaks into the opening track of the 2019 EP of the same name, which seems fitting as the beginning and chorus of the song has us all singing along too, “Koffee come in like a rapture, and everybody get capture”. The singer grins a smile full of braces from ear to ear between and during songs. One of the more risky singles, in my opinion, from the new Gifted album is the song ‘Shine‘. Recently featured in UD’s March Mixtape, showcasing the best new releases from the month, ‘Shine‘ marks a distinctive flow change for Koffee, with stripped back chords and vocals. It is a surprise to me that this was the next song Koffee chose to launch into. It definitely marked a change in the crowd as they couldn’t whine and sing-along to this one, but for me it gave a moment of reflection to properly listen to the lyrics – I always find seeing live music allows you to properly *listen* to lyrics; isolated within headphones all I do is hear.
I didn’t realise before the show just how many hits the singer has and despite being relatively young in the music scene, I find myself singing along to most of her songs without realising I even knew the words. Unsurprisingly, what I was pretty sure we were all waiting for, comes next – ‘Toast‘. Recognisable within milli-seconds from when DJ Rachel Anson hits play on the backing track, it was truly powerful to hear a sea of people chanting for blessings and gratitude. A proper party tune. I really do think this will be one of the songs that when my kids ask what music I listened to when I was young, this is what I would play them to show off just how much fun we had. On stage we hear some more hits including, ‘West Indies’ (which is also perplexingly the only song that got a wheel up and repeat from Anson; I was expecting ‘Toast‘ to be teased and repeated at least three times!), ‘Pull Up‘, and the sexy slow tune, ‘Lockdown‘.
Unfortunately, Koffee’s headline show was then cut short. This is understood to be due to technical difficulties, although Koffee has yet to make a public statement or confirm. I left feeling a tad unsatisfied, as we queued to pick up our copy of Gifted, that came with the purchase of our ticket, but I also felt proud that someone who was thrown into the public eye and the music industry at such a young age is able to command a crowd and assert herself across the cut-throat music tastemakers of London.
Before we arrived at EartH, I had gone for a quick dinner with a friend who was attending the concert with me. She had confided in me that she felt underestimated in her line of work because of her age, proudly claiming that, if you’re good at what you do, what does it matter what age you are? I could not agree more and Koffee’s short but sweet performance only serves to prove her right.
Listen to Jojo Jones on the first Wednesdays of the month 1-2pm on Voicesradio.co.uk