Tuesday, February 26, 2019

REGGAE MONTH // Honouring the Messages of Koffee

Everything about Jamaican musician Koffee reassures me that the future of reggae music and culture is in good hands. There were times, admittedly, that I was concerned. Over the years there have been lyrics, trends, visuals, and dance "moves" that have made me question what was really happening to the young people under the powerful influence of dancehall culture. These moments in questions furthermore made me wonder if this effect would overpower the positive vibrations of roots reggae music and the feel-good Jamaican legacy that has transcended international borders based on messaging of peace and love over the decades.

And then came Koffee. Much like her career has developed over the past two years--leading her on an international press and performance spree and into the hearts of many--that's how her music has taken a place at the top of everyone's reggae playlist.

"Burning" was hot, and had a mellow reggae groove to it. Produced by Upsetta Records, Koffee's first official single was a solid one. Written as a personal declaration of perseverance and to keep her spirits up after not being admitted into post-secondary school, "Burning" was Koffee's reminder to keep strong and to keep pushing. Because of this steadfastness, we now have the artiste that is being celebrated and praised for complementing the recent reggae revival with a fresh tone and dope lyrics.

She writes her own songs, this young lady. Just having turned eighteen, now a full-time travelling musician, Koffee started penning lyrics when she was in school. A product of the Adventist church, complemented by a musical upbringing with choir and guitar practice, she has always possessed an innate talent for harmonies and rhythms, and has expertly translated them into a promising career.

If you've listened to one of the many interviews Koffee has given over the past year or so, as she has gone from the singer of "Burning" and the the young lady who presented Usain Bolt with a tribute track and emerged as a professional vocalist...one thing that is consistent is the love and respect she has for her mother.

Born Mikayla Simpson, and raised in Spanish Town, Jamaica, Koffee speaks warmly of her childhood with her single mother, and a small circle of friends. As a Christian, her mother Jo-Anne Williams raised her in the church, but also with the ethics and mannerisms of any good Jamaican girl: to be respectful, to focus on schooling, and to be humble and polite. Even though her talents have now taken her form the church to stages around the world, you can see that the teachings of Miss Jo-Anne have been firmly planted in Koffee's psyche, and she possesses a natural humility and grace that only a good mother and supporting surroundings could have encouraged.

A fan of a variety of types of music from EDM to grime, Koffee noted that she is not ready to subscribe to a particular genre. While we know her as a reggae artist, she confessed that she wasn't going to tie herself to a particular genre too soon, as to not contradict her future path or restrict her sound. As she grows, so will her sound, and eventually the appropriate category should become evident. In the meanwhile, she is respected for her reggae-inspired flow and lyrics. She is appreciated because of her genuine passion.

"No need no medal, with a heart of gold..." is what Koffee sang to Usain Bolt, one of the reasons why we know her name today. Back in 2017, an Instagram video that she recorded playing the guitar while singing a tribute song to the legendary athlete triggered waves of attention after a re-post from the track star. From there, endorsements from Cocoa Tea and Chronixx helped to bring her face and voice out to the masses...and the rest, as they say, is history in the making.

When referring to the likes of Bolt, and also those in her circle that believed in her, you can see the awareness of her position. What must be like a whirlwind of activities, to an artist so early in her career, is surely overwhelming. Watching her on-stage performance, and listening to the delivery of her interviews, you can see that her upbringing has not only made her humble, but also an intelligent communicator who is very clear about her messaging.

Koffee wants to contribute positively to the world, to Jamaican culture, and to the music industry. She wants to promote messages of peace, and love, and she wants to use her talents to achieve this. Inspired by the melodies of songs from rap and dancehall, the five-foot singjay understands the power of music and wants to ensure that her influence is one that is deliberately inspirational.

Now signed to Columbia records, Koffee is in a position to have her lyrics heard worldwide, her videos seen, and her forthcoming album "Rapture" to contend as a chart topper. "My goals are not tangible," Koffee told The Voice Newspaper in the UK. She simply wants her music to reach people, touch their hearts, and leave them in a positive space as a result.

Reviews, feedback, and endorsements have been favourable for the current releases and future trajectory of Koffee. From her first introduction to the Rebel Salute stage with Cocoa Tea in 2017, to this year's performance at the St. Ann festival have been supportive. Since then, we have seen Koffee out in Spain, in the UK, travelling the U.S., and hopefully soon touching down in Canada as well. A long way from her beloved hometown of Spanish Town, Koffee already has the potential to impact international audiences and also help to reconstruct the image of the future of Jamaican music.

It's a time when morality is in question, in politics, in religion, and of course in the communication of society: music. Her single "Raggamuffin" was used to speak out about gun violence in Jamaica, and her latest release "Throne" gives her audience a look at her hometown community. Artists of this generation, their impact can be felt almost instantly. Many have risen and reached fan bases with the help of social media, in a way that artists of the past could have only imagined. With this tool so easily accessible, we can see how new artists like Koffee are able to communicate and depict their brand messages clearly. Right away we can hear, see, and understand an artist's intentions and can leave the music to do the rest.

One thing that stands out with Koffee is her excellent communication skills. She gives a great interview, clearly articulates her thoughts and visions, and of course when she is on the microphone her projections are also powerful. Her communication style is refreshing because you don't have to wonder where she stands: you can hear it in her lyrics, you can see it in the way she presents herself on stage, and you can definitely grasp her perspectives through interviews without question.

As Reggae Month concludes, and as Koffee enters another phase of her career with the release of her album, it will be a joy to watch where her career goes. Reggae music has such a powerful influence on Jamaican culture, and also international culture through the presentation of festivals, stage shows, and the airwaves. To have a young woman be so instrumental in the direction of reggae music right now is not only refreshing, but it's also inspiring. It's great that Koffee is a focused young lady, and that her messaging is deliberately constructed with the well-being of her surroundings in mind.

From "alto to baritone" her purpose is great: this will be an important year in her career, and each step she takes is a testament not only to excellent parenting and a strong upbringing, but also to the power of music and how it can take even the smallest voice and make the most positive and influential impact. Koffee is a force, and anyone that has witnessed her career thus far can predict that the best has yet to come from this focused and multi-talented musician.



Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

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