KOKOROKO Loved Montreal, and Montreal Loved Them Right Back

Montreal International Jazz Festival, Montreal QC, June 29

Photo: Nadia Davoli

BY Mathias PageauPublished Jun 30, 2023

When KOKOROKO took the stage at Montreal International Jazz Festival, they were greeted warmly by a packed crowd that was there to support the London-based group's fusion of jazz, soul and Afrobeat. For many, this was the first show of the popular Montreal event which, every year, invites artists from around the world to celebrate modern jazz's plurality and iconoclastic spirit.

In that sense, KOKOROKO was the perfect group to send the opening salvo and start the celebrations. The 7-piece group felt immediately in their element on the Rio Pinto Stage, opening the set with mostly instrumental tracks that often felt like a pretext to various solos and jams. For instance, the charming "Ewà Inú" — taken from last year's Could We Be More — stretched for about 7 minutes and solidified the chemistry between the musicians on stage as the still somewhat timid crowd began to move to the rhythm.

Things really started cooking a few songs later when KOKOROKO announced they were about to play "Abusey Junction," which some seemed to be awaiting impatiently. The group explained that this — one of their most popular songs — evoked a "sense of home," which they were grateful to share with people who lived so far from there, and who came in such great numbers to see them.

Throughout the evening, the talent and charm of the two brass players and de facto leaders tied the performance together. Anoushka Nanguy and Sheila Maurice-Grey — on the trombone and trumpet, respectively — shared vocal duties on most of the tracks, sometimes joined by their fellow musicians. They also interacted with the audience, encouraging them to dance, sing or clap. Some of the most memorable moments of the show came when the crowd tried a few basic two-step maneuvers, or twisted to the ground at Maurice-Grey's command.

The back half of the set was rich in danceable grooves, and KOKOROKO didn't miss a chance to pay homage to Afrobeat, which is obviously a significant influence to them, name checking various great artists, including of course the stellar Fela Kuti.

The sun was setting as the groovy music reverberated against the outdoor walls of la Place des Arts, and when it was completely dark came the time for the last song of the night, the confidential "Something's Going On," which audience members gladly sang along with the artists. 

KOKOROKO seemed overwhelmed and truly touched by the reception they got at Jazz Fest this year, and the group made it clear with a final wish: "We love it here, bring us back!"

Latest Coverage