Interview/Premiere: David Kofi

We’ve been napping on composer, producer and keyboard player David Kofi, but today it’s time to get acquainted. If you haven’t heard of Kofi before, you need to check out this newcomer who’s been dropping heat for a while now.

So back in 2014, he released his debut EP, ‘Galaxy’, which he followed up last year with a two-track project called ‘Kokoro’.

Tomorrow will see the release of a new two-track jazz instrumental EP titled ‘Kokoro II’ (heart, soul & mind in Japanese). The title describes the principle that guides his creativity and music, with Kofi aiming to connect with the listener by pouring himself into his music.

Today, we’ve got the first play of ‘Lenikaeru’, which translates ‘come back home’. The way this London-based musician combines gorgeous piano progressions with celestial string instrumentation is astonishing. Great entrancing sounds full of yearning, with every note dripping with so much soul you can tell this guy is a big Robert Glasper fan.

“I wrote Lenikaeru directly after the release of Kokoro. I was completely focused with my keyboard for around 3 hours. I had turned off my phone & was able to create the key elements of the track in that period”

David Kofi

We spoke with David to discuss all things ‘Kokoro ll’ and learn about his journey as a musician.

You began piano training at 8 years old. Did you grow up in a musical family?

My family has always shared my love of music. There was always music filling the home. My parents would play Ghanaian Hi-life, Hiplife and Gospel music, which introduced me to artists like Amakye Dede, Daddy Lumba and Ron Kenoly. My brother introduced me to more contemporary genres like Hip-hop and Pop through artists like Michael Jackson, Biggie and Tupac. My brother also played the drums, and we often played together at church.

What has your journey been like as a musician? In what ways do you incorporate your personal experiences into your creative process?

My parents enrolled me in classical piano lessons at my primary school. If I’m being honest, I didn’t really enjoy it, but I was encouraged to go by my parents. I continued lessons into secondary school and the early Saturday morning wake-up for piano lessons was a real struggle for me. I couldn’t really connect with the music I was learning at the time and asked to stop after a few months.

The real turning point was when I heard our resident piano player, Basil Hanson, at my church. I was in awe of his skill and would sit beside him every Sunday. When I was given a chance to play, I tried to play exactly like him. At home, I would practice for hours every day, watching youtube videos and listening to gospel CD piano tutorials (thanks, Jamal Hartwell!).

Church and gospel music encourage improvisation. During church services, I would sometimes have to learn a song on the spot, as the singers expected me to know it. The church band were given creative freedom during services, and we’d often experiment with ways to play our usual songs.

My love for jazz was ignited after being brought to a Snarky Puppy gig by a friend at university. It was the first time I had been to an all-instrumental show. Snarky Puppy inspired me to experiment with and explore a new genre of music, creating songs that told a story without lyrics.

Improvising and experimenting at church has helped me when creating my own music. My transition into jazz music came quite naturally, both jazz and gospel are founded on creative expression. My approach to making music is about having fun and usually starts with me playing on the keyboard and seeing what happens. Once I hear an idea that I like, I can build on it from there.

‘Kokoro ll’ follows up the first instalment ‘Kokoro’. Did you have a concept for this project when you set out?

No, not particularly. With Kokoro, I created the songs, and the concept came after. Creating the songs on the Kokoro EP, involved learning about myself and what I want to create musically. The title Kokoro is a Japanese word that means ‘Heart, mind and soul’ and I felt that’s what I put into it. When playing with ideas after Koroko’s release, I realised I was in a similar head space and was still going on the journey of finding myself and reflecting on what I wanted from my music and my life. The songs became a continuation of the journey I took with Kokoro. I worked alongside Natty, who produced the EP and helped throughout the process.

What are the essential ingredients in a David Kofi track?

A David Kofi track is a story, the beginning is told with piano, bass and drums and is developed with additional instruments that make it more interesting. You can hear a lot of my gospel background in my music, I like to use a well-known piano technique called extending, where you take a chord, and add an extra note on top, which makes the sound more complex and layered.

I really liked the EP artwork, anime video, and press shots you sent us. When you’re creating music, do you ever consider the visual components?

Thank you! I’ve always considered the visual components when creating music. I feel like visuals help tell the story of the music and the journey of creating it. I worked with I P Lobato and Juppi Juppsen, who were able to bring my ideas to life.

You’re based in London, a city with a rich jazz history. Artistically and musically, what is the significance of the jazz scene to you?

I love the fact that the jazz scene in London is so diverse, people from all backgrounds are infusing their own culture and ideas into jazz music and breaking the boundaries of what jazz is. I’ve been able to find artists who look like me, have similar backgrounds and share my love for a range of music genres in the jazz scene, expressing themselves authentically. Alfa Mist, Tom Misch and Blue Lab Beats are just a few of the artists who have inspired me to make music that represents what jazz is to me.

Do you have a favourite musician or artist who inspires you?

Definitely! Robert Glasper is the pioneer and master of incorporating jazz into hip-hop, soul and other contemporary music genres and he has inspired me to think outside the box when creating music.

Apart from the EP, what else is in store for the future?

I’m currently prepping for my next headline show at Elgar Room (Royal Albert Hall) on February 23rd so please keep an eye out for that! There are also a couple of other projects in the works, which I’ll be looking to collaborate with UK artists on.

CF Smith

Permeating your ears with good music.

Leave a Reply