Koffee is an artist who requires little to no introduction. Hailing from Spanish Town, Jamaica, the singer-songwriter is a venerated CLASH Issue 121 cover star, an instinctive force pushing a forward-projecting version of reggae across the globe. Gratitude and a clarity of vision are placed at the centre of her craft, day-dot principles that propelled Koffee from a regional star to a global success story.
Much has changed for the 22-year old since her 2019 hit ‘Toast’ ruled the airwaves. Hailed as the youngest artist to receive a Grammy award for Best Reggae Album for ‘Rapture’, Koffee is once again nominated in the same category ahead of next year’s ceremony, this time for debut full-length ‘Gifted‘ – a wholesome body of work coursing with playful and exuberant optimism. Now truly settled into a music career, the artist seeks to redefine the barometers of Caribbean music, and equally honour those that first broke past them.
Koffee is the focus of Audible series ‘Origins’, an eight-part audio project (produced by Fresh Produce Media) that traces the story behind today’s quintessential artists. Previously, the series featured Billie Eilish, Doja Cat, Flying Lotus and more. Utilising intricate sound design and live performance to frame in-depth conversations, ‘Origins’ digs deeper into Koffee’s humble beginnings, unpacking the influence of her cultural heritage and personal inspirations.
In between supporting Harry Styles on his mammoth South America tour, CLASH caught up with the young trailblazer to discuss her origin story, the power of audio commentary and her latest creative endeavours which promise a surprise or two.
What first drew you towards sharing your story on Audible’s ‘Origins’ series?
I think sharing my story in general is important for the basic reason that there are people to be inspired and there is a story that I have to share. We’re all humans. We all have intimate sides of ourselves.
Would you say that the series reveals something new about yourself to your listeners? If it does, which dimensions of Koffee do you think are explored for the first time?
There are things that I said in the interview that were probably known before, but I think I went a little deeper about my intimate, personal journey with music in the industry.
What do you think is the most important learning curve of your origin story? Something that you think offers inspiration to the generations ahead of you?
Well, sharing about where actually I’m coming from, how I feel about where I am now, my process from the start to the point where I am now. I think even as I do what I’m doing right now, being on the road, touring in South America, exploring places and audiences I have never before, it constantly inspires me. When I look back, I see how far I’ve come and that’s something to celebrate. I think it also inspires other people who are from humble beginnings like myself as well, to keep going and to not limit themselves.
How’s it been touring South America?
It’s been good. Definitely something new, but still inspiring. First of all, I’ve never really performed a solo set in front of such huge audiences before. So it definitely is new in that sense, but I think it’s more gratifying than even scary for me.
‘Hard work beats talent, if talent doesn’t work hard’ – this is a quote that feels very true to your journey up til this point. Who or what instilled this determination, this work ethic that has shaped your career thus far?
Since I was a little girl, I’ve always seen my Mum work super hard and I’ve seen the benefits of that, I’ve also received the benefits of that. That’s something that I’ve observed and I try to take all the good qualities from her.
You are still just 22 years of age. In what ways do you think becoming a global artist has influenced your own personal growth and understanding of the broader world?
Travelling and being able to experience new cultures is definitely a huge part of that, interacting with people I probably wouldn’t have interacted with otherwise I’d have gotten an office job in Jamaica.
In this episode you acknowledge the UK as one of the first places to embrace your sound. Are there any places in the world and crowds you’ve performed to that feel like a highlight moment?
On one particular stop on this tour we were in Sao Paulo, Brazil, my last stop. I met some people in the airport who were actually singing reggae music, songs from myself, songs from Savannah. That’s been awesome.
I actually don’t regret constantly mentioning South America because it’s been really, really good. What’s been happening recently is within my 35 minutes set, maybe within the first three shows, I asked the audience to put their flashlights in the air for a particular song. Strangely enough, the audiences have been more and more loving at each stop. Since then, the song just before the one that I typically ask them to show lights for, they show lights on their own. That’s been so great. I think especially knowing that the audience, for the most part, didn’t necessarily come to watch me. It shows me that there’s love there and I can always come back.
You’re an advocate for staying true to your core. Have you always had a clear sense of self? Do you believe there’s a process in learning and relearning about your own identity?
I still think I’m on that journey of learning more of me. I don’t know if there’s a peak, I think it’s always a work in progress. My mum definitely instilled in me a strong sense of self and also my culture, Jamaica, it gives me a strong sense of belonging.
Spirituality feels like an important element to your artistry. Can you tell us about your relationship with faith?
I grew up in church. I don’t know if anyone can relate to this, maybe quite a few people, but I think some of my best moments come after prayer, or anything that rejuvenates me spiritually. I think I feel the most grounded, most at peace and most capable when I pray and when I stay close to my creator.
Solace and gratitude are also crucial, quoting your artistic intentions: ‘I try to be the calm after the storm.’ Are there sentiments or themes you’ve found particularly challenging to express through your art?
In my music, I like to represent a sense of peace and also a level of inspiration. I like to be a reminder to my listeners that life can also be okay, because I know that it does get hard and it gets chaotic. I think through my music and my message, I like to offer a sense of peace.
When it comes to a challenging them, I’m not quite sure yet but one thing that I definitely had to make a deliberate step to do is making love songs.
Throughout the series we hear intimate, stripped-back performances of ‘Toast’. What is your favourite setting to perform in?
Acoustics. I’ve definitely had fun doing that. Just myself and a guitar or maybe percussion. I do think that with my performance, I’ve been getting better at my craft and I’ve seen the results, I’ve seen that received well by everyone.
As the youngest recipient of the Best Reggae Album Grammy Award, how do you wish to push the genre further? In which direction would you like the sound to evolve?
I think in more of a global direction, a direction that allows more exposure for my peers, and even generations to come. I see it’s slowly getting there.
What kind of sounds have you been into recently? What directions have you been experimenting with?
I really love to surprise! I want to say what it is but I feel like I’ll just give my plan away. You will have to wait but you won’t have to wait too long.
It was really exciting to hear you experiment with different genres on your debut album ‘Gifted,’ particularly on the track you worked on with Kendrick Lamar, ‘Defend’…
I really enjoyed that process. He did help me expand my sound a little bit and try new styles. I’m just gonna take that further. You might even hear more of what I’ve had in store with him. Maybe.
So far, what has been the most inspiring moment you’ve shared with someone in the studio?
Well I can’t call this particular artist’s name because as I said, I really love to surprise. But I will say that it’s an afrobeats artist who I got the chance to work with. He’s very inspiring. I’m a writer, I’ll sit with a beat and then I’ll hit the studio but he just touches the mic in another way entirely. He just stands there and sings off the top of his head. His music is actually really great. To see him do that was inspiring for me.
Can you name your top 5 albums of the year?
I really enjoyed Cruel Santino’s album, ‘Subaru Boys: FINAL HEAVEN’. I also really enjoyed ‘Forest In The City’ by an artist called UMI. ‘More Love, Less Ego’ by Wizkid, Burna Boy’s ‘Love, Damini’ and ‘Third Time’s The Charm’ by Protoje. Those are my top five.
Do you have any new year’s resolutions?
Improving my spiritual journey and continuing to stay grounded. These are things that I already embrace but they certainly help me to be a better person; I want to work on them even more and not lose progress.
What version of Koffee is coming in 2023?
I think if I were to judge it myself I’d say that I’m a more expanded version of myself, I’ve been trying new things, sounds and delivery styles that I’ve never tried before. I would definitely say it’s a little bit more global.
Words: Ana Lamond
Photography: Josie Hall
Photo Credit: Pixabay