This article is an excerpt from the Kojo Funds feature from Issue 01 of GAFFER: ‘England’s Finest’. Available from our online shop now.
2018 has seen Brexit whip up a nationwide frenzy and increased media coverage of youth violence illuminate the fissures in English society. The steady rise of populist politics finger with nationalism has cultivated an atmosphere of divisiveness and disparity. On the flip side, it’s fired up a dynamic cultural scene that is keen to explore Black and British identity. Born out of this hybridity is Afroswing, essentially the ‘link up’ between Nigerian-Ghanaian Afrobeats and the rhythmic rap of London life, with artist Kojo Funds serving as its pacemaker.
A testament to the diasporic genre-melding sound he’s coined, Newham-raised Ghanaian-Dominican Funds is injecting his infectious energy into all that he touches. By taking an iconic genre like dancehall, interlacing it with road rap, seasoning it with ragga beats and a smattering of trap, he’s successfully curated his own distinctive palette, one that typifies a Friday night out. Funds derives from an army of ‘urban’ artists who’ve steadily burgeoned onto the mainstream to take centre stage. Following his first headline show in April and upcoming U.K tour in January 2019, we caught up with him to reflect on his journey, its challenges, and the complications of mixing work with pleasure.
Do you see yourself as one of England’s Finest artists?
I set a standard, make a statement, come with my own unique sound and set a platform for other artists to come up.
If you could pick three tracks that you feel symbolise different aspects of your personality, what would they be?
“Song Cry” is kind of like a reggae soul I wouldn’t say I poured my heart out but [it’s] kind of an emotional one. “Mafia” from my mixtape and “Warning” which would comes under the same bracket as “Dun Talkin’”. It depends a lot on the vibe as to how the music comes out, for instance if I’m feeling good then it’ll be something sweet like “Fine Wine”.
What was your first experience of Afrobeats?
First afrobeats artist I heard was Wizkid back in the day old school when he first came out and nobody really knew him. Then in 2014 I made my first Afrobeats tune, which I released on SoundCloud, and it got a million views, but back then I wasn’t taking music seriously.
Why do you think Afroswing has emerged now as opposed to ten years ago?
Because nobody was doing it 10 years ago. Right now is a time when technology is in place so young kids are very aware of what’s going on. Back then, you could only hear music by word of mouth or via Myspace. Now there’s a variety of social media platforms connecting people. Kids are adapting to the sound.
Yes, globalisation. There’s more of a pride around African identity, which wasn’t the case when I was at school.
Yes that’s very true. Now people are claiming it. That’s due to the music and artists that are coming out. I’m half Ghanian and half Dominican but I don’t really take to the Dominican side. It plays a part though. When I was very young and my dad was about he was a rasta and played reggae tunes. I was in Ghana for a year or two which really influenced me from the way the cultures set out, to learning different vibes to the way my accent changed I started sounding more Ghanaian. In my music I like to mix that with British aspect and snippets of the Caribbean culture.
Your music is very much a hybrid of different genres whether its rap and afrotrap, afrobeats and grime, garage or melodic, did you come on to the scene with a vision to mix things up?
Yeah, I felt nobody else was doing what I was doing. When unique things come to light, people put their ears to it and kind of adapt to it. So I thought why not come with a new solution to the current music by mixing the afrobeat with the dancehall, reggae, RnB and rap?
What were the sounds of East london whilst you were growing up?
The sound was Grime people like Kano. And grime one-hundred perecent influenced me. Grime was the first lyrics I wrote in secondary school and it was more of a hobby back then. It played a big part.
At which point did you start taking music more seriously?
When I brought out “Dun Talkin” in 2016. The feedback I was getting from there persuaded me to take it seriously.
Looking back at Dun Talkin’ to PNG, how do you feel your sound, style and visuals have evolved?
Heavily. I’ve been in the studio perfecting my craft so can now be more versatile with the overall sound. My visuals…I mean obviously the money’s getting longer so more ideas…I’ve always been dressing the way I was in PNG, but with “Dun Talkin” I was on the block. It was a gully tune. I wanted to look good with a bit of style, so I had the bucket hat. If I go out clubbing I’ll dress nice but I’m more of a feel comfortable in my hoodie type of thing, but to be honest I don’t really focus on the fashion too much.
If money was never an issue what visuals would you like?
I would do a madness. I’d get hovering cars that means I’m a billionaire and I could create something mad. I’d also love to do like a mini film. I think Fredo puts on some good videos.
Your track ‘Who Am I’ uses a high tempo with a more garagey beat really showcasing your capacity to rap. Would you say your keener now to do more rap tunes as your more known for the melodic stuff?
The melodic stuff is easy for me. I felt like I had to show other aspects of me ‘cause I don’t want my listeners to get tired. There’s a lot of people trying to do what I’m doing. I want to challenge myself, so I thought, why not try this.
Greatest challenge so far?
Being social you know. I’m not used to it, I’m used to just chilling being with my guys but now the cameras are on, people are watching, it’s difficult, I just want to just do the music, but it’s not just the music people want to see. I only go out partying if it’s needed. I feel like people should see me through my music the type of person I am. My friends were like “you’re actually a funny guy when you’re around us, you’re a clown, a good fun friend to be around”. But people don’t see that side of me, but I want them too.
What is something you’ve learnt now, that you wished somebody had advised you of at the start of your career?
Never mix business with personal shit. That’s what I should’ve done at the beginning, and I’m living a different life now I need to let go of the past. I’ve had to learn self-discipline. I kind of have a temper. It was worse before, but now I’ve seen the consequences of that shit I’m more able to control it. I feel so much more free and relaxed now.
Who would you like to collaborate with?
Ed Sheeran. I feel like he’s got a black man’s blood in him. I’d like to work with Meek Mill, he’s coming from the same shit as me but he’s just saying it in a different way. He’s rapping whereas I’m saying it in a melodic way. This is London and America, they need to see this side of life as they think it’s all rosey and we’re just drinking cups of tea in London.
Your 2019 goals?
For all my music to be heard by a wider audience, collect more money and for my status to graduate to the next level. I’m excited for my tour in January too and have got some new music coming through which I know is going to make a statement.