In Absentiaisra rene

(a story in three acts in three locations at three different points in time all of which are given volume by KOKOROKO's debut album, Could We Be More)

[Quantum Listening is]
listening in every possible way
to everything possible to hear
no matter what you are doing
—Pauline Oliveros1

I'm not the kind of person that can tell you the first time I heard a song. I wish I was.

I wish I could pinpoint moments in time and relive them through their associated sonic frequencies. I envy that kind of memory; sensual; embodied; tactile. Maybe it's why I write– to hold a feeling aloft/alive, allowing it to become an event that can be returned to and lingered in.

And so, while I can't remember the first time I heard KOKOROKO, I can write about last night. I can tell you about riding home from Peckham to Tulse Hill, their debut album Could We Be More tilting the night's angles into corners and mirrors, pockets of light and sound drifting like fishing nets cast at dawn from the helm of small boats in the muddy green of the Niger Delta.

I can take you on a journey that skips across timelines. A pebble kissing the surface of a wide lake. Ripples as storylines. Histories intersecting: Eighteen months ago; last night; two days from now. I can write about Sweeties, 10 stories in the sky, and the way KOKOROKO bent London into a spectrum of subtle light and movement. The way Sheila, Onome, Ayo, Cassie, Richie, Tobi, Duane, and Yohan2 coaxed us into reverie and fervor simultaneously. That night I watched a sea of braids, afros, shaved heads, and dark skin sway and flex, dip and rise against the backdrop of a full moon. It felt like everyone I loved was there, even if they weren't. Could We Be More nudges me to remember, to imagine, to love, to turn my thoughts into material and scan my body for the places I want to make home from.

And to dance. Always to dance.

Age Of Ascent
(Last night, February 28, 2024)

My friend Jaz and I have just stepped out of FLO Vortex on the last Wednesday in February. The smoke from the joint we share still hangs in the air between us as I walk toward my bike. Snatches of voice follow me as poets and their admirers filter out into the night. I am drifting through the evening's end meeting myself somewhere that deserves to be written about, the edge of words sharpening worlds into visions.

As I set off into the dark, my bike's pedals becoming a part of the road's music, "Age Of Ascent" pushes me forward, the wind at my back as I wind through the backroads toward East Dulwich. This route home is a river I have swum in every weather condition. Tonight feels like the beginning of Spring. Not quite warm, but gentle and coaxing. The sky arches over me, a cobalt blue. A fox runs alongside me briefly before cutting into a garden and disappearing.

With each corner I take, the music leans with me. This is space music. Black and wide, it wanders a wayward path through beacons from stars 7 lifetimes away. The conversation between the guitar and the horns feels like two lovers dangling their feet from the bank of a river. Their reflections discuss what it will take to make a structure out of love. More than a home they are trying to imagine/design a solar system of care whose planets grow liberation the shape of Banyan trees. Their eyes twinkle in the darkness as they sway their limbs in the quiet rhythm of intimacy. There's more than beauty in a reflection. There's the promise of depth, present when someone lets you look at them without flinching.

Flying down Calton Ave, my thoughts perforate the last of winter's breath, turning it into a flute made of dreams. I shout into the sky and hear the horns returning their firm charge: Make something lasting from your dreams.

Ewà Inú
(In two days, March 1, 2024)

I am here
Here could be anywhere, is
Everywhere, slips out of sync with itself like a particle antiparticle separating at the event horizon of a black hole, wanders*
In both directions and even as I turn my bike onto Grove Vale, the night a soft glaze of streetlights, I am also already two days ahead of myself in a warm, brown studio, becoming an improvisation of words and laughter with Sheila and Onome.

*This is what the music does to me. Spreads me into a spirit of loosely dancing electrons, body of water, ripples on the surface of spacetime, stream of consciousness. While I still can't remember the first time I heard KOKOROKO, I know the texture of gravity their music produces. I have felt their intentions multiplying in my body, turning me into an archipelago of fireflies whose blinking bodies chorus with invisible cicadas.

Listen at the water's edge and let the darkness slip into you.

Sheila and Onome are working on the next album. I am listening to them, employing Pauline Oliveros's quantum listening technique as means for writing as music-making. I am bearing witness to a friendship that glimmers like a smile flashed across a forest clearing. It fizzes and shapes the room we are in. As the bandleaders, they arrange most of the music even while each member brings songs of their own to be developed by the group. Today, they are listening to a song that Onome wrote, which has been interpreted by the singer anaiis. Her voice over the sparse instrumental arrangement signals a new sound for KOKOROKO. When they play it, the room cracks open and my nerves touch the surface of my body. We speak about trust and collaboration. Onome plays me the song with his original vocals. Sheila plays the version she sang. We listen to anaiis again. She has transformed the words into something that cannot be described without touch. You'll have to wait to find out what I'm talking about. But as we've established, the concept of time is as open as you allow it to be. For the next half hour we talk about an album as a vessel to create space, share intentions, and find ground with people you respect.

Soul Searching
(Eighteen months ago, August 11, 2022)

A story starts across multiple spacetimes.
There is no beginning; just now.

Imagine a body moving through a room with the kind of swing that, from the outside, would be best described as joy/abandon/life/sunshine. Imagine hips winding around the neck of the trumpet, head losing track of the beat in the wit of a guitar riff, spine tilting forward like an Ernie Barnes painting, unfurling, arms becoming sails lifting him off the ground to float in the air above a packed and bubbling room. It's important to remember that while he seems whole, he is anything but. No, he is a collection of stories. Some have been passed down for millennia, traveling through families, skipping generations, showing up uninvited, comforting like old friends. Others have not yet been told. They are waiting to shiver in the cold bite of a new day. Light tiptoeing across the edge of a horizon: uncertain of how, but knowing that it must: Rise. Still other stories are in the process of being told right now. They are the reflections in the windows of the 10th floor bar his body is suspended above, the moon outside full and pensive. The story doesn't start here, of course.

A story starts across multiple spacetimes.
There is no beginning; just now.

Earlier that night, KOKOROKO arrived to set up a small stage in the curve of a window offering a wide view of London's skyline. They have played before, together, many times, but this time is different. They are nervous. They are evolving. Their story is growing new wings. This is the album launch for their debut offering, Could We Be More, and as everybody knows, in the words of our cosmic mother, Erykah: “I'm an artist, and I'm sensitive about my shit.”

(In two days, March 1, 2024)

We are traveling across the boundaries of time like cousins remembering old photographs of Grandma's house. We don't really know each other, but we have known each other forever. Sheila's cousin is one of my oldest friends. Our worlds are as entangled as the complex conversations we navigate about race and politics, blackness and Palestine, women and the way men are still scared to give up power. As the afternoon leaks into the evening we pull in and out of dialogue, writing becoming listening becoming questions becoming Onome playing two congas muted with a tee-shirt and a hoodie. There are no windows in the studio but it feels like there is a gentle cosmic light pouring into the room, like we're sailing out and beyond the reaches of London's busy. From up here, the world beneath us feels possible—as if we can address each and every problem by building small temples of sound and relation and inviting others in to experience what we've made together.

More than once silence fills the room as we listen to the spaces between our words. Music is made in these pauses. The wry corner of Sheila's smile becomes an arpeggiated chord. Onome's arms stretching up into the air turn a quaver into a semibreve. My pen tapping against my rings as I write the silence into a memory provides a time signature for the next song.

Something's Going On
(Eighteen months ago, August 11, 2022)

Tonight, on the 10th floor of The Standard, in Sweeties, a new story is being told. It doesn't begin with anyone in particular. In the thick of a packed room of people—elbows touching waist touching sequin dress touching collective elation—a woman stands mesmerized by what she is bearing witness to. Vibrating all around her is the rich and complex tapestry conjured between KOKOROKO'S eight band members. She sways in the middle of a room made of Black memory. She knows these drums from her parent's record collection but she has never seen them played live by a man she is ready to fall in love with. She has never watched a version of herself play the trumpet with the kind of beautiful, half-rhyme-eye-smile of the woman in front of her. She has never heard this music before, but her body knows how to communicate with it. She sinks into the groove of the evening's wide curves. Beneath her the carpet hums like a conductor. She doesn't know if anyone else can see, but there are small charges of gold light filling the air around the band, as if they are conjuring quantum particles from the collective reverie of the audience in front of them. Something is happening and all she knows is that she wants to be a part of it. Her lungs blossom out of her mouth. She has never made a sound this sweet before.

(Last night, February 28, 2024
Eighteen months ago, August 11, 2022
In two days, March 1, 2024)

Hands off handlebars, I lean back and smile into the arching sky. I know that the crest of the wave above me is not going to crash. I know that it will form a tunnel for me to run my fingers along. Listen. A hole in space and time. Blue. Deep. Churning. The sea has found its way to South London. I am swimming.

1 Oliveros, Pauline. Quantum Listening: 2. London: Ignota Books, 2022.

2 KOKOROKO is currently made up of:
Sheila Maurice-Grey - trumpet, vocals
Ayo Salawu - drums
Onome Edgeworth - percussion
Duane Atherley - bass
Tobi Adenaike-Johnson - guitar
Yohan Kebede - keys and synth
Anoushka Nanguy - trombone (live shows)