Until 2014, Kojo Funds had never written or released a song, but four years later he’s gone on to become a leading presence in his own self-styled Afroswing genre. From ‘Fine Wine’, to ‘My 9ine’ to ‘Dun Talkin’, Kojo Funds rapid rise as a new voice in UK music, has been enduring.
Funds’ debut single, ‘My 9ine’ repurposed Wayne Wonder’s 2003 vintage ‘No Letting Go’ and gave fans their first insight into his character as a musician – honeyed romance on a surface level, and an ode to arms on another. It’s a flip that proved to be enjoyable. Soon ‘Dun Talkin’’, turned to ‘Warning’ and ‘Fear No One’ with Funds continually pulling references and samples from the vault. Bringing his passion for Dancehall together with his Grime loving foundations and an intimate knowledge of ‘90’s and ‘00’s R’n’B, combined to create his sound. “What I’ll do is I listen to Old School music and kinda like put my taste to it, and just keep working.”
Now signed to Atlantic Records in the UK, and recognised as a hit making musician, we meet up for a long-awaited conversation about his journey so far. How does it feel to be considered an ‘established’ artist? “Feels alright. It’s exciting – means the hard work I’ve put in has paid off kinda thing. People are adapting to what I’m doing now so yeah, it’s a good thing.”
Born to a Dominican dad and Ghanaian mother in Newham, East London, Funds remembers vinyls left lying around the house while he was growing up. Learning to play drums at school, his real initiation happened on the weekends, “every weekend, me and my boys would go partying at the local raves in my borough, they would be playing all sorts of music: Bashment, R’n’B, Grime, Rap, everything.”
I thought rah, if the younger generation don’t know our kinda music, why not blend it in for them to adapt?
Besides Wayne Wonder, the references in Funds’ music went on to include Snow’s ‘Informer’ (‘Warning’) and Craig David’s ‘7 Days’ (‘Check’ ft. Raye) and it’s an era close to his heart. “I feel like Old School music is the real music. Hip-Hop changed the world when that music came to life, and as I was growing up that’s what I’m hearing. So I’m used to it and my parents playing it when I was younger – that’s all I knew. I kinda adapted to it and, yeah I just brought it back to life now, kinda like recycling it now. I thought rah, if the younger generation don’t know our kinda music, why not blend it in for them to adapt?”
Funds sits at the head of the conference table, even tempered as he speaks; I get the impression he’s not prone to dramatic outbursts. Preferring instead to measure out his response to each question. The Afroswing fusion genre has come under fire recently, accused of being samey after a series of copycat records have reduced it’s appeal to something of a novelty for the timeline. I ask how he feels about people dismissing it as an illegitimate genre, little more than the current trend? “To be honest,” he begins, “the trend is just a phase kinda thing. Know what I mean? Creating a genre is real life, I didn’t start doing this genre just for people to like, try and do it kinda thing – it’s what I’m experiencing, it’s real. It’s deeper than that so I’m not really fazed about just trying to jump on a wave and things like that. I’m tryna like, develop it and make it go beyond greener pastures.”
As a songwriter, Funds is rapid. “If I start a tune, I will wanna finish it that day. Once I lay something, I just keep stacking. I start with the melody, then I work my way up. Break it down, find the hooks, the verses and put the words in. That’s what I do, think about past experiences and sometimes what I’m going to do – but my music’s based on what I’ve experienced in my life. What I know, that’s it. I put that out.”
As an artist, Funds is focused on continuing to tell the stories of his life, “I’ve improved, I’m kinda like, going all round now. I’m not just sticking to one box, if that makes sense? Even though people know me to do like, soft tunes and hardcore tunes, I’m kinda like, just going all round now. Even the music I’m making now – I’m touching on other genres that people wouldn’t expect me to.”
With the Americans, they help one another out consistently and I think the UK, we’re there, but we’re not there yet.
Crediting the positive state of UK music to “people sticking together init?”, it’s a state-of-mind that’s certainly propelled a rising tide of new artists seeing chart success. “Helping one another in expanding their genres, shedding light – we’re in a good place, but we can go further. With the Americans, they help one another out consistently and I think the UK, we’re there, but we’re not there yet. Once we just like, get the hang of it we can go further – internationally people are getting to know the UK scene right now. It’s a great thing.”
Kojo Funds remains committed to his brand of Afroswing, recollecting memories from past music and reshaping in his own voice, it’s more than a passing phase and, when executed properly, can be the gateway into decades of music for fans of all persuasions.