Koffee is reshaping and modernising reggae, bringing it to a whole new audience


Words by Kate Streader

Meet the Jamaican artist bringing reggae to the mainstream. 

Born in Spanish Town, Jamaica, Mikayla Simpson’s first fling with music came when she began singing in the local church choir where she first learned about harmonising and melody. At the age of 12, she taught herself to play the guitar on a spare her friend had lent her. She soon began penning lyrics, inspired by reggae musician Proteje as well as the poetry and literature she was learning in school. 

Her first song was a smash success. Inspired by Jamaican athlete Usain Bolt, ‘Legend’ changed Mikayla’s life when the world-famous sprinter shared the song on his Instagram. With her sudden foray into the spotlight, she decided to don a stage name.

Get better acquainted with our favourite artists at FJ’s Music section.

Given to her as a childhood nickname when her friends were flummoxed that she was drinking hot coffee while everyone else was cooling down with soda on an unseasonably scorching September day, her moniker reflects a nostalgic term of endearment.  

Swapping out the ‘C’ to a ‘K’ to reflect the spelling of Mikayla, Koffee was here and headed for success. In 2017, her debut track was joined by her second single ‘Burning’ which followed in the footsteps of her first release by becoming a global success. Come her third single ‘Raggamuffin’ in 2018, Koffee landed a deal with Columbia Records. 

The following year brought her debut EP, Rapture, which landed her a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album that year and earned her the two-pronged honour of becoming both the youngest person (at just 19 years old) and the first woman ever to take out the award. 

In 2020, she was set to perform at Coachella before heading to Mexico and South America as an opening act on Harry Styles’ tour when COVID came along. And while the pandemic may have curtailed the momentum of her meteoric rise, it certainly hasn’t halted Koffee.

Lockdown did, however, give her time to record her highly-anticipated full-length album, which will arrive on Friday March 25. Titled Gifted, her debut record is tied together by the themes of positivity and unity. 

I want to speak of a solution and of a way that we can come together and get along, even when things are going wrong,” said Koffee of the album. So far, we’ve heard a handful of singles from Gifted, including West Indies, Pull Up, Lockdown, and Shine

While reggae is certainly the heart of Koffee’s sound, her music is a contemporary, redefined take on reggae that integrates the rhythm and groove synonymous with the genre with elements of modern dance and pop styles.

And though reggae is ever-present in her work, Koffee’s tracks reinvigorate the genre by pushing its boundaries, transcending influences, and melding dancehall, afrobeat, and more mainstream sensibilities into the mix. 

Fresh, diverse, and eclectic, her sound is the culmination of exploration and experimentation. Thematically, the record looks to the bright side. Rather than sugarcoating, Koffee seeks to push through and overcome. 

On ‘Lockdown’, an unlikely upbeat jam, there’s no sense of glossing over the brutality of the pandemic or pretending it wasn’t so bad. Rather, Koffee looks longingly to a time when the stay-at-home orders have lifted and we can get on with it. 

Where will we go / When di quarantine ting done and everybody touch road?”, she ponders. Similarly, ‘Shine’ offers a plea for peace. There’s no naiveté or toxic positivity, the message simply suggests we can surely do better than this.

At my concert, nuh wan see nuh hands up / Nuh red shirt, nuh wan see nuh handcuffs / Let’s just stay alive”. With things back on track as we settle into a ‘new normal’ way of living with COVID-19, Koffee’s plans to hit Coachella and join everyone’s favourite golden boy Harry Styles on tour are back on for this year. 

Also on the 2022 touring schedule for Koffee is a headline tour of the US, as well as a handful of in-store shows at record stores in the UK to celebrate the release of Gifted

At just 21 years old, Koffee has broken records, caught the attention of celebrities and fans alike the world over, and been credited with reshaping and modernising Jamaica’s dominant music genre – all before releasing her first album. It’s safe to say Koffee’s only just warming up.  

Listen to Koffee’s new album here.

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