As Success Brews, Koffee Talks About the Importance of Gratitude & Giving Back
Teenage sensation Koffee delivered her debut performance with her seven-piece band, The Raggamuffins, on June 1 at the fundraiser For The Children: An Evening with Air Supply and Third World featuring Koffee; the concert was held at the spectacular Couples San Souci, Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and put on by the Issa Trust Foundation (ITF), the nonprofit arm of Couples Resorts. The ITF provides pediatric medical care, at the highest possible standard, for many children whose families could not afford it otherwise, collaborating with hospitals and local organizations throughout Jamaica to identify the most significant health issues.
Kofee was the opening act for two veteran outfits: Air Supply (Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock, appointed ITF musical ambassadors due to their enormous fan base on the island) and stalwart Jamaican band Third World, currently celebrating their 45th anniversary and still heavily in demand as, per their 1989 hit, "Reggae Ambassadors." "Koffee is a young girl with a beautiful old soul who has won over just about everyone who has heard her; she was the ideal balance to the virtuoso performers that followed," commented Issa Trust Foundation chairman Paul Issa.
Dressed in a white t-shirt, red, black and white patterned pants and a matching jacket, her blonde-tipped dreadlocks pulled away from her face, Koffee confidently strode on stage to resounding applause from the capacity crowd of 2,000. "It's a great pleasure to be here; mi wish mi coulda come down there so let mi try a thing," said the petite 19-year-old as she took the microphone off its stand. Koffee leaped onto a platform in front of the stage to get closer to audience, who cheered her on, as The Raggamuffins pumped out the opening notes of her hit "Toast." Produced by Izybeats and Major Lazer's Walshy Fire, the celebratory lyrics of "Toast" – "mi thank God fi di journey, di earnings a jus fi di plus/gratitude is a must" -- have connected with fans far beyond Jamaica as an anthem of appreciation for life's blessings. Featured in Jordan Peele's thriller Us, "Toast" helped propel her March EP Rapture to the No. 1 spot on Billboard's Top Reggae Albums chart.
Koffee wrote "Toast" during a visit to Haiti in 2018 where she reflected on her burgeoning success. "I was in the fourth grade when the earthquake hit Haiti (in 2010) and hearing about the devastation was very powerful for us as children," Koffee told Billboard 10 days after the For the Children concert in a conference room at the Manhattan offices of Sony Music; Koffee is signed to Sony's flagship labels RCA Records in the U.S. and Columbia Records in the U.K. "Visiting Haiti years later was surreal for me; I was thinking about how far I have come in music, was feeling very grateful and just giving thanks," she continued. "So 'Toast' speaks about the moment in high school when my life changed when I started writing lyrics; the passion that I wrote the song with is what's translating to other people."
Koffee's inclusion on For The Children (at the suggestion of the concert's producer Andrea Davis) brought a vibrant, youthful representation to a marquee event presented by a foundation that assists the island's youngest citizens. For The Children 2019 generated over $231,000, the proceeds going toward refurbishing pediatric wards at Jamaica's Annotto Bay and Savanna La Mar Hospitals, which includes purchasing neo-natal ventilators, cribs, beds, x-ray machines, air conditioning and other essentials that are often unavailable in Jamaica's facilities. "It's humbling to see our youth inspire other young people; many parents called me before the concert asking if their young children could come because they love Koffee and parents love her message," comments Diane Pollard, president and CEO, ITF, who sources funding for the foundation, writes and oversees the foundation's program planning and works closely with the island's doctors and nurses to ensure the programs are properly implemented. "In this day and age it's refreshing to hear Koffee talk and sing about the importance of honesty, respect, responsibility, integrity and morality," Pollard continued. "It especially means a lot to us, since our foundation focuses on children."
Koffee said it was an honor to be a part of For The Children "because music isn't just for fame or money, using it for positive, powerful things is always good." Maintaining an exemplary image is a tremendous responsibility but it's one Koffee, so named for ordering the hot beverage on a sweltering day, readily embraces. "I do accept being a role model wholeheartedly because I know it is something that cannot be avoided," she says. "However, if I am careless with my role, it will be to my detriment. But if I accept my responsibility in a good way, it can only get better for myself and those around me; it is all about what you decide to do."
Koffee was born Mikayla Simpson on Feb. 16, 2000 in Spanish Town, Jamaica, located about 30 minutes from the capital, Kingston. Many successful Jamaican artists were born in Spanish Town including Chronixx, whose music has significantly influenced Koffee's artistic development, and rising dancehall artist Govana who joins Koffee on the recent remix of the title track of her Rapture EP.
Raised by her Christian mother, Koffee first started singing in the church choir. She recalls listening to reggae in her early teens while most of her friends listened to the "typical dancehall and hip-hop that was spinning on the radio." At 14, while studying to be a pharmacist ("that never felt right," she says) Koffee began writing lyrics as a distraction while attending class. She recalls hearing sing-jay Protoje, known for his intricate lyricism that's tightly woven into a mesmeric fusion of roots reggae, dancehall and hip-hop, and "going in completely on his craft and admiring it. At that time, I taught myself guitar, learned how to play conscious reggae songs, and writing lyrics became a part of me."
In August 2017 Koffee uploaded a video to her Instagram account of her playing guitar and singing the first song she ever wrote, "Legend," a tribute to Usain Bolt. Bolt posted the clip on his IG page and it went viral. Four months later, Koffee performed "Legend" with the nine-time Olympic Gold medalist seated a few feet away at an elaborate ceremony unveiling the Usain Bolt statue, held at Kingston's National Stadium.
Koffee wrote her 2017 debut single "Burning" (Upsetta Records) as an avowal to excel after she didn't get into a pre-college program. Excel she did, with an engaging lyrical and vocal delivery that's far more complex than her previous effort. She followed that with the exhilarating "Raggamuffin," effortlessly shifting from observations on Jamaica's violence to her own career ascent. In Koffee's song, raggamuffin suggests reggae and dancehall from the streets; as the name of her band, "it means rugged, but in a good way; it come with positivity and fun vibes," she notes.
Koffee's densely packed rapid-fire rhymes on "Raggamuffin" (included on her five-track EP Rapture) are reminiscent of the fast chat toasting heard on U.K. deejay Papa Levi's 1984 hit "Mi God Mi King"; Levi's hit became the first No. 1 single for a British reggae artist in Jamaica and had a far reaching effect on many Jamaican deejays of that period including Spanish Town's own Papa San (now a successful gospel artist) and Super Cat. Super Cat's lyrical flow is cited by Koffee as essential in shaping her toasting style. "I never went in on oldies music, but I have heard many of those old records, especially courtesy of my mom, I don't know all the names, but I know the songs and they were so impactful on me, it came out in how I express myself," she acknowledged.
Koffee's Gen Z teen meets vintage deejaying approach proved an irresistible combination when she made her major stage show debut at Jamaica's Rebel Salute in January 2018. Veteran reggae singer Cocoa Tea, who met Koffee in Walshy Fire's Miami recording studio just a month earlier, was so impressed with her music, he allotted 10 minutes of his set at the annual reggae concert extravaganza to showcasing the then unknown 17-year-old talent. Cocoa Tea has also featured Koffee at other high-profile reggae events including Spain's Rototom Sunsplash in August 2018 and at Buju Banton's much anticipated return concert in Kingston in March, where she performed before 32,000 fans. "Cocoa Tea is a mentor who's very knowledgeable about the business, he gives me musical advice and encouragement, knowing that I have to get there at some point," says Koffee.
Koffee, the first reggae artist to be featured as part of Apple's Up Next series, will make her U.S. television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in July and she's working on her much-anticipated full-length album due early 2020. Koffee's initial European tour commences on June 26; U.S. dates including Atlanta, Austin and New York City are booked for September and October. She's also embarked on a school tour across the Caribbean, targeting high school and college age students. The program commenced in Bermuda, where she visited two schools and engaged in a panel discussion following a concert performance. "We plan to continue that course because they go hand in hand," Koffee shares. "My music has meaning, so we explain the messages, speak encouraging words and come together to make people realize that music can be used to do good. We share love, tell the youths to stay positive and always give God thanks."