Interview with Koffee in Kingston, Jamaica
11/17/2017 by Gardy Stein
Dark T-shirt, red sneakers, chequered backpack - when Mikayla Simpson enters the Dub School premises at Stones Throw, a location on Kingston's bustling Mannings Hill Road, she almost appears to be a normal school girl. Almost! There is a calm determination about her, a natural presence that sets her apart, despite her only 17 years of age. Koffee is a name that you will grow accustomed to hear, as her extraordinary voice and performing skills are as promising as her video Legend, a dedication to Usain Bolt, which went viral in August. WATCH IT HERE!
Meeting the challenge to interview an artist without a long list of releases and producers to refer to, Reggaeville was granted a glimpse of Koffee's magic, her sense of purpose and her future plans:
Koffee, you seem to have hit the streets out of thin air. Where do you come from?
I'm from Spanish Town originally, I'm still living there with my mother. Basically, I would say that music has brought me here, so that's my real origin.
When did you start to work on your vocals?
Working on my vocals had been a focus since 7th grade. I had joined the choir at Ardenne High School where I was attending and we had warm-ups every morning. I found that it improved my voice a lot, so I've been working on my voice since then. In August I really started thinking about doing music seriously.
Are you still in school?
I just finished final exams, they are called CSEC exams in Jamaica. My graduation was on July 1st, and even though I performed at my graduation, I wasn't thinking that music is gonna be my thing, so… it happened after that.
What happened was the Usain Bolt song, right? Was it the first song you ever did?
Yes, it was the first official song I ever did. I mean, I wrote lyrics before, but not complete songs. Even the Bolt song was not a complete song, it was just a small tribute but… yeah, my first official recording. Since Reggaeville posted that video, things just evolved… Well, I remember Usain Bolt reposting the video, and myself and my team including mommy being very excited about it. I noticed that a lot of attention started to come in from it, followers, likes, comments, and I was like 'Wow, this is really an opportunity!' And my mentor, Caniggia Palmer, he saw the potential in me more than anyone else and decided to manage me in a music career and that's how it really started.
How did you link up with him?
He was a music teacher at Ardenne High School where I attended for five years, so he was there for the five years as well. He was the one who directed the choir, so he introduced me to voice warm-ups and stretching my voice, pushing my limits. After I came to the choir we really started working together, because I had a few performances here and there. There was a competition which he had put on… it was really a door-opener for me, because I was a contestant in the competition and there was a tie between myself and another guy who was a beatboxer, and that was how Caniggia got to identify and recognize my talent and started working with me, seeing my potential.
And the next step then was that you released your first single Burning. Was that the first time you went to a recording studio?
I had been to a recording studio before that, but not to record something officially, just to test out my voice. We did this video for a freestyle I had composed, and we did it in a studio, so… I was on a mic before, but I hadn't professionally recorded a song. So, recording Burning was my second experience in a studio, actually. And it's going viral!
What feedback do you get? Do people write you?
Yes, on social media people reach out to me. I always try to get back to them and show them appreciation for the love that they are pushing out to me. It's straight positive vibes that I'm receiving on that song alone, so I'm really thankful for that and I appreciate it.
Are there any further projects planned, like an album or so?
I actually want to start working on an EP really soon, but for now we are working on a few more singles and then maybe an EP going into 2018.
Apart from the song development, you seem to also be active honing your skills as a performer. Did you have showcases already in Jamaica?
Minor, just like a few gatherings and so forth, nothing really big. My first show will actually be December 9th at the Wickie Wackie Festival. I'm really looking forward to that! I know Raging Fyah and I hang out with them a lot, especially with Kumar. They are really nice people. Nice vibes!
What music do you listen to?
Lots of music, every day. From Jamaica, Protoje, Chronixx, some younger artists like Runkus, Meleku and Royal Blu, and then Indica from LA and Migos, a rapping trio, from abroad, those kinds of music.
Are any of these artists you would like to work with?
Once I admire an artist, I would automatically want to work with him. Their music is good, so it would be an honour to work with them!
What are issues you treat in your lyrics?
Honestly, the youths. The youths, that's the topic closest to me, because I am a youth myself and I think that we don't have that much of a voice or a channel, so I just want to be that for my peers, that voice.
In a different interview you said "I want to make a better world for the generation that's coming." How do think you could achieve that?
I consider myself to be an influential person, based on experiences like with my peers in school. I really want… I want to create an awareness of positive things, so that the world will automatically become more positive. Because, once people pay less attention to the negative things in the world, especially the things that you can't really fix, I think that's really one of our biggest downfalls as humans, just paying attention to the negative. I don't know, I just wanna spread good vibes as far as I can, so that people can feel good and just love and not have time to think about hate and bad stuff.
That sounds amazing. Do you plan to travel and take that message around the world, too?
I think if the opportunity is presented to me anytime soon, I would take it. But for now… I created a plan for the rest of 2017 which is mainly based in Jamaica, so I'm just making a lot of moves in my home country, making myself known and just making people aware of the Koffee movement!
How did that name Koffee come up anyway?
(laughs) Well, you see, in Jamaica it's really hot, especially in the summer time which is like June, July, August, sometimes September too. When I was in grade 7, at lunch time, everybody was buying soda, water, juice, bag juice and stuff, cold stuff, and I just bought a hot cup of coffee. One of my class mates she was trying to get my attention, but she didn't know my name, and because I had a coffee she referred to me as Coffee, and when I went back to class, she kept calling me that. People kinda caught on to the name, it just stuck. I think it's good. (shrugs) But since my name is Mikayla, I removed the 'C' and put a 'K' there instead.
What was your motivation to write the song about Usain Bolt?
Me and Caniggia were having a conversation and he was sharing with me that Usain Bolt was his hero and we talked and came to the conclusion that Usain was really the hero of our generation. Many people may not look at it from that perspective, because we see him on TV and create excitement, but we don't necessarily say 'Wow, he is a hero!'. So I was like, you know, even though he is young, I think he really deserves this title, and also I think Caniggia was opening my eyes to the fact that my peers should really embrace him as our hero. There are a lot of legendary people who are gone, like the national heroes, those people in their time probably were not looked at as heroes, so they just kind of went by and just later people said 'Oh, Nanny of the Maroons she's a heroine.' I wanted to embrace Usain while he is alive and not wait until he's gone, so that really was the situation.
Are there other people you admire?
Not really. Locally, some musicians like Protoje, I admire him, the way he does his music and the way he operates from what I can see. (thinks) There is also a talk show host in Jamaica by the name of Dionne Jackson Miller, I admire her as well because she is a very humble person. She is never caught up in negative bad talk and stuff. Her job requires a lot of talking, and she just always seems to say the right things and I think she has a good heart from what I can see. I admire those two people, I would say.
Last question, your single Burning definitely has a Reggae flavour. Do you embrace Rastafari?
I'm not really a Rasta. I remember saying the words "Jah Jah cover my journey", but 'Jah' is actually in the bible, so I worship God, and Jah is another name for God. The fire I sing about basically means that drive, that passion. It was really a disappointing experience I had that caused me to write that song, to tell myself to move forward. You have a lot within you, everybody has that fire, and you should just try and find it and burn as much as possible, burn as in shine, so that was a message to myself and hopefully a message to many other people. That was what I meant by the fire.
Well, I'm really looking forward to a lot more Koffee experiences and I think you connected with the right people to do that. What are your goals for the next years?
I'm still working on the plan. I do have aspects that I have already put down, but I'm definitely working on it with my team. Music is my passion, but I haven't finished school to the extent that I want to, so I will probably take a few years to accomplish what I want and then go straight back to the music. Ultimately, I just want to encourage people to love life and give thanks, always give thanks and be appreciative. Just embrace what you have and spread love!