The DCMD Salon Interview: Kokayi


Kokayi‘s genre-defying music might be hard to classify, but if there’s one thing clear, it’s that his soulful offerings are undeniably infectious while also being incredibly insightful.

His unmatched dexterity as a songwriter, producer and educator led him to receive a Grammy nomination for his work, among many other accolades. But what also sets the D.C. native apart from other artists is his ambition, which shines through in several bold creative projects he’s done over the years.

A prime example was his Track a Day project in 2014, where he released a new song every day for a year. This year, his creative mastery will be put to the test again through a joint project with Funk Parade called Sounds of the City, where Kokayi will craft a city-wide anthem using found sounds that are recorded and uploaded by the public.

Aside from his music, Kokayi has also built a strong reputation as one of the best live performers in the city. This Thursday, make sure to catch him at Songbyrd during our DCMD Salon show. 

DC Music Download: You’re a singer, composer, producer and educator. Is there another profession you’d want to try but haven’t yet?

Kokayi: The professions that I’d consider are graphic designer/design guru at an ad agency or director/creator of television/film content. I’m a visual person with mad stories to tell. At some point, it’ll all segue or meld into that.

DCMD: You’ve been part of this music scene over the last decade or so. In what ways have you seen it change?

Kokayi: D.C.’s music scene is a lot more robust, being that there is no industry here, the musicians tend to hone their skills to make it pop elsewhere, which is both good and bad. The artistry is top notch in stark contrast to the venues wherein one could hone their craft… they are not as accessible as they used to be. There are still a few spots that are willing to have you, but overall they keep disappearing or are seemingly less open to local acts of a specific genre.

Moreover, it is a travesty that we as D.C. (old or new D.C.) residents are letting the legacy that is Bohemian Caverns be allowed to close. The Caverns is a historical landmark, or rather should be declared as such by the ANC’s in that ward. Allowing it to close feels like gentrification at its worst, when the new D.C. residents completely wipe out the history and legacy of the very foundations they were attracted to, or rather turn a blind eye to that legacy and stand idly by as a space that once was a beacon of light in a once blighted-then-burgeoning area is snuffed out without lament.

DCMD: Is your Grammy nomination your proudest moment?

Kokayi: My Grammy nomination is not my proudest moment. The fact that my kids are great human beings and read beyond their grade levels continue to be my proudest moments.

As a musician, my proudest moment was when I was able to bring my kids with me to Paris to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of a record I did with MacArthur recipient and mentor Steve Coleman. Nothing beats being able to allow your kids, family members or those you mentor the opportunity to see beyond the 60 square miles that are this city.

I’m a kid from East of the river, SW on the SE side, whose parents didn’t have a grip of dough that moved their family out so they could be better. I went to Patterson, graduated from Archbishop Carroll and was a college flunk-out. I didn’t expect anything like the past 26 years to ever have happened to me, but God is good and my parents made sure that I knew that circumstances didn’t make you great; character, integrity and honesty do.

DCMD: What are you looking forward to this year?

Kokayi: I’ve been working with DCMD on the Live at House series, in collaboration with House Studio DC, scoring films and planning to release a gang of new material this year. My next record should be out by the summer, with a close follow-up in the fall, and two instrumental projects that I have in the can. I’m also collaborating with Richard On, Prinze George, SHAED and Aaron Abernathy specifically on whatever we can get together and create organically.

Catch Kokayi perform at The DCMD Salon on Thursday, April 14 at Songbyrd. Tickets are just $10 online, or $12 DOS. Watch Kokayi perform at ‘Live at House’ below: