Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre is packed from wall-to-wall by the time Koffee is introduced to the Jambana music festival stage just before 10:30 p.m. Eager fans ready smartphone cameras while chatting excitedly and craning their necks to see the stage. In the back, a middle-aged woman proudly waves a Jamaican flag.
Koffee’s band begins to play a hard-hitting rock melody that slowly builds in anticipation. Then, there is a dramatic pause that almost feels like an eternity. A new, softer melody creeps back in. The back-up singers begin to harmonize and Koffee is heard crooning gently from somewhere off-stage.
“Come wid di fyah,” she sings, ironically, to the sweltering crowd. The fans grow louder with excitement as they await a performance from one of Jamaica’s hottest newcomers. When she finally runs onto the stage to perform “Burning”, she two-steps and works her way from one end of the stage to the next with a veteran’s ease. It’s easy to forget that she’s only 18 years old and not an established musician with decades of experience performing who’s seen it all before.
Before Koffee became the talk of the music industry and graced the stage on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, she entered this world as Mikayla Simpson from Spanish Town, Jamaica. She was raised by her mother who was known for giving sex and body positivity talks to young people and worked hard to take care of her daughter. It’s no wonder that Koffee is such a bright, confident and forward-thinking talent. Even her stage name is a nod to her “been-here-before” vibe. The story goes that one day when everyone else was asking for a soda to quench their thirst on an extra hot today, she was asking for a coffee.
Koffee navigates the stage with ease, full of energy so that her presence is still felt by everyone.
At times during the show, it’s hard to see Koffee on stage. Part of that is due to the fact it’s packed, so people’s heads and phones are bound to block the view. It’s also because she happens to only be five feet tall. Nonetheless, she navigates the stage with ease, full of energy so that her presence is still felt by everyone.
Towards the mid-point of the show, Koffee switches gears and asks the audience, “Do you guys like Afrobeats?” The crowd appears to give a resounding, “yes,” and Koffee begins singing a cover of Burna Boy’s hit single “Ye” that she recently performed for BBC Radio’s 1Extra Live Lounge. It’s another show of versatility for the young musician as she effortlessly repeats Burna’s tongue-tying rhymes and then sings the chorus in perfect tune.
Like many major stars in the making, she had an early start in music. When she was little she was a member of the church choir. She later taught herself how to play the guitar at age 12 and eventually got into songwriting. The self-described “sing-jay-guitarist” cites her musical inspirations from a variety of sources — Proteje and Supercat to St. Louis rapper Smino to UK rapper Giggs. She seems to be open to all kinds of sounds and has also said that she “wants to try it all.”
While performing “Rapture,” Koffee brings her mother out on stage to share a dance for a few moments. The crowd loves it, but eventually her mom returns to the side of the stage where she enthusiastically continues to sing and dance along to her daughter’s song. As “Rapture” comes to an end, cheering and wolf whistles erupt. The audience demands an encore and Koffee happily obliges. Fans spin their Jamaican flags over their heads like helicopter propellers and beam up at the singer like doting parents.
Koffee’s breakout single “Toast” makes for a fitting end to the evening. Not just because “Toast” is one of her most popular songs to date and the precursor to her rise to fame (it has racked up over 60 million views on YouTube in just eight months), but because the song feels like a triumphant nod to the significance of her Toronto show. At 8 p.m. when the show was originally set to start, the line was still snaking down the length of the city’s Sherbourne Street with hundreds of people. This is Koffee’s first time performing in Toronto and her fans really showed out for her. As she closes the show, the entire audience dances and celebrates the blessing of the singer’s success while she beams from ear to ear and bellows out, “Blessings fall pon me right hand.”
Indeed blessings are raining down on Koffee right now and if this performance is any indicator, it’s safe to say that the rapture isn’t letting up anytime soon.
Photos © Fitzroy Facey & Urbanology Magazine