About JAH KINGS Featuring Alexander Kofi
With acclaim spanning from Chicago Music Awards to Ghanaian National Television and beyond, the JAH KINGS project earns recognition everywhere it travels for the steadfast delivery of compelling, socially conscious, transformative, and highly dance-able Funk-infused Roots Reggae performances. Led by former world-class track-star (songwriter/founding member), Alexander “Kofi” Washington, and having ... read more
About JAH KINGS Featuring Alexander Kofi
With acclaim spanning from Chicago Music Awards to Ghanaian National Television and beyond, the JAH KINGS project earns recognition everywhere it travels for the steadfast delivery of compelling, socially conscious, transformative, and highly dance-able Funk-infused Roots Reggae performances. Led by former world-class track-star (songwriter/founding member), Alexander “Kofi” Washington, and having long-steeped in serious alchemical fires, JAH KINGS are now primed to take the project’s cathartic Musical Medicine to the Global Stage!
The JAH KINGS project boasts a fluid, ever-dynamic line-up of world-class musicians, while frequently featuring special guests. Kofi counts himself extremely blessed to have played with so many phenomenal musicians from all walks of life-- yet he maintains that the music he channels after deep meditation –the JAH KINGS Sound—has a life of its own, which is anchored in the themes of integrity, indigenous wisdom, multi-cultural identity/respect/ healing/unity, and an Unconditional Love which extends beyond the boundaries of human constructs, or the limited ways in which the concepts of Reality/Spirituality are most often regarded.
The JAH KINGS project has been promoting and speaking on these themes for almost 30 years; touring nationally and internationally (specifically Ghana, West Africa); and playing nearly every type of venue, many times over. Their music has been bootlegged and shared around the world, and though they typically headline these days, JAH KINGS have opened for big names such as The Four Tops, Journey, Foreigner, Phyllis Hyman, Bobby Womack, TLC, Cyril Neville, and top Reggae acts: Culture, the Itals, Yellowman, Panto Banton, Eekamouse, Everton Blender, Neville Duncan of the legendary Ethiopians, and many more.
Kofi’s story is one of perpetually overcoming adversity, walking the Truth-seeker’s longer, harder, less-traveled path through all manner of hard-ships and personal discoveries, to arrive on a mountain top (both literally and figuratively) with humility, integrity, and a focused, unwavering drive/vision for the betterment of humanity.
“My music is about Unconditional Love, Unity, Peace, and recapturing one’s culture as I have— having African/Ashante’, Blackfoot, Lakota, Cherokee, and Choctaw bloodlines. My purpose is to use my music for the healing and rebuilding of our African and Native Nations, and the co-creation of “Heaven on Earth” for ALL of our relations.”
~Alexander Kofi Washington
Early years - Roots and Culture:
Kofi was raised in the rough streets of Gary, Indiana, in the same neighborhood as the Jackson 5. Steeped in the dual worlds of gangster-life and educated musicians, Kofi credits his parents -particularly his second father- with inspiring him to pursue a musical career at a young age (12-14). With a group called Born to Love, managed by Tommy Soul, Kofi played the latest R+B hits in the same talent shows and venues that The Jackson 5 had played only a handful of years earlier.
The band was mainly comprised of somewhat older musicians, and success grew quickly, along with increasingly “adult” scenarios. Encouraged by his mother, Lucille, young Alexander walked away from the band to pursue scholarship through his burgeoning track-and-field talents, with the intent to return to musical pursuits later.
His efforts and discipline paid off, earning a track scholarship to Western University, Michigan. It was here that he had his first encounter with the music of Steel Pulse, followed shortly thereafter by Bob Marley. He immediately became enamored with the sound and message inherent in Roots Reggae. Kofi began to saturate in Reggae Music, and all throughout his college/track career, he found the sounds seeping into his secret late-night practice sessions, where the first songs were channeled for what would eventually become the JAH KINGS project.
JAH KINGS’ Inception:
After walking away from his status as an Olympic class athlete in 1988 (citing ethical reasons), Kofi began to privately assemble, write, and refine his songs. He recruited a band in 1990, and they practiced for a solid year before JAH KINGS debuted at Carlos Murphey’s open-mic night in Kalamazoo, Michigan --the day Operation Desert Storm was announced on the news. It was an emotional performance, which led to a rapid following in the Michigan music scene. From this humble birth, the JAH KINGS project nurtured a proven track-record of building family, perpetually gaining inertia, and receiving critical acclaim everywhere they go.
Jah Kings -and Kofi in particular- took heavy fire from a staunch section of the Reggae community for the better part of their coming up. Accusations of cultural appropriation were frequent, involving terms like “Black American” spat with derogative gusto, along with “You’re too serious, mon! Skin your teeth!”; “You’re too giddy, mon! Ease up!” Kofi took all this (and more) in-stride, re-iterating the “One Love” mantra while listening closely for wisdom, regardless of its delivery.
In 1995, after years of experiencing this almost ritualistic hazing while steadily making headway in the national tour circuit, JAH KINGS debuted their first full-length studio album, Jah Frequency. The album featured the Funk/Jazz/Soul flavorings of Kofi’s upbringing, while demonstrating a genuine dedication to Roots Reggae and Culture. Songs like “Prejudice”, “El Salvador”, and “Babylon” highlighted Kofi’s ability to compassionately speak on hard truths in a way that even some of the most critical protectorates could not deny.
Though nothing would have dissuaded Kofi from his path, the positive reception of Jah Frequency within the Reggae community granted a certain credence to the project. It was a hard-fought acceptance which brought many more opportunities to the door. Despite this, within a couple years the cliché band-dynamics began to make an appearance. Immaturity, addictions, jealousies, and accusations of over-bearing egos began to cyclone into the perfect storm –an attempted coup that ended with Kofi buying out the JAH KINGS name, and taking bassist Simba Jahi with him.
During this particularly rough band transition, Kofi was encouraged by Drunvalo Melchizedek to “go higher” and “do better”. Like many other times in his life, Kofi embraced the changes, accepted the challenges, and hurtled well beyond the scope of his obstacles. The product of those efforts is the LOVE LP—the release party for which was requested to be held in 2000 at the veteran’s center on the Hopi reservation in Second Mesa, AZ. This event gave rise to a strong appreciation for JAH KINGS’ music within Native American communities, which has been steadily growing ever since.
Exhibiting marked spiritual growth, esoteric themes, thicker/more laid-back grooves, and three-part harmonies, the Love LP was nominated in the 2002 Chicago Music Awards for “Best Reggae Album of the Year”, with Kofi also receiving a nomination for “Best Reggae Performer of the Year”. This recognition cemented JAH KINGS’ “Funky Roots Reggae” as a legitimate genre, and catapulted them to a fully National stage.
JAH KINGS built on the swell, and received a lot of attention, including an article in Rolling Stone magazine, and offers from major record labels. Here, Kofi learned about the “pound of flesh” deals, and just as he did when walking away from world-class status in track, he reasoned that no amount of money or fame was worth the cost of sacrificing one’s own integrity. Proposed contracts were overtly offensive, and Kofi resolved to dig in for what he knew was going to be a long haul.
Still, JAH KINGS followed up quickly on the success of LOVE with an EP, titled Now, which was nominated for "Best Worldbeat Album of the Year" in the 2004 Jammie Awards (MI). This collection of songs came through in preparation for a South Africa Tour after Nelson Mandela had been elected President. Though sponsorship for the tour fell through in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the video for “South Africa Tribute” was sent to the Nelson Mandela Family Foundation, and subsequently featured on their website, granting the JAH KINGS project unprecedented world-wide exposure.
Previously released under the title Afrikan Diaspora in 2009, this album’s very existence is an example of Kofi’s sheer determination to maintain artistic integrity. Most of the labels he approached found the content “too controversial”, and the label that did eventually pick-up the project failed to fulfill their contract. Once again, Kofi proved that he could not be discouraged from doing what he knew to be right, and that the right people would recognize this. After a bit of searching, he connected with Tim Belitz of Infrared Records through a talent-search audition in Littlerock, AR. Tim took an immediate liking to the JAH KINGS sound and agreed to produce the album.
Why the controversy? This collection of songs was written both during and after Kofi was sponsored to tour Ghana via the Joseph Project –a government-sponsored program aimed at bringing the African diaspora back to their homeland. Kofi was received by the Ghanaian Government and Tribal Elders; featured on National Television, radio stations, and a multitude of venues; all the while visiting monuments of sorrow, as well as those of hope—even writing his family names on the Door of No Return, at Cape Coast Castle. The three-month tour was nothing short of profound, and provided a deep well of inspiration that continues to flow beyond the contents of this album. Tracks like “Slavery”, “Sir Marcus Said”, “Streets of Accra”, and the anthemic “Our World”, all bare qualities of instant hits. Yet without representation/promotion/funds, the album’s success was limited to the fans who bought the 1000 copies of the first and only release. Even so, the band continued to tour with these songs without any trouble—and as fate would have it, this is the tour that brought Kofi to the San Luis Valley in Colorado, where he met and fell in Love with his Queen, as well as with the place.
The Indigenous Connection
Spirit calls from The Drums, The Mountains, and The Red Road:
During Kofi’s sophomore year in high school, a course featured the films, “I Will Fight No More Forever” and “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”. Though Kofi was unaware of his full heritage at this point, he resonated deeply with these movies in a way that shook him to his core. He recalls biting back the tears until he could get home, where he was overwhelmed with sorrow and anger. “I was a street kid. I didn’t overstand why a movie would affect me like that.”
A sense began growing in Kofi, yet it wasn’t until his Sophomore year at WMU that he was able to put words to it. Where the college had built over ancient meeting grounds, every year they provided their arena facility for the regional Pow Wow. Kofi showed up for track training, but was unexpectedly engulfed by the festivities. He remembers instinctively gravitating towards the drumming and singing, and being a little confused by how much it “felt like home”. The question finally arose when he was beckoned to his grandmother’s bed-side during her last few days on this plane, where she revealed to him their Native American lineage. When he asked her why she never told anyone she replied, “I figured it was hard enough being colored, and a woman.”
With this revelation came a sense of wholeness—though it would be years before circumstances allowed Kofi to pursue a deeper connection to his heritage, his innate kinship and sympathy with indigenous cultures were like puzzle pieces that suddenly fit perfectly to reveal a much greater picture.
Fast-forward to the Love LP release.
Though extenuating circumstances discouraged members of the community from entering the building for this event, Kofi discovered later that nearly 400 people showed up outside of the veteran’s center to listen to his music. Word of Kofi’s deeds spread throughout the Native American community, and in 2002 Kofi was approached by tribal elders in Kalamazoo, who invited him to take part in their Inipi (sweat-lodge) ceremonies.
The Inipi lodge became a consistent part of Kofi’s practice which he continued even after his relocation to Springfield Missouri in 2008. After spending time in lodges with Richard Foote, Kofi was invited to support him in the Sundance Ceremony at Wounded Knee. Here, Kofi was extended the responsibilities of a Fireman from 2010-2012, and under the guidance of Chiefs Wesley Black Elk and Gerald Ice, Kofi became immersed in the Lakota traditions. In 2012, Kofi was invited to come into the Arbour, at the Crazyhorse Sundance. He completed his first 4-year commitment in 2015.
In addition to the spiritual transitions that were taking place for Kofi on a personal level, from 2010-2017 the JAH KINGS project underwent a number of its own transitions. Kofi relocated the project to the San Luis Valley, Colorado where he married his “Queen”, Isaline—a familiar soul-connection who he had “re-met” while touring for Afrikan Diaspora. Here, the band line-up went through some permutations, while the project also got picked-up by Seven Day Records. Unfortunately, the indie-label was spread too thin to fulfill their end of the contract, and in 2016 Kofi was forced to self-release a compilation of previous works, titled Critical Mass, which also featured demo versions of “Plant Music Dub” and his tributary song “Wounded Knee”. Despite the complications, Critical Mass was well received by the local press—even converting a notoriously harsh critic into a “true believer”.
During this time (from 2014 to present), Kofi also met and developed an easy friendship with multi-talented producer, David Swain. Kofi invited David to take part in a local sweat lodge that he frequented, and they found they had a shared interest in bringing socially conscious music to the masses. David loaned out his practice space to JAH KINGS, and eventually came to fill-in on bass for regional shows, while pursuing his dream of building a record label/multimedia company that focuses on integrity and humanitarian efforts.
At the end of 2017, the stars aligned, and a partnership was formed between David’s Sovereign Sol Society, and Kofi’s JAH KINGS. In an interview with Mary Lowers of The Crestone Eagle, David said, “Having witnessed Kofi’s struggles within the industry first-hand, I was determined to create the antitheses of that. The mainstream industry is greedily focused on pumping out junk-food music—it may be instantly gratifying for some, but it’s generally poisonous, and almost completely void of substance. Artists like Kofi deserve representation. His message is more relevant now than it’s ever been, and the world’s starving for music like this… From a producer’s stand-point, I'm completely spoiled with his artistry and the extremely high bar he sets for everyone in the camp. He’s a tough act to follow!"
Through their partnership with Sovereign Sol Society, JAH KINGS just completed tracking for a double LP set to be released in tandem with an international tour beginning in Spring of 2019. It will be the first release of new material since Kofi’s adoption into the Sundance community and subsequent relocation to a pristine Colorado mountain town. They say fans can expect both indigenous and natural elements to flavor this collection of songs. According to Kofi, “Rasta and Native cultures have a lot of common ground. We’re Earth-based people. It was only a matter of time before this music evolved into honoring that –and when it happened, it was so beautifully effortless and natural.”
Since JAH KINGS inception, roughly every 7 years Kofi “goes to the mountain”, putting the project on hold to spend some time to reflect, rejuvenate, and seek guidance on how to proceed further on his path. This year marked the fourth completion of this cycle, and Kofi says “It’s actually a blessing that JAH KINGS didn’t ‘go Big’ earlier—I wasn’t ready. I needed to mature and learn how to walk in integrity on All Levels before I could truly carry the medicine of this music in a good way. But this time, I’m ready; ‘now is the time!’ I have the best core line-up I’ve ever had—a solid group of Righteous Bredren—and we are ready to take this music all over JAH WORLD!”
JAH KINGS will be campaigning through the winter to raise awareness about the upcoming album, and are currently also booking for the Album Release Tour through Europe, USA, Australia, and Japan.