A new jazz age: catching up with Yohan Kebede

Photo credit: Fabjola Biraci

We’re roaring into the twenties with an exciting gig announcement! Pianist Yohan Kebede – who plays keys with jazz afrobeat ensemble Kokoroko – kicks off our 2020 programme with an exclusive event next month. He took a moment out for a chat.

Jennie: Happy New Year!  2019 was a massive one for Kokoroko. Can you pick a best moment?

Yohan: The highlight for me was our show at Paradiso Centraal in Amsterdam last month; the energy from the audience when we stepped on stage was electric. It was quite surreal, so it’s still a bit of a blur, but the roar from the audience will stay with me for me a while. 

Jennie: And you’re kicking off 2020 by playing The Roundhouse with Kokoroko, followed by a European tour.  How does that feel?

Yohan: London shows are always special, it’s the only place where a bit of nerves kick in. And with the Euro tour straight after it as well, I can only be thankful for the opportunity, especially at my age. 

Jennie: Exciting times ! What are the highs and lows?

Yohan: Travelling the world and doing what you love alongside your best friends is a dream, but the schedule can be gruelling at times. We’re freelancers, so we have our hands in many different pots. You’ve got to be your own manager and motivator, which can take a toll on your mental health if you’re not careful. Definitely more highs than lows though. 

Jennie: So true. And is there such thing as a ‘typical day’ in your life?!

Yohan: Haha not really! Freelancing in general keeps you on your toes, so it’s hard to get into a routine. 

Jennie: What do you do to keep creating and improving?

Yohan: Thankfully I’m surrounded by great art and artists. There’s always something new to hear or to check out. People like Lorenz Okello-Osengor, Benji Appiah and Izzy Burnham. Witnessing everybody’s rise has been beautiful; it’s hard not to be inspired to grow in that kind of environment.

Jennie: Yes, super inspiring. And who’s on your bucket list for collaborations?

Yohan: People like Anderson Paak and Christian Scott are definitely on my bucket list. I love the way they approach their music. Also Cassie Kinoshi, which is a funny one because she also plays in Kokoroko, but I think her playing/composing is wonderful. I would love to be involved in her future projects. 

Jennie: Can’t wait to hear! Finally, what are your hopes and goals for this year as an individual musician?

Yohan: In 2020, I’d like to push the solo gigs forward a bit more (when I can in between tours) I had two or three last year to experiment with different ideas. But I’m not putting pressure on myself; the plan is to just play what feels right and see what happens!

Don’t miss Yohan at White City House on Wednesday 26th February! All you have to do is become an Abram Wilson Foundation Trailblazer making a regular donation to our cause. In return you’ll receive invites and exclusive offers to special gigs and events, meet incredible people and be acknowledged on our website.