Cosha’s barely into her early twenties, and has already closed one chapter on her life as an artist. The singer and songwriter, born in Virginia to musician parents and raised in a small town near Dublin, used to go by the name Bonzai. You might have heard her 2016 singles “Where Are U Now,” which pairs rumbling bass, wailing sirens and a building cacophony of synths with lyrics about the haze of a late night of “comin up” and “strange faces in a strange place.” Or maybe you came across her Lunacy EP from later that year (it buzzed and pulsed like a big city around 3.52AM, filled with field recordings from a night out in Dublin and mechanical whirrs and tics).
By the time she put out “I Feel Alright” last summer, she’d been signed by Sony and sounded as though she might slip into major label slickness, buffing down the edges that made her stand out. “I Feel” was produced by her close friend and frequent tour mate Mura Masa, and bounds along with a chart-friendly pre-chorus reminiscent of Diplo trying his hand at New Orleans bounce but not getting it quite right. “It's not like I'm going to be putting out hit after hit,” she told Pigeons & Planes in late 2016, talking about how she'd approach her art once signing her deal. “I’m going to do what I want to do. I didn't know how a major was going to take that, but the guy who signed me was really cool and has been a fan from the start. But after negotiations it's in the contract that I have full creative control, I just wouldn't do anything that someone else was trying to make me do, and that was the main worry.”
That might be paying off already. Bonzai is done, and Cosha (the phonetic pronunciation of her name Cassia) is here in her place. The 22-year-old is returning with a sound that straddles a new-found sheen with the weirdness that made her early work so engaging. Rostam-produced “Do You Wanna Dance” (below) is essentially a party track, less in the ‘turn up and sing along mindlessly!!’ sense, and more in how it distills the feeling that takes over your body when any open space at a gathering becomes a dancefloor.
It sounds, to me at least, like a statement of intent from Cosha: she’s not scrubbing out the fluorescent, metallic-sounding pop with which she first stepped out but is injecting a warmth into her sound too. Where her work as Bonzai evoked images of robots playing with bleep-blooping synths while the rest of us slept, this new Cosha single rubs together in your speakers or headphones like shoulders brush against each other during a rave that creeps towards sunset, at the start of summer.
One of Cosha’s strengths has always rested in how easily she scoops genres together, on one release or a single song. From South African house and kwaito on 2015’s “Skhokho” to the dancehall rhythms that pulse on this new single, R&B vocals, clanging electropop and actual Irish folk (!), her constantly roving ear earned her comparisons to Santigold and FKA twigs. Now, it’s a few years since she moved to London as a 17-year-old and wound up singing backing vocals for wonky-funk artist NAO after starting a degree at Tech Music School. In that time, you can tell that she's flitted from one sound to the next, sounding almost restless.
Speaking to Beat last year, she said: “I really like genreless stuff,” before going on to describe wanting to make music that combined various textures – some African rhythms here, with a little something else there. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do this whole time but wasn’t really doing it the right way, or didn’t have a clear enough vision to execute it, but now I feel like I’ve found a way. I’ve finally got the sound I’ve been trying to figure out in my head. I need to coin a phrase for it.” For now "Do You Wanna Dance" marks out the progress she's making towards executing that vision. We'll be able to hear more about it when she puts out her RIP Bonzai mixtape next week. And she can take her time coining a term for her sound overall: a new name means a new start, where past pressures can be quietly chucked away.
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