If you’ve listened to 19-year-old Kofi Boakye’s music, you already know he’s incredibly talented. At 15, Kofi was the youngest African-American pianist to ever be accepted into a collegiate-level jazz program at UA. He was the first teen pianist to ever headline a show at Akron Civic Theatre. A graduate of Akron Early College, Kofi is currently attending The University of Akron.
But he’s just getting started on his big dreams.
Kofi was accepted into the prestigious Berklee College of Music for the Fall of 2019. To afford tuition, housing and living expenses in Boston, Kofi has teamed up with Getta Kutuchief (Outreach and Education Coordinator at Summit County Juvenile Court) and Nicole Mullet (Executive Director of ArtsNow) to raise money.
Join him on Thursday, Jan. 31 at 5 pm at Tangier for a premiere of Kofi: Made in Akron, a short documentary created by Pritt Entertainment Group.
In the meantime, meet Kofi.
Noor Hindi: What are you most excited about?
Kofi Boakye: What is there not to be excited about? I’ve always dreamed of that school. Now that I’ve kind of had my interest in music be my focal point, it’s been super important to find a way to make something out of this. Berklee is kind of just the next step for me. It’s kind of like the Golden State Warriors. If you put me around some of the best people in the world that play at the highest level and want to be great every day, how could you not be motivated?
NH: What’s been your biggest accomplishment in Akron?
KB: I think I’ve been able to build a platform that allows a lot of kids my age to look up to me. I don’t show myself to be anything other than positive on social media and everything else. I refuse to because I don’t think that’s what needs to be seen right now. Especially being an African-American male in our community, I think it’s important for us to be seen in a positive light. That’s what I’m most proud about.
NH: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced growing up in Akron?
KB: When I was in sixth grade, I remember I was in my history class and I was writing down a list of things I wanted to do. I was like “I want to play every venue in Akron.” And I thought this was going to take like 40 years. I thought it was going to take a whole lifetime to accomplish. I said I wanted to headline my own show at the Civic, I wanted to play with the [Akron] Symphony, I wanted to play at E.J Thomas [Performing Arts Hall]. I was thinking this stuff was going to take forever. But if you had told me that I would have done it before high school, I would have been like “What? That crazy.”
So, it didn’t make sense to me at the time, but now I’m grateful to have achieved that stuff through hard work and dedication to the craft. I realize now in order for me to really grow and really make something and do some special things with music, I have to change location to a larger market that allows for opportunity.
And Akron’s amazing. I’ve learned everything I know from this city. But it’s something about taking that work ethic and applying it to a larger market and then being able to come back and say “hey, Akron, this is what you created.” That’s a prideful thing.
NH: Can you describe that moment where music clicked with you and you realized this was something you wanted to do?
KB: It clicked with me early on, but it only really solidified just recently. When I was a sophomore in high school, my cousin passed away. He was playing a game of basketball and he his heart stopped and he fell on the ground and went into cardiac arrest. We didn’t even know he had a problem. So he died suddenly that day. That was the last day of my sophomore year of high school, and then from that day on, I had a choice of whether I wanted to sit down and be like “man, this sucks, I don’t know if life will ever be the same,” or make a decision to do the things that will make me the best person I can be. So, I made that choice. And from doing that, I just embraced music.
And I realize that music started to be a different thing for me at that time. It came naturally all the time for me in performing and learning music, but around the age of 16 until now, I started to have conversations with myself and talk through music. That’s when things started to get a little weird, I guess, but exciting, because now I’m loving this. I was loving it before, but now other people were loving it too because they can connect with me and see what’s being conveyed. That’s what propelled me.
NH: What is it about music that you love?
KB: I think music is the vehicle right now that was given to me by the man above that allows me to enter into those different avenues. I don’t really know why music, honestly. It was an idea my mom had when she saw an advertisement when I was eight years old, and I said I’d give it a shot, and I gave it a shot. It wasn’t something I caught onto at first but in the situation I was in, it was constantly there for me. Overall, it could have been anything. It could have been sports, that was definitely something I had a passion to do, especially in high school. But ultimately it came down to, “how can I impact people, and how can I convey what makes me most excited in life right now?”
Music is my life. It’s now ingrained in everything I do. It’s a source of self-confidence I have. It’s a source of being able to do so many different things, because music has allowed me to be in so many different rooms and meet so many different people. It’s more than just playing an instrument.
NH: What does it mean to you to finally be able to achieve your dreams?
KB: I guess because I’m living in the moment and experiencing this, I don’t know what it feels like. I still feel like I have a lot of work to do. From an outside perspective, it might seem like “oh, he doesn’t need much help or he’s doing everything, he’s on the right path,” but I hold a lot of responsibility on myself to be as great as I can be. I wake up every day and think, “how can I be better today than I was yesterday?” I’m addicted to the process of wanting to be great in whatever field, whether it’s music or entrepreneurship or any type of endeavor. I just want to try and be excellent in it.
More information about Kofi is available at kofibmusic.com. Tax-exempt donations are accepted on the website.
Noor Hindi is The Devil Strip’s Senior Reporter. Photos used with permission from Shane Wynn.