As a recording artiste, Kojo Rigault posts music content and engages with fans on social media daily.
So, it’s usually not a big a deal when he checks his social media notifications.
But on a particular day in July 2008, something in Rigault’s Twitter notifications caught his attention. A Twitter user named Jethro “Alonestar” Sheeran retweeted a tweet that mentioned him.
For Rigault, the user’s name piqued his interest, as Jethro’s last name was the same as that of global megastar Ed Sheeran.
He doubted if the two were related but took a chance and messaged Jethro. Even if the two were related, Rigault thought there was no way Jethro Sheeran would reply to him, of all people.
But he was wrong not only about the two being related, but also about Sheeran's replying to him.
It turned out Jethro was Ed’s cousin, and he did reply.
It’s 13 years now since that chance Twitter exchange, and the two not only have a song together but work together.
“No one usually replies to me on Twitter, but he (Jethro) did, and we’ve been friends ever since.
“When I met Jethro, it didn’t have anything to do with him being Ed Sheeran’s cousin, because we had so much in common,” said Rigault.
Born and raised in St Ann’s, Port of Spain, Rigault now lives in East Acton which is located in East London.
On the UK’s Music Week Black Music Top 20 Chart, the pair’s most recent collaboration – a song called Keep On Moving – is in the top ten and has thus far, peaked at number seven.
Sheeran enlisted Rigault to sing the song’s chorus, deciding he would be a perfect fit.
It was released as a single in February, the pair recognised the song’s value as a source of inspiration, especially in the face of the covid19 pandemic.
“The song just had this kind of magical feel to it, and it was an uplifting song. It’s very relevant to the pandemic when it comes to giving everyone a message to just keep on moving,” said Sheeran.
On the first day of its release, the song charted within Spotify’s Top 50 Global Songs Chart.
On YouTube, the song’s lyric video has gained over 30,000 views.
But collaborating with Rigault isn’t Sheeran's only connection to Trinidad and Tobago (TT). While Rigault was moving to the UK in 2000, Sheeran was visiting TT for the first time. He originally came to vacation in Tobago for three weeks in 2000, but fell in love with the country and first stayed for five months.
In the years that followed, Sheeran frequently travelled to TT and even lived here from 2008-2009. Here he married his now ex-wife, who gave birth to their daughter, who is of Trini descent, in the UK.
“I had such a great time out there (in TT): the Carnival, feting, eating the food and the whole life,” he said on the time he spent in TT.
Sheeran’s music would also be shaped by soca. He fell in love with the genre here and calls Machel Montano one of the greatest live performers he has ever seen.
Carrying back soca to the UK, Sheeran also introduced to the genre to his cousin Ed, with whom he was making music at the that time.
He's often referred to as “Ed Sheeran’s cousin,” a description he embraces, and the two made music together in the earlier stages of their careers. When Sheeran set up a record label called Urban Angel in 2004, Ed was one of the first artistes he signed.
“Me and Ed were making music as kids. Eventually, when we both got old enough to move out from home, we both moved to London.
“He used to come to my house and stay with me. We used to just write, record, and produce me,” said Sheeran on the pair’s music-making adventures in East London.
When Sheeran started his career in 2004, he rapped because he though he couldn’t sing well.
But as his career progressed, over the years, this all changed.
With the help of Ed and some much-needed encouragement from a friend, Sheeran made the decision to start singing in 2019.
“As I got older, I realised I had a good tone, melody and I could write songs well. So, I practiced my vocal skills.
“It was only two years ago that a very good friend of mine named Herbert Skills from Uganda, and his wide, gave me the confidence to sing and I’ve never looked back.”
As Sheeran’s artistry and career evolved over the years, so did Ed’s.
With Ed now enjoying worldwide success in music, Sheeran is proud of Ed’s achievements and acknowledges Ed’s musical style today has been influenced by soca.
Examples of Ed’s music which has been influenced by soca includes his smash hits Shape of You (one of the most streamed songs of all times) and I Don’t Care, featuring Justin Bieber.
Jamaican singer Chronixx was also enlisted for the official remix of I Don’t Care featuring Bieber.
“I must say, the Caribbean pulse really influenced my music when I worked with many musicians. TT had a big influence on me which I passed on to Ed…for example, look at the song Shape of You.
“He was influenced by the music I brought back from TT, so I have a lot to thank TT for,” said Sheeran.
Outside of soca, dancehall and reggae has also influenced Sheeran’s sound as an artiste.
He’s been exposed to Jamaican culture and music since childhood.
“Right next to door to where I lived as a child was the locally famous AJAX Blues Nightclub.
“I remember when I was five years old, I would hear the reggae bass line thumping until morning.
“I guess it (reggae music) stayed with me. I hummed all the big reggae songs, and I knew most of Bob Marley’s songs by heart,” said Sheeran whose favourite Marley tune is No Woman No Cry.
For Rigault, connecting with Sheeran has been a blessing to his career, which started in TT as part of a band called New Creation.
Formed in 1989 by Kevy Jack, who was also the group’s lead singer, it consisted of soca singer Terry Seales, Orlando Jack, Rocky Samuels and Rigault, the final member to join the band.
In 1994, the band performed as a noncompeting guest musical act for Dimanche Gras. It also recorded one album called Spirits of Gold in 1998 and also covered the songs of popular groups like Boyz II Men.
“We competed on Party Time. We didn’t win, but we became very notorious (sic) after that,” said Rigault.
Party Time was a popular local TV talent show during the 90s.
In 2000, the group planned to fly to London to record a second album, but this would never happen, as Samuels died in a car crash in New York.
“Being kind of lost (after my bandmate died), I didn’t know what to do at that time. Our band was technically crashed at that moment and we didn’t know how to move beyond.
“We never actually came together to record after that,” said Rigault.
This spelt the end of the band and the beginning of Rigault’s solo career.
He decided he would still go to the UK and work on his music career. For a few years, Rigault tried his hand as a producer to learn more about the music industry.
During that time, he worked with several UK-based record labels, including Jetstar Music, Metropolis Studios, Peromi Records and Stoosh Records.
Since he became a solo artiste, he's released several tracks.
On whether he’s worked on any soca music, Rigault said, “I love soca music, but I’ve unfortunately never really written music in the field. I’ve never found a producer that can help me get what I want to do musically in soca. So, I guess that’s why it never really happened.”
Rigault is now helping Sheeran run the Urban Angel record label, whose music has gained over 23 million streams on Spotify to date.
Part of their plan is to work with and sign up-and-coming artistes from the Caribbean to help introduce the region’s music and talent to a wider audience.
“The Urban Angel brand, which has been growing ever since 2004, is being kind of revamped and redeveloped.
“We are looking to sign artistes and make it something huge in the future, not only for ourselves, but to be signing other artistes and giving people opportunities, particularly from England and TT.
“We’ve had a Billboard No 1 (on the Billboard Reggae Album Charts) with an album called Tropical House Cruises to Jamaica. Chronixx was on it, Damian Marley, Sean Kingston, Sean Paul, Stephen Marley…it was a really great album collaboration,” said Sheeran.
The album spent four weeks at No 1 on the Billboard Reggae Album Charts and 19 weeks overall in the chart’s top ten.
Apart from their work at the label, Sheeran and Rigault are both working on new music, both together and separately.
Recently releasing music with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Macy Gray, Lil Wayne and Michael Jackson, Sheeran also teased more music to be released soon with Ed.
“I’m really proud of myself and what I’m doing. I love writing music; I love making music and I think it’s about the spirit and it’s all about the journey.
“Life is a journey not a destination and I am just enjoying the ride.
“Kojo is a part of that massively in every way…creatively, the business side and the label side,” said Sheeran.
Both Rigault and Sheeran miss TT and can’t wait to visit once it’s safe to do so again.
People interested in keeping up with Sheeran and Rigault can follow them both on Instagram at @kojosound and @alonestarsheeran