Bringing the calypso beat to the rainforest
By Patricia Hului
AT THE MENTION OF ‘calypso’, Malaysians would probably remember the sea goddess who shared a love-hate relationship with Davy Jones in ‘Pirates of Caribbean: At World’s End’.
Little do we know that music-wise, calypso is a style of Afro-Caribbean music that originated in Trinidad and Tobago during the early to mid-20th century.
This genre no longer remained foreign to our ears as Kobo Town made their first debut in Asia during the 18th Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) at Sarawak Cultural Village.
Kobo Town is a Toronto-based band that blends calypso music with ska, reggae, dub, rapso, zouk and hip hop.
“A lot of our music is inspired by Calypso with other influences, genre and, I suppose, attitudes as well,” said band founder Drew Gonsalves.
The singer and songwriter attributed his passion in calypso music to his childhood in Trinidad. Gonsalves grew up in one of Trinidad’s biggest cities – Diego Martin, a town outside of Port of Spain. When he was 13, Gonsalves moved to Ottawa, Canada leaving him with nostalgic feelings for Trinidad.
On his first trip home when he turned 18, his father took him to the late Lord Kitchener’s calypso revue tent and from that moment on he was captivated by calypso music.
In 2004, Gonsalves came together with a few fellow Trinidad expats in Toronto and some musicians from his first band, Outcry, to form Kobo Town, inspired by a neighbourhood in the Port of Spain.
“Calypso is the type of music I rediscovered and I think like any young middle-class kid I was not interested in the music about country any more than the aspect of its culture,” he stated.
Calypso plays its own social role in Trinidadian culture with some dubbing it the people’s ‘newspaper’ when in the early years police would be dispatched to calypso tents to ensure that only uncensored songs were sung.
Malaysians audience might find it hard to fully understand Kobo Town’s songs with their heavy Caribbean accents, but if you listen carefully, each song is a narrative touching on topics from politics to social issues.
For instance in Postcard Poverty, Gonsalves wrote: “He’s looking for postcard poverty/ A little change of scenery/ He does not want to be the same /As the folks he knows away” referring to some tourists who came to the Caribbean not to take photographs of its sandy beaches but its ghettos instead.
One could not help but find Kobo Town’s lyrics poetic, satirical and humorous. Plus, humour was one of the reasons he was drawn into calypso music.
For him, calypso has the ability to make you laugh along despite its very serious and heavy topics.
“I always admire the old-time calypso musicians by turning social critiques into a very funny story. “
Inserting humour in Kobo Town’s songs was not so much of a conscious process for Gonsalves as much as something he wanted to come into when writing his lyrics.
“And perhaps throws a punch line at the end of it,“ he added, laughing.
The band released its debut album ‘Independence’ (2007) and second album ‘Jumbie in the Jukebox’ (2013).
On the band’s next album, Gonsalves said: “We have been recording another record to be released next year.”
He revealed that the album was going to be called ‘Where the Galleon Sunk’, a title that came to Gonsalves when was on a boat at the Trinidadian coast looking down into the water when he saw a sunken ship which got him thinking about his region.
Referring to the Caribbean region’s troubled past, he said “I suppose I think so much of our history sunk under the ocean.”
Gonsalves said the upcoming album will see the band just go into the studio and ‘bam on the record’ and that the sound would be a lot more natural, more fluid and more energetic.
“It draws inspirations from the same places but I suppose that in the last few albums, we really thought out the concepts and the sounds before we went into it,” he said, which is where the upcoming album will differ greatly.
Gonsalves plays along with Robert Milicevic (drums), Linsey Wellman (flute, saxophone), Patrick Giunta (guitar), Cesco Emmanuel (lead guitar) and Don Stewart (bass) in Kobo Town.
Watch out for more updates from Kobo Town through their website http://www.kobotown.com/ and Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/kobotown