Founded and fronted by émigré Trinidadian songwriter Drew Gonsalves, Juno-award winning Calypso band Kobo Town will be performing at Tidemark Theatre this May.
Kobo Town’s music has been described by the Guardian as “an intoxicating blend of lifting Calypsonian wit, dance-hall reggae and trombone-heavy bass” and by Exclaim! magazine as a “unique transnational composite of rhythm, poetry and activist journalism.”
Both at times brooding and joyous, intensely poetic and highly dance able, Gonsalves’ songs betray deep roots in Caribbean folk music, while the band delivers an indomitable energy which has earned them considerable following beyond the niche of world music followers and calypso fans.
Named after the historic neighbourhood in Trinidad and Tobago’s capital, Port-Of Spain, where Calypso was born amid the boastful, humour and often militant chant of roaming stick-fighters. Situated near the fisherman’s wharf, the aria was a pillar of constant defiance and conflict. It was a place where sticks and stones, songs and verses often clashed with the bayonets and batons of colonial rule. Gonsalves grew up in Diego Martin, in a middle class neighbourhood just outside of Port-of-Spain.
“Diego Martin is a valley in the northern range, very green with a little contaminated river running through it,” Gonsalves says. “That was the playground of our youth.”
With a mother originally from Quebec City, and a father originally from Trinidad, Gonsalves parents met while in Barbados while she was vacationing and he was visiting family. Gonsalves parents’ were engaged after a few days and came to Trinidad, where Gonsalves was born.
“In Trinidad, we were surrounded by calypso,” says Gonsalves. “Kitchener lived up the street from me. Like most kids my age, I wasn’t interested in it.” When rock and heavy metal was considered cool by his friends, Gonsalves says “I secretly liked calypso, but was discrete about it.”
Moving to Ottawa with his mother and siblings at 13, Gonsalves felt a need to cultivate a deep nostalgia for the land of his birth given his new cold surroundings and his inability to fit in. Going back to Trinidad on a trip at 18, Gonsalves first took in Lord Kitchener’s Calypso Revue tent.
“I was blown away by the cleverness and the wit of these Calypsonians,” says Gonsalves. “Their engaging inter play with the audience. I’d never experienced anything like it and from that point on, calypso was always on my mind.”
Gonsalves founded Kobo Town in Toronto in 2004 with some fellow Trinidadian expats. Their 2006 debut album, Independence received a warm reception and made the band a crowd favourite on the festival circuit.
For their follow up album, 2013’s Jumbie in the Jukebox, Gonsalves collaborated with Belizean producer Ivan Duran. The album, which was the crescendo of Duran and Gonsalves’ four year collaboration. It reached #1 on several European music charts, including the UK, France, Spain and Germany, climbing to #5 on the Billboard charts. Still, some traditionalists carp about the new elements included in Gonsalves’ music.
“It is Calypso inspired and derived, but it’s a conscious departure from the way it developed back home,” says Gonsalves. “Calypso is the folk music of urban Trinidad but it has drawn on outside influences, from big band and jazz in the 30s and 40s, to funk and disco in the 70s and 80s. I’m not sure I should call it calypso.”
Sponsored by the BC Touring Council, Campbell River Mirror and BC Arts Council, the Tidemark and Highway 19 concerts present Kobo Town Sunday, May 14 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $32.50 for members and $37.50 for non-members. Tickets can be purchased through the Tidemark Box office (250-287-PINK) Tuesday through Friday from 12 to 4 pm. Tickets are also available online at tidemarktheatre.com
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