Founded by Drew Gonsalves, Kobo Town is named after the historic neighborhood in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, where traditional calypso (kaiso) was born.
Kobo Town has emerged in recent years as one of the most original artistic voices of the Caribbean diaspora and one of the grooviest touring bands anywhere. Founded and fronted by emigre Trinidadian songwriter Drew Gonsalves, an engaging storyteller whose songs draw heavily from the lyrical inventiveness of early calypso, their music has been described as “a unique, transnational composite of rhythm, poetry and activist journalism.”(Exclaim!)
From their home base in Toronto, Kobo Town has brought this distinct calypso and dub inspired sound to festivals, clubs and theatres across North America, Europe and the Caribbean, and their live act has thrilled audiences from Port-of-Spain to London and from Vancouver to Berlin. While Gonsalves’ songs betray a deep interest in Caribbean folk music, the band delivers them with an energy, intensity and attitude more akin to indie rock, earning them a considerable audience beyond the niche of world music enthusiasts and calypso fans.
Independence, their much-acclaimed debut album was released in 2007. Recorded between Trinidad and Toronto, it was nominated for an Indie, a Canadian Folk Music Award award and Folk Alliance Award. It recieved frequent spins on the CBC, BBC and community stations on both sides of the Atlantic, and it garnered praise for its strong lyricism as well as its “traditional instrumentation and joyous vibe.”(Global Rhythm)
Gonsalves grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in Diego Martin, a town just outside of Port-of-Spain. In his early teens, a bitter family breakup brought him and his family to Canada where he sought solace in music during their awkward and difficult adjustment to a new life. “Music was both a bridge and safety cushion for me,” he recalls, “at first it was comforting to surround myself with the sounds of my home country – which I missed very much and to whose identity I clung very tightly – but as I started to write and perform it gave me the opportunity to be engaged with my new community on many levels – intellectual, social, political, artistic. Oddly, in those early years, singing about Trinidad helped make Canada feel like home.”
Ironically, it was sifting through bins of old records in Ottawa’s second-hand stores that Gonsalves rediscovered the music of Trinidad and became enamoured with old time calypso. On following trips home to Port-of-Spain, he frequented calypso tents where he was captured by the wit and humour of the songs and the energy and cleverness of the calypsonians. “Calypso was the music that spoke not only to us, but like us,” he explains, “it was full of gossip and innuendo and addressed every topic under the sun from every possible angle. Political songwriting can get so self-righteous and dour, and it was always refreshing to hear it done with a laugh and a smile.”
The influence of this satirical storytelling tradition can be heard in Gonsalves’ own songs which have been been praised for “lyrics that are unfailingly conscientious and clever.”(World Music Central) “Good storytelling carries the listener into the tale,” he muses,“it puts flesh and blood and a face on the bare skeleton of a social trend or historic event – it uncovers the human element behind the reports and statistics.” Despite the formidable groove of the band, this impulse to unveil the human side of a story is at the heart of Kobo Town’s music, which Gonsalves insists is ultimately about “the importance of stories told and retold, of experiences sung and sung again.”
Kobo Town’s upcoming album Jumbie in the Jukebox was recorded between Trinidad, Belize and Canada with Ivan Duran, the celebrated and award-winning Belizean producer whose work with Andy Palacio and Aurelio Martinez helped reshape Garifuna music, giving it a far-reaching contemporary voice. Duran brought a fresh and inventive approach to Gonsalves’ songs. “I brought the words and tunes, Ivan brought the dirt and the depth,” he recalls, “during our first session at his studio in Belize, he placed an old barely-playable electric guitar in my hands and it changed our sound completely. In the sessions, he was always pushing for us to find the right intent for the songs, to create the right mood, to stick to the roots and do the unexpected at the same time.”
Kobo Town’s “Jumbie Sessions” took place in basements, living rooms, front porches and studios and the result is an album which is at once brooding and joyous, dark and captivating, intensely poetic and highly danceable. Its songs have been described as a “pithy combination of social commentary, dubwise soca and calypsonian wit”(Village Voice) – a fitting mix for a record that aims to raise up the spirits of the Caribbean’s troubled-yet-vibrant past and fire them at the world.
The album will be released worldwide by Cumbancha Records on April 23rd and the band is getting ready for a tour of Europe and North America in the summer of 2013.
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