Kobo Town melds lyrical depth with danceable calypso on the newest JUNO-nominated album
When Kobo Town comes to play, they deliver a high-energy show with calypso classics and reinterpretations of the genre.
After moving to Canada as a teenager, Trinidadian songwriter Drew Gonsalves named the band after the historic neighbourhood in Port of Spain, Trinidad: the birthplace of calypso.
Gonsalves grabbed inspiration from all around him for the band’s latest album Where the Galleon Sank—whether by listening to hits from Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, working with legendary performers like Calypso Rose, absorbing ideas from French culture, or spotting quirks in Kobo Town’s home-base Toronto.
This 13-year-old, six-piece band brings those experiences to light through guitars, shuffling horn-lines, and Gonsalves’ accented vocals over an unshakeable rhythm section. Their music compels and reflects reflect on the commentary within each lyric.
“Calypso is a music that’s always evolving,” Gonsalves says. “It kind of reflects the dominant influences that sometimes come from pop music or whatever sounds percolate into Trinidad … And Calypso over the years developed this sort of dichotomy—this division between danceable and lyrical music which wasn’t there in the early music, and we definitely try to put them together again.”
But he doesn’t intentionally try to merge specific genres when he’s writing and arranging Kobo Town’s songs.
“There’s not really a conscious attempt to build any type of fusion,” he says. “I’m an undisciplined writer, and I write just whatever comes to me. I guess the result of that is that you hear echoes of a lot of different things that are bouncing around my mind and my life … The songs I find just impress themselves on me at different times. I work at it as a craft, but the idea usually comes as a flash.”
Those flashes continually resonate with Canadian music lovers. Kobo Town’s three albums have received several awards and nominations, including a world music album of the year JUNO nomination for Jumbie in the Juke Box in 2014, and the same nod this year for Where the Galleon Sank.
“The common thread between a lot of the songs is kind of a musing on history,” Gonsalves says. “The Caribbean’s past has been particularly dark and brutal at different times, but it’s also come with this great levity in music— this joy in sounds and songs, and that’s a spirt that we definitely try to embody in our songs.”
The idea for Where the Galleon Sank first came to Gonsalves while scoping out film locations for Fish, a 2012 short film his friend Shaun Escayg directed that featured Kobo Town’s music. As they walked along the shore of the Gulf of Paria between Trinidad and Venezuela, evocative half-sunken rusty barges caught their attention.
“You see all the shadows of the sunken ships there, and it just struck me how much of the history of the region was buried under the water … and so I imagine—because some of the songs [on the album] take a historical moment or a place of historical significance as a departure point for the lyrics or for the contemplation or reflection—I imagine it’s almost a little bit like pulling one of these boats up to the surface again.”
Thu., Mar. 29 (7:30 pm)