Calypso: with roots in African, European and Caribbean rhythms, melodies and instrumentation, the highly hybrid music genre originated last century in Trinidad and Tobago. The music made by the JUNO-nominated Toronto-based band Kobo Town, founded in 2004 by Trinidadian-Canadian songwriter and singer Drew Gonsalves, illustrates calypso’s evolution in the 21st century, staying relevant with global audiences.
Keeping it real, Gonsalves named his band after the Kobo Town neighborhood in Port-of-Spain, its putative place of origin. Early in life he was attracted by the allure of calypso music as well as by its charismatic bards, relating that he “was blown away by the cleverness and the wit of these calypsonians and also their engaging interplay with the audience.”
The very assured album Where the Galleon Sank places the poetic narrative of Gonsalves’ lyrics front and centre. And his music also shows respect to the roots of calypso, while at the same time inventively mixing other Caribbean music influences including ska, dancehall reggae and dub. It’s all narrated by his rich Trini-accented voice and layered acoustic-centred instrumentation. The supporting horn section of trumpet, trombone, and the meaty baritone sax lines played by Linsey Wellman particularly caught my ear.
Gonsalves has addressed his idiosyncratic – to a certain degree made-in-Canada – take on the received calypso tradition. “It is calypso inspired and derived, but it’s a conscious departure from the way it developed back home… For me, the calypsonian is a singing newspaperman…with an attitude halfway between court jester and griot.”
For me, much of Where the Galleon Sank qualifies for my definition of “infectious music.”