Founded by Trinidadian/Canadian songwriter Drew Gonsalves, Kobo Town is named after the historic neighborhood in Port-of-Spain where calypso was born amid the boastful, humorous, and militant chants of roaming stick-fighters. Situated near the fisherman’s wharf, the area was a site of constant defiance and conflict, a place where sticks and stones, songs, and verses clashed with the bayonets and batons of colonial rule.
Calypso is rooted in traditions developed by West African slaves brought to the Caribbean. Originally known as kaisos, they were performed by local bards telling stories in song, offering social commentary through praise, satire, or lament. Their lyrics often mocked slave masters, and used metaphors and double entendres to get around censorship laws. In 1881, when percussion was banned by the British colonial authorities, calypso musicians innovated by creating steel pan music.
This history reveals how calypso is among the most political of all musical traditions, and Drew Gonsalves and Kobo Town carry on that tradition with their music. Since forming Kobo Town in 2004, Gonsalves has been reviving the witty wordplay of early calypso practitioners like Houdini and Attila the Hun while injecting infectious elements of roots reggae, dub, and rapso, Trinidad’s politically-charged street poetry. “In a lot of political songwriting, that self-righteous quality puts me off,” Gonsalves said, “but calypso puts these dark verses with these manic, jumpy rhythms and bright, major-chord choruses. The humor in calypso prevents self-seriousness. And that often results in the writer being able to loosen up and be more honest with oneself.”
Join us for the final concert in this season’s Global Rhythms “Island Music” series to experience Drew Gonsalves and Kobo Town’s stirring calypso music.
Presented by Town Hall Seattle and Earshot Jazz
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