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Kobo Town is an award-winning Trinidadian Calypso band, whose achievements include a Juno Award (aka Canadian Grammy) and Canadian Folk Music Award, and one of their songs was covered and released by Carlos Santana.
Kobo Town is named after the historic neighborhood in Trinidad’s biggest city, Port of Spain, where calypso was born amid the boastful, humorous, and militant chants of roaming stick-fighters. Gonsalves grew up in a middle-class neighborhood just outside Port of Spain, and moved with his mother and siblings to Ottawa, Canada at age 13. The sudden move to a new (and cold) world where he didn’t fit in led Gonsalves to cultivate a deep nostalgia for the land of his birth. He started writing his own calypsos and visiting calypso tents every time he visited Trinidad.
King and Queen Radio had the chance to interview with Mr. Drew Gonsalves, the lead singer and founder of Kobo Town in Flushing Queens, Flushing town hall.
King and Queen Radio: This is an honor. This is Holly with King and Queen Radio with an interview right before the workshop and show. Okay, so I have here my teammate Dennis and of course, Mr. Drew Gonzales, the founder and lead singer of Kobo Town
Drew Gonsalves: Hello. Hello. Hello!
King and Queen Radio: Hello, hello, hello! We know a little bit about your history as far as you moved from Trinidad to Canada at the age of 13, What made you do that sudden transition?
Drew Gonsalves: My mother is Canadian and she moved to Trinidad when she married my father. And when they split up she took us to live up in Canada closer to her family. So that’s the reason why we left my mother’s home country.
King and Queen Radio: At when and where did you start playing and writing this music? What inspired you to right?
Drew Gonsalves: What transpired? You know, as you said, you know, it was very abrupt. You know, it was… I was young. Angst-ridden teenager like so many teenagers, you know my family hurts or split up and became very introverted and bookish, you know, when I was a teenager and and I started reading a lot about nostalgia. But also it’s also out of the first to understand, you know, you know where we came from the kind of society, you know, I started reading a lot about the Caribbean and its history and I became very interested in the history.
During that time I had some friends in Grenada, you know, the neighboring islands of Trinidad and they give me a confirmation like a mix tape of old time Calypso, you know from the 1920s onward. And I found that nothing to the story of Trinidad and its people and Caribbean people like that music. All of its all of its humor and all of it’s innuendo.
But, you know because it commented on everything people were talking and gossiping about. You know, it was like a time machine, you know, I just fell in love with the melodies and it’s style of delivery which would remind me of the way people would talk around in Trinidad.
So when I started visiting Trinidad, I would seek out these Calypso tents and the first one I used to visit was Lord Kitchener’s tent and my father when I was very shy and my father was not. So he bursts through with me backstage driving me by the hand to go meet Kitchener, you know, I remember a polite but not enthused Kitchener came out and shook my hand and then you know, I tried to match some words of appreciation for all his arts and mentally. So at every time we go back and go to the tents, especially as you know, while he was alive and yeah and I just started writing this music that I became attached to and learned to appreciate it.
King and Queen Radio: Well, based on a little bit of your bio from what I’ve read. Did that at that time including now fill the void with you writing and reading? Did it fill the void between the transition from moving from one country to another?
Drew Gonsalves: I think it overfilled the void! It’s interesting you know. I think I have a naturally strong attachment to Trinidad from someone who came here as a young child. And yes, even at the age of thirteen, people are like you still talk like that? You know, I spent two years trying to lose the accent and now I think I would say in a way, it’s interesting. You see, I think as much as the music brought me home like when I moved to Toronto, I lived for years in Ottawa.
When I moved to Toronto, I hooked up with like the very big Trinity Community there which involves a whole calypso music scene and that that has been like a kind of like a second coming, you know, because it’s you know that you know, it’s very vibrant has a lot of artists of they’re playing that kind of music so it’s like yeah, that’s like like a home away from home. I guess like so many big communities in New York.
King and Queen Radio: What instruments do you play other than the guitar?
Drew Gonsalves: I usually have a Quatro with four string guitar that is played in Caribbean music but, mine is getting fixed right now so I don’t have it and I do play a couple other like plucked string instruments. But the guitar is my main thing.
King and Queen Radio: What was the first tune or tunes that you learned?
Drew Gonsalves: Yeah, good question. Like Calypso tunes?
King and Queen Radio: Yes.
Drew Gonsalves: Okay, because as I said when I was growing up in Trinidad, the music I liked was heavy metal! The first song I ever learned was 2 minutes of midnight by Iron Maiden, on a quatro which was very bad depleted, of course, you know, so we got together with some others and had a rock band down there.
The first Calypso I learned was Jericho by Lord Kitchener, I think. “Everybody looking for Jericho, Jericho” and it’s a fast song and it tells us that Jericho was a fictional character but he was based on the leader of NUFF, the National Union of Freedom Fighters, which is a guerrilla group up in the hills and in the early 1970s, they were active, you know, following the black power rising and it’s this kind of on the stories of his of his life, you know, so that’s the first song I’ve ever learned to sing, it kinda suits you.
King and Queen Radio: So with respect, is anyone in your family musical?
Drew Gonsalves: Everybody’s a bit musical. In my family, both my brothers. They took up the guitar kind of in the adulthood, you know, and of my children one, plays the cello and the other plays the violin, which is not the easiest on the ears while that is the point- technique is coming together, you know. My other child plays the guitars and Quattro and one plays piano and drums. So you know, my family before me wasn’t all that musical but you know, my descendants hopefully are good.
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