This Review was written by: Jerome Cabeen
The natural rhythm of life dictates that we follow A to B, then on to C and so on. My own life has been a haphazard mix of fragments and juxtapositions that rarely have followed a prescribed formula. So it was to no surprise to me that when I finally wrapped my happy ears and soul around Kobo Town’s most recent album “Jumbie In the Jukebox” I discovered I had actually gotten off the bus one stop further than the original destination. I had asked my wife Clarisa for “Jumbie” in June as an anniversary present, as soon as I found out that Kobo Town had released an album in 2006 named “Independence” I knew right away what I was asking for my birthday gift in July. That is the wonderful reality of celebrating an anniversary and birthday only 3 weeks apart; you have peace that if you asked for the wrong thing for your anniversary then you had a chance for redemption just a few short weeks later. Thankfully I was spot on regarding both requests, even if I traveled from B to A instead of the customary A to B. I was quite sure the witty, rhythmic world beat that brought so much joy to my spirit in the form of “Jumbie In the Jukebox” would be impossible to replicate, especially at a spiritual level.
I was quite wrong!
I have never hidden my love for music and its spiritual impact in my life. When I tell others I truly believe that music is the “language of God” I can’t mean it anymore literally than that. I believe God, the Most High speaks to each our souls powerfully and delicately through music and Providence has a lot to say through “Independence.” There is no attempt to proselytize on my part through this review. I understand all of us have our own pursuits, ideas and interactions of that Power that sustains us all. I love all 6 billion of my brothers and sisters regardless of their beliefs, or if they have no belief at all. One can’t listen to the music of Kobo Town and honestly deny that there is a beautifully harrowing homage being given to the Creator of all. It saturates their lyrics and music, whether it is in the guise of social justice, loving others, loving yourself or a flat out exclamation of thanks to the Lord.
There is a gritty, sweaty rawness and vibe that permeates through most of “Independence” that painted an epic vista of dark humid nights in Trinidad, rubbing shoulders with all kinds of characters, rebels and dissidents. There is also a great LOVE of Trinidad that comes through the writing of Kobo Town founder Drew Gonsalves. It is almost an apologetic angst on Gonsalves’ part to the island for having left it; however the salvific element is that Gonsalves reassures the country of his birth that it will forever live deeply in his heart. Then there is a component of the album that is fresh, witty, bouncy and uplifting of the human individual and the complete uniqueness that each and every one of us is created with by God.
“Independence” is an album that says: “This is who I am, the good, the fragile, the bad, the young boy who loves Trinidad with all his heart and always will even if his footprints can’t always be found on her shores, a young man who will stand up for the rights and struggles of those who can’t do it themselves as well as the humble servant who wants others to love themselves unconditionally like the Power that created them does.” The album starts off with a straight no nonsense ode to Bob Marley and the Wailers in the form of “Sing Out, Shout Out!” that speaks about the independence that came to Trinidad in 1962. It addresses the good and bad of self-governance and the struggle that continues as the island nation fights for its identity: “Forty years ago today independence came our way welcomed by our struggling songs it came but would not stay and we, wanting to believe, let ourselves be deceived by the well-groomed speech of ambitious men who time proved to be thieves but the years wore on and nothing changed new flag, new name, same old game where the lucky laugh and the poor endure having lost the will to fight again. Sing out, shout out, the dream never dies….” The song as well contains snippets of speeches from Jawarhalal Nehru, Milton Obote and Winston Churchill. It is the perfect vehicle to kick off the album and puts the listener into the proper state of mind to accept what is offered after “Sing Out, Shout Out!”
The next song is “Corbeaux Following,” gives a very vivid description of downtown Port-of-Spain and the people you might find roaming the streets. Gonsalves explains that corbeaux are a type of buzzard/vulture found in the Southern Caribbean. It is here that Gonsalves poses his first theological question on the album, a question that comes in the style of Christian writer G.K. Chesterton when he asks, “I passed a man bathing in the drainhe said “I am Jesus Christ come back again” and as I passed I turned to see a man across the road cussin’ he for blasphemy. But as I walked I started to wonder which man of the two was the blasphemer: the one who said he was the Lord himself or the next one who cyan’t see the Lord in someone else.”
The dark and thick “Abatina” follows and this as sultry and sweaty as a song gets. If dark rum could be transformed into a song it would become “Abatina.” The song relates a tragic tale of a young girl, Tina, who was beautiful and mesmerizing and ended up marrying a man who was of means and importance. In the end she was murdered, by whom and why is left up to the listener, yet the lyrics offer a prayer of regret for her death: “In the end Tina was buried. Aba Tina oh, who is it yuh have there breakin’ down the door? Tina was young and should of out lived us now we pray that she could forgive us. Aba Tina oh, who is it yuh have there breakin’ down the door? We knew Tina was no deceiver, but few were inclined to believe her Aba Tina oh, who is it yuh have there breakin’ down the door?”
A beautiful acknowledgement of the shanty towns and barrios that must inundate Trinidad follows in the form of “At The Edge of the City.” This is a straight forward piece whose uplifting, reggae gospel beat stands in contrast to the reality of the condition the lyrics offer: “At the edge of the city the roofs of broken iron blaze like a diamond crown blessed by the morning sun and these shattered pavements baked in the noonday heat are made a mighty drum by the rhythms of falling feet. Hiding in unexpected places resting on the neglected faces the beauty that we seek lies unseen among the meek.” The song gives the listener an intimate look into the beauty of Trinidad and her people but also the truth of their situation.
The album continues with an unabashed love letter from Gonsalves’ heart to Trinidad, “Across The Dark Waters.” Immediately Marley’s “One Drop” comes to mind while listening to the rhythm and structure of the song. Gonsalves’ voice is clear and strong throughout the album but none more than on “Across The Dark Waters.” This is an uplifting song that delivers the joyous message to the island that Gonsalves has hidden in his heart, like a precious gift, his entire life: “You are my land, you are the land of my birth, for better or for worse you are the land I put first, in sickness and in health and good times and bad I bow to you owe Trinidad, though I have lived out my life across the sea, in a foreign country, in a frozen city. But I knew I would be back again, you are the land running through my veins, you are my land the land of my life, your joy is my light and your sorrow my night, your vision my sight and your soul my sprite, you are the land of my struggle and your plight is my fight.” Very few artists have the ability to take the essence of what is in there heart and convey it with such abandon and truth, Gonsalves absolutely accomplishes that on “Across The Dark Waters.”
Not wasting any time getting into revolutionary readiness the album goes from a love song to Trinidad to a worldwide apocalyptic struggle for freedom and justice in “Blood and Fire.” Accompanied by a funky, bouncing bass line and brass Kobo Town lays down a social justice lesson the world better heed as the pressure cooker is about explode: “The year was 1999 A.D. The people kickin’ up a scene in the countryside and in the city tired of tyranny so they marchin’ in the cold, in the rain, in the heat in the plaza, in the hall, in the square, in the street breaking down the walls, unafraid of defeat unafraid of the powers that be…From Gaza to Jaffna, blood and fire, Soweto to Rio, blood and fire La Paz to Chiapas, blood and fire, Karachi to Dili, blood, blood, blood and fire. What must fall to be free, blood and fire. Why must fall to be free.” The song is anthem like in its declaration of freedom and struggle. It is short, to the point and powerful…much like a revolution.
Following on the heels of “Blood and Fire” is another offering dominated by brass and calypso influences named “Trinity” that musically follows the syncopation and undulating rhythm of Gonsalves’ voice. The song is another beautiful elegy to Trinidad (Trinity) from Gonsalves’ heart to the island. The magical ability that Gonsalves’ has to lyrically give Trinidad a heart, soul, breath and body is one of the most enjoyable components of this album. Listening to his love letters to Trinidad is an intimate bearing of his heart and soul and the listener should be forever grateful Gonsalves’ was willing to expose that part of himself. His words fall on the sandy shores and dense foliage of Trinidad the same way rain brings life back to a parched land: “I can still recall the moment I descended I thought that the years of my exile had ended face wet with tears, I ran to embrace her but she just stared past me as if I was a stranger closer to the ground wheels now touchin’ down and the land I had known, claimed as my own had moved along her clothes were torn, and her shirt was all tattered her eyes downcast, every hope and joy scattered dream of my past, bright memory shattered but I adore her still ’cause I know that all that don’t matter thunder in the sky water in she eye the rain soon fell as if to tell that the tears weren’t only mine.”
What follows after “Trinity” in my opinion is not only one of the most beautiful and uplifting songs I have ever heard but it is as well one of the most necessary and important songs that has been recorded. There are good songs and songs you remember throughout your life and then there is “Beautiful Soul.” In a world that defines who we are by the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the color of our skin, the size of our bodies and everything in between “Beautiful Soul” is an epistle to humankind that begs each of us to look deeper into ourselves and realize that the Divine resides in each of us and that we are so much more than anything this world could ever dictate. Simply put when I first heard “Beautiful Soul” I had to raise my hands in praise and thanksgiving that a song so beautiful had been written. My soul was crying with unabated joy. An added bonus is the angelic voice of singer Kellylee Evans grafting its way into the last verse: “They whisper in your ears, play your fears, summon smiles, conjure tears, but you’re still the image of the Most High, no matter how you look in their eyes so don’t let them seduce you, don’t let them reduce you, don’t let them define you, never let them refine you, don’t let them berate you, never recreate you, don’t let them deride you, never let them inside you…” This is as triumphant as a song gets.
Coming in on the heels of “Beautiful Soul” is another song that deals with social justice and human suffering, “Higher Than Mercy.” A “scorched earth” perspective runs seamlessly through the song comparing military bombers to birds that continually and unmercifully drop their fire onto earth: “Bomb blast, lightening flash, first the rumble and then the crash, then the fire, then the storm, then the silent aftermath. After silence comes the stir ,then the harsh and bitter words. Fist shaken at the sky: Empty heavens, no reply. Birds drop fire then retire, fly by wire, flames leap high but the birds flying higher than shouts and screams, doubts and dreams, higher than mercy can reach higher, higher than mercy can reach.” This is a poignant song about the cruelty and indifference humans can show to their global brothers and sisters because of war and the misconception that somehow the country with the biggest weapons and more powerful bombs is somehow justified in the misery and death their weapons cause. This is a short but very powerful and mournful song.
Coming to the end of “Independence” we are treated to one of the strongest efforts on the album. If it were not for my love of “Beautiful Soul” I would feel very happy to confess that “St. James” is my favorite track on the album. Again it drenches the listener with the humidity, sultriness and thickness of the air in Trinidad at the beginning of the song before offering a fresh rain shower towards the end that restores and lively ups the listener to a foot tapping conclusion. I absolutely love this song musically and lyrically: “Bright night no respite from the clamour, of the day, no relief, no delay in the drama. On the street where the heat makes you sway and stagger, where light cuts through the night like a dagger. Where sounds beat down on the ground like a hammer and signs catch minds in the glare of the glamour, in the glitter of means beyond the dreams of the people passing down beneath. St. James, night is falling down, like a blanket drawn over the town. The whole place like a boil ready to bus’ St. James pray for us. St. James night is coming down like an eyelid closing on the town. A crown is rolling in the dust, St. James pray for us.” As a Catholic what better way to close out an album than by asking a saint to pray for us!
There are unexpected gems on this album, such as the beautiful voice of Ms. Evans on several of the songs and I would be remiss if I didn’t make special note of the incredible impact that Linsey Wellman had on the album with his flute playing. He is featured prominently throughout “Independence” and his flute was a very beautiful foundation on which many of these songs were built.
“Independence” is an incredibly strong and beautiful effort as it stands but when one realizes, like I did, this was Kobo Town’s first album it becomes a giant, an incredible zenith that is impossible to ignore. It is all in all different from “Jumbie” yet had more of an impact on me. I can’t confess, like my wife did, that I like “Independence” better than “Jumbie In the Jukebox.” I simply love both of the albums equally and still can’t believe the joy and happiness they bring, the reflection they cause in me and the inspiration they give me to be a better person and a more conscious person about the things that are going on in the world around me can’t be overstated. I thank God I found this band and their music, I know the impact their music and message has had on me and if you give them a listen and open your heart they will have the same impact on you. Kobo Town is doing exactly what God created them to do. They honor the Creator with a humility that can only make heaven look down and smile and say, “Job well done my children,” while of course tapping their feet to every note.
To purchase the album: http://www.amazon.com/Independence-Kobo-Town/dp/B000MTDN3K/ref=sr_1_1_title_1_aud?ie=UTF8&qid=1375308986&sr=8-1&keywords=independence+kobo+town
To learn more about Kobo Town visit: www.kobotown.com