Music

Kobo Town: A Haunted 'Jukebox' Filled With Caribbean Sounds

NPR | May 24, 2013 3:03 p.m. | Updated: May 24, 2013 7:07 p.m.

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NPR Staff

The Toronto-based band Kobo Town plays a hybrid of old-school calypso, ska and other West Indian styles.

The Toronto-based band Kobo Town plays a hybrid of old-school calypso, ska and other West Indian styles.

Courtesy of the artist, Paul Wright

Throughout the new album Jumbie in the Jukebox, Kobo Town frontman Drew Gonsalves declares his love for the past even as his feet are firmly planted in the present. The music of the Toronto-based band can drift between classic Caribbean pop styles and even verge on hip-hop, but the singer’s perspective remains sharply focused, wry and witty. The song “Postcard Poverty,” for example, ribs tourists for whom tropical slums become an exotic backdrop to their fun-in-the-sun adventures.

For all the laid-back retro sounds on this album, the lyrics come at you with the relentlessness of pent-up urban rap. The observations can be philosophical, edgy, humorous, but never harsh. The song “Joe the Paranoiac” pokes fun at a man who sits by his radio eagerly waiting for the world to end.

Gonsalves’ Trinidadian roots are clear in his vocal delivery, but the singer actually grew up in Canada. And that distance from the music that most inspires him lets Kobo Town pick and chose among West Indian musical styles to create a unique and personal hybrid.

The “jumbie” in the album’s title is a ghost from Caribbean folklore. By placing a ghost in the West Indian jukebox, Gonsalves and Kobo Town recombine old sounds to conjure a new one. In fact, Jumbie in the Jukebox is a seductive invitation to musical time travel, one that’s hard to resist.

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