November 2006

Kobo Town | Independence CD Release Party
November 2, 2006Lula LoungeToronto
Bringing The Warmth Of Trinidad
by Tony Shivpershad with photos by Roger Humbert
It was cold outside. Winter was getting ready to make her slow approach. The dark streets of downtown Toronto were quiet, on this Thursday night, but inside the orange walls of Lula Lounge, six men known as Kobo Town were welcoming us to the release party for their album Independence.

Bandleader Drew Gonsalves welcomed the enthusiastic crowd to "a very joyous night". Stuart Watkins slapped out a dub reggae bass line intro and a chorus of song erupted as the band played "Half of the Houses". A song that, while not on the CD being celebrated, would set the tone for the night.

The cold streets outside were quickly forgotten. Drummer Robert Milicevic played bare-foot, and guitarist Cesco Emmanuel wore the Trinidadian football jersey of the past summer’s World Cup tournament. The song featured vocals and Emmanuel's guitar playing a sweet sounding game of call-and-response. This was old-school reggae, Bob Marley himself would have been proud to hear Kobo Town play.

The next song turned up the heat even more. "Trinity", a bubbling calypso, was played at a faster tempo than the version on the album. Percussionist Derek Thorne beat congas and Linsey Wellman added a passionate flute solo. Emmanuel's guitar was turned up and bright as the Trinidadian sun, as Gonsalves sang to us the skilfully written story of his return to his native land.

Drew Gonsalves

Linsey Wellman
Roger Williams' pumping bass line along with drummer Robert Milicevic's tempo introduced "Abatina". While it's difficult to choose just one, this is a favourite piece on the CD. The violin of the recorded version was replaced by a melancholic melody played by Wellman on the soprano saxophone. The sax melody embodied the sad tale of Tina, who was married off to a man that did not deserve her. Kellylee Evans' vocals were missed, but Wellman made up for it with some vicious soloing on the saxophone.

Gonsalves who alternated between tres and cuatro from song to song, dedicated "Higher than Mercy" to the people who inspired him, particularly his father-in-law. Then another song not found on the CD, the incredible jazz/ska-infused "Everybody Waiting for Braxton" turned up the intensity. The group on the dance floor grooved a little harder, Wellman attacked his flute with fervour, and Emmanuel's guitar solo was brilliant.

"Sing Out, Shout Out", the song from which the album title Independence is drawn, was next up. This was a roots reggae rocker. The live treatment was like a 12-inch extended version of the album version and featured another frenzied solo from Wellman, this time on his soprano saxophone.

As if the crowd wasn't having enough fun already, Gonsalves pulled out a calypso sing-a-long about a fictitious character, Henry Marshall, who meets a tragic end. As the crowd was taught their lines, "made up their mind and they want to take his life", Gonsalves joked that no Trinidadian accent was necessary, but it would be an asset. Then we were instructed to sound more like an angry mob. Despite the morbid lyrics, this song was a lot of fun, a real party song.

Gonsalves was hospitable enough to survey the crowd, asking how many of us had to go to work the next day, and how many wanted to stay out and party all night. With that in mind, the band took a short break.

The second set started with Gonsalves alone on stage with his tres, playing the comedic "Yankees on the radio" (no offence to any American present). This was the story of Gonsalves’ recent trip back to Trinidad where he was disturbed by the Americanization of his country's media, "You may sound like a native in New York City, but you sound like a jackass in Trinidad." The rest of the band joined in near the end of the song, to help on the chorus. Then they launched into "Blood and Fire", a song with an infectious chorus and addictive guitar riff, a driving bass, funky drums, and some super sax.

Cesco Emmanuel
As the show went on, Gonsalves and the band became more and more animated. The flute and guitar traded riffs on the extended intro to "Beautiful Soul", which was another fine example of Kobo Town's live treatment of the songs from the album. The dramatic "St. James” followed, which featured a great acappella breakdown.

One of the most fun songs on the album, "Corbeaux Following", was saved for last. Gonsalves' lyric writing is powerful throughout the album, but on this song they are downright profound, and it was a shame that they got lost deep in the mix during the stage performance. Near the end, the band broke the song down and the band members were introduced, each doing dazzling solos in turn, before the song returned with its Creole call-and-response ending. Then Emmanuel put down his guitar and picked up an empty beer bottle, and started to play a beat with a spoon on the bottle. Milicevic followed suit, as well as Williams. The band paraded off stage with Wellman continuing to play his soprano sax, Gonsalves on tres and Thorne playing djembe following those playing beer bottles into the crowd while continuing the “Corbeaux Following” melody.

The band danced and played in the crowd of dancers in front of the stage before ending the song, and the night. Eventually the warmth of Trinidad faded as we walked out into the frigid night air of our frozen city.
We welcome your comments and feedback
• • • • • •
Tony Shivpershad
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Roger Humbert
The Live Music Report

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