Jumbie Kobo Town in the Jukebox Cumbancha/ Fuse ★★★★✩ Calypso Dawn: 1912 Lovey’s Original Trinidad String Band Bear Family Records ★★★✩✩
ALBUMS recorded a century apart and among current releases span the development of calypso, from the early 20th century to the present day. A starker or more intriguing contrast in styles represented by albums broadly within the same genre would be hard to imagine. When Lovey’s Original Trinidad String Band cut tracks in New York 101 years ago, during a tour of the north eastern states, the carnival staple of their island home was being recorded for the first time and making its introduction overseas. Predating the first US jazz phonograph recordings, the wholly instrumental numbers that make up the 24-track compilation Calypso Dawn: 1912 seem closer to the American art form in style than calypso as popularised decades later by American crooner Harry Belafonte around the world and, in the Caribbean, by calypsonians Lord Kitchener and Mighty Sparrow. The two-step versions (paseos) of calypso tunes played by violinist George ‘‘ Lovey’’ Bailey and his 12-piece band were as elegant as the Venezuelan-influenced waltzes with which they shared the spotlight and a reflection of the highsociety dance gigs that were their livelihood. Without the socio-political commentary that is calypso’s raison d’etre, the music on Calypso Dawn seems impotent, although at least one track, Mari-Juana, hints at shantytown origins. If Lovey’s Original Trinidad String Band can be said to have wheeled calypso politely into the 20th century, Kobo Town has carted it into a new millennium, albeit with due deference to the genre’s essence. The sextet bears the name of the historic neighbourhood in the Trinidadian capital, Port-of-Spain, where calypso was born and close to where singer, songwriter, guitarist and now Canada-based band leader Drew Gonsalves spent his formative years. Kobo Town’s music is streetwise and modern, but it maintains the spirit of calypso as an urban form of Caribbean folk characterised by rhyming verse, vernacular and good-natured vehemence. Several tracks on Jumbie in the Jukebox border on rapso, a politically conscious fusion of rap and calypso or edgy reggae-styled toasting — Postcard Poverty, for example. The opening Kaiso Newscast is closer to traditional calypso. As Gonsalves sings: ‘‘ If I had the choice I would choose / To live back when calypso brought the news.’’ The Trial of Henry Marshall might exude soca soul, but its snappy lines concerning the ill-fated subject are decidedly old-school: ‘‘ He did not stand a chance / Convicted by circumstantial evidence / could not man the expense / To maintain his innocence.’’ Throughout Kobo Town’s second album, the tongue-in-cheek lyrics are interspersed with jazzy blasts of brass, underpinned with indie rock intensity and spiced with irresistible dance riddim. It’s a winning combination.