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Jumbie Kobo Town in the Juke­box Cum­ban­cha/ Fuse ★★★★✩ Ca­lypso Dawn: 1912 Lovey’s Orig­i­nal Trinidad String Band Bear Fam­ily Records ★★★✩✩

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Tony Hil­lier

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.

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