Album Review: Kobo Town – Where the Galleon Sank [Stonetree Records; February 2017]

This is the second album from critically acclaimed Kobo Town, named after the historical neighbourhood in Trinidad’s capital Port of Spain. Kobo Town are fronted by modern day poetic master, Trinidad/Canadian Drew Gonsalves, known for his dexterous and determined lyrics, critically commenting on political and social aspects of his home island. Where the Galleon Sank is no exception. Exploring calypso, roots reggae, ska, and at times a hint of rock, this album represents a good coverage of the genres from the islands: Trinidad, the Caribbean and more.

Just as with the folk music of Trinidad and Tobago, that stemmed from a culture of the slave trading, which was popularised around the 1950’s by Lord Kitchener and Harry Belafonte, calypso often requires more intimate listening in order to decipher the mocking metaphors and social commentary, laced with double entendres and witty colloquial language. In the same way, I believe this album also requires deeper more emotional listening.

Where the Galleon Sank is a literal contemplation of the histories lost in the ‘Gulf of Paria’ sea between Trinidad and Venezuela; islands filled with colonial histories of slave trades and oppression. Gonsalves uses this album to enlighten us of some of these lost ‘sunken’ histories, such as the offbeat ska beginnings of ‘King Sugar’, describing the end of the sugar cane exports, which later fuse into traditional calypso clave rhythms, or as in ‘Scarborough Sound’, ringing with calypso riffs. Kobo Town truly fuse a reggae skank with the Trinidadian folk, and by way of cementing their respectability in the field, feature longtime Calypso Queen, Calypso Rose.

‘Guayaguayare’ explores dub influences, whilst ‘Smokestack and Steeples’ excites with tempo changes reflective of the lyrics depicting the modern-day forces in power. ‘Karachi Burning’ describes the people’s reactions to the assassination of Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, whilst the album ends with a soft ode to the beautiful simplicity life can offer, watching your children sleep.

This album represents the diversity in Trinidad’s cultural history, its musical make-up, and as any good calypso album should, comments pertinently on situations that affect the natives to the Islands. A poetic success, but perhaps not a dance floor filler.