Jumbie in the Jukebox is the second album by Kobo Town, a band led by Trinidadian-Canadian songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Drew Gonsalves. While the album is clearly influenced by a variety of genres that includes hip-hop and reggae, its roots are firmly in calypso. The album makes use of many of the traditional elements of the native Trinidadian genre, while updating them with interesting, contemporary feel. Given that many calypsos were in effect oral histories of Trinidadian life, it isn’t surprising that many of Kobo Town’s tracks deal with the development of the music and culture on the island. The first track, “Kaiso Newscast,” reminisces about calypso’s importance in Trinidad’s past as it spread news throughout the country. The eighth track, “Road to Fyzabad,” implores the listeners to remember the historic West Indies labor uprising that began in the town of Fyzabad in 1937, and is still recalled every year on Trinidad’s Labor Day.
Along with this historical consciousness, another traditional element of calypso is social commentary, of which Gonsalves’s lyrics are full. In “Kaiso Newscast,” he addresses problems in the modern media, singing ,“Kaiso better than Fox News or CNN/Because calypso don’t pretend/To inform without comment/Or separate fact from argument.” The fourth track, “Half the Houses,” laments the emigration of Trinidadians to Toronto, New York, London, Miami, and other far-away locales. The sixth track, “Joe the Paranoiac,” is about a man overcome by fear and suspicion who refuses to leave his home for fear of his life—and is also a commentary on worldwide paranoia following the September 11 attacks.
Gonsalves’s brilliant lyrics are supplemented by tight back-up vocals, horns, and percussion grooves. The second track, “Mr. Monday,” opens with a catchy guitar riff over which horn lines and percussion beats are layered in one of the few minor songs on the album. The last track, “Tick Tock Goes the Clock,” one of the standout tracks, starting with a solo guitar phrase and simple vocal line that are once again joined by those tight horn lines, rhythmic rapping, and subtle percussion beats. The song builds into a groove that can’t help drawing the listener’s attention when it cuts out abruptly halfway through the song, leaving a few beats of unexpected—but welcomed—silence before the groove starts again.
Keep an eye on these guys. With a sophomore album like this, definitely expect to see more of them in the near future.