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Victoria suited to calypso-rock, Kobo Town's Drew Gonsalves says

PREVIEW What: Kobo Town with the New Groovement and Cheko & the Lion Rockers When: Friday, 8 p.m. (doors at 7:30) Where: White Eagle Polish Hall, 90 Dock St. Tickets: $16.50 at Lyle’s Place, Jupiter, the Reef, Vinyl Envy and ticketweb.


What: Kobo Town with the New Groovement and Cheko & the Lion Rockers

When: Friday, 8 p.m. (doors at 7:30)

Where: White Eagle Polish Hall, 90 Dock St.

Tickets: $16.50 at Lyle’s Place, Jupiter, the Reef, Vinyl Envy and; $20 at the door

Note: Kobo Town also performs tonight at the Queen’s in Nanaimo



Kobo Town frontman Drew Gonsalves spends less time around schools these days, in part because of the demands of his music career. But the Toronto-based singer-guitarist still takes shifts as a substitute teacher whenever possible, which helps him stay rooted in reality.

“It’s good for the soul to come off a tour with an inflated sense of self-importance and go to a classroom full of kids who don’t give a s--- what you were doing on the weekend,” Gonsalves said with a laugh. “It’s healthy.”

The father of four comes by his love of calypso-rock naturally, having been exposed to the genre in his native Port of Spain, capital of Trinidad and Tobago. He wasn’t a calypso fan growing up — “As a kid, I listened to heavy metal,” he said — but he grew fond of the form after he moved with his mother to Ottawa.

“Like a lot of kids my age, we didn’t have a lot of interest in local music. We heard calypso all the time — you can’t live in Trinidad without being surrounded by it — but it never interested me.”

When his father, years earlier, gave Gonsalves a Caribbean cuatro guitar, the first roots of Kobo Town were planted. But it wasn’t until he discovered the lively Afro-Caribbean music through a tape acquired from a friend from Grenada that his interest was fully piqued, Gonsalves said. “I just fell in love with it. At that point, I had been away from [Trinidad] for a few years, so it was like a musical reconnection.”

Kobo Town, named after the Port of Spain neighbourhood where calypso was born, began its five-date tour of B.C. in Cumberland on Wednesday, a run that will bring Gonsalves and his four bandmates to Victoria Friday.

The band performs at the White Eagle Polish Hall in James Bay, with locals the New Groovement and Cheko & the Lion Rockers opening.

The tour is to promote Kobo Town’s third album, Where the Galleon Sank. With a title inspired by the half-sunken ships Gonsalves saw during a recent boat trip through Trinidad and Venezuela, the album sounds like Gonsalves reconnecting with his home country.

“It had me thinking about how much of the history of the Caribbean is buried under the ocean. History is such a muse on the record — I liken it to raising the ship off the ocean floor, trying to bring what is sunken and hidden to life a bit.”

For centuries, calypso was the vehicle through which stories were passed down through families in Trinidad and Tobago. Gonsalves is adding to the genre’s rich legacy with Where the Galleon Sank, manufacturing a type of musical journalism in the process.

“I am an avid reader about the history of the Caribbean and I found calypso told that story like nothing else,” he said.

The new album was recorded in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Belize. Longtime producer Ivan Duran, who also worked on Jumbie in the Jukebox, which earned Kobo Town a 2014 Juno nomination for world music album of the year, handled the Belizean sessions at his studio.

Jumbie in the Jukebox was a painstakingly assembled studio record, Gonsalves said, whereas Where the Galleon Sank was captured on the fly and live off the floor, for the most part.

“This record was much more visceral. Some of my bandmates are unabashed rockers and you hear that on this record.”

Gonsalves and Kobo Town will be welcomed warmly in Victoria, where the band’s relationship with its fans run deep. With help from the team at the Victoria B.C. Ska Society, which is staging Friday’s event, the group has found a second home in the city.

“Every trip out there has me scratching my head wondering why we’re not living out there,” Gonsalves said.

“I can see why anybody would make that move. It reminds me of the Caribbean in the sense that the pace of life is not as hurried. People take a bit more time. I feel in Toronto we’re in a bit of a rush, we hurry through our days.”