Roël Calister, head of Curaçaoan-Dutch band Kuenta i Tambu (KiT), talks to TropicalBass author Alexander Wahl about his new album Tambutronic, the perception of “tropical bass” from a Caribbean perspective and empowerment through knowledge.
Listen to the interview:
Roël, for those who not know you yet, how would you describe KiT in one sentence?
High energy music with loads of percussions, with two crazy MCs – If you don’t dance then there is probably something wrong with you (laughs).
Some weeks ago you released your new album titled Tambutronic. I picked up that expression around you guys occasionally. What does it mean?
Tambu is like the music style, it’s also the name of the drum, this whole dance, this movement. That’s where it all started. Tambutronic is Tambu, so Tambu drums or the music style like I said, and the electronic elements, and those could be anything.
So which influences besides Tambu and Tronic did you merge for the album?
Bass music, electronic music. The seú, the tambu and the muzik di zumbi, the most traditional music styles on the island, based on percussion and vocals. I mean we live in the Netherlands, of course you have the dutch house, which is quite influential and you hear it in our music as well, all the synths and the bleeps and things. And recently I got into sampling voices from older Curaçaoan singers, so that’s also what you hear on a few tracks on the album. We have MC Diamanta, who’s been writing some killer lyrics. Rusted Braces, who’s like the overlooking eye. Basically we did combine all of those to make it sound like it sounds.
Being a professional percussionist, did you play all the percussion on Tambutronic?
Most of it I played myself. There’s live recordings I did with the two other percussionists, just to recreate the original old school sound. That’s why they don’t have any synths, it’s just the drums and the vocals, to give an extra dimension. Just let the drums do what they do and create a vibe.
As Caribbean-European artist that combines tropical music with electro and bass, what is your relation to the tropical bass scene? Do you refer to your music as tropical bass?
I think we’ve been accepted in the scene to put it that way. Yeah, I mean it’s unthinkable for us to not be tropical. I mean we come from the Caribbean (laughs). We come from the Caribbean…It’s not a choice. It’s like we got a stamp on our forehead that says ‘you’re from the Caribbean, you’re from the tropical zone!’. Basically we were raised with that music. Salsa music, merengue, reggaeton, and before that it used to be called reggae en español. You know, you used to have these guys like El General playing this Spanish kind of rub-a-dub. That’s the music we were raised with. I used to study jazz, jazz drums at a conservatory, and this jazz swing thing… I mean I had to study it, but I wasn’t really feeling it. I mean if you gave me a pair of drum sticks, I would immediately start playing the Caribbean beats. And of course adding some jazz influences to it, but it was like second nature. So I couldn’t blame anyone to associate whatever music we create with tropical or Caribbean. I just couldn’t blame them, it’s what we do, what we can do best.
How do you feel about producers that sample traditional music from Curaçao without knowing anything about its history and tradition?
I could be honored, obviously they see something valuable in the music. It would be even cooler if they spent some time knowing a bit more about the culture, about the people. When I decided to go study jazz, it wasn’t just playing the drums, the swing and the thing. It was more like go study where it comes from, how it developed, how it started, like the whole music history of that particular genre. That’s the same thing with Cuban music. Or Brazilian music. That took an awful amount of time getting to know all those different styles and the instruments and the artists who made that type of music popular. That’s just me, that I’m truly interested where the music comes from and the people behind the music. It’s just knowledge. Knowledge is power! Empowerment is the key!
So let’s use the opportunity to empower people by giving them some knowledge. I noticed you play this insanely loud metal instrument on stage, and it seems to be all over your album as well. What is that?
It’s a chapi. Actually it’s a hoe to work the soil, in the garden and things like that. But in Curaçao it’s a proper instrument. It’s one of the most handiest instruments, it goes in my backpack. And you don’t need no microphone for that one, all the microphones on stage will pick it up. It’s loud, but at the same time it can be quite spectacular. It’s one of the main instruments, the main ingredient, to get the vibe, to get the beat going on. Especially in tambu music. In salsa music you have the maraca and the güira and the shekere, and for us it’s the chapi. That one instrument that holds it all together. It’s like the glue in the music. It’s our secret weapon, let me put it that way.
Your MC Diamanta once told me KiT developed from an educational music project you started several years ago, which is still running with more than 60 shows this year. What’s that project about?
Giving knowledge to little kids in the Netherlands. We still find it’s important to know that Curaçao, but also Aruba, Bonaire and Suriname is part of their history. We would hand out instruments to the audience and make them part of the show. You would see like groups of people playing the one drum, five people playing the shakers, other people playing these tubes. That’s where it all came from. And later on we added the electronic things, and then I started thinking okay, this is becoming more like a club or festival music. We split it up into two different projects. Giving workshops and stuff during daytime, but at night performances.
Sounds quite busy. So what are your plans for 2014?
I’m looking at a few releases with you some cool artists, some releases and collaborations with these guys from Hat+Hoodie for instance. We have a collaboration coming up with Zanillya, also a Caribbean artist. We recently signed a contract for another EP, it’s on this label Basserk. Loads of concerts as well, so I think it’s gonna be a nice year.
Listen to KiT’s new album Tambutronic:
Buy Tambutronic on iTunes.