Kes Talks New Music, Caribbean Unity, and Back to the Carnival Cycle –

In fairness, it wasn’t until Labor Day weekend 2017 that I attended my very first party, an army-themed boat ride in New York City. Being of Jamaican descent and passionate about dancehall music, I admit that for most of my life I never listened to or liked soca or calypso – or so I thought.

“It’s too fast. It’s too happy. It’s too moist,” were just a few of my preconceptions. So needless to say, I really didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at the dock along the East River in Manhattan. I was even more baffled when one of the men in my group, along with countless other male revelers in military gear, showed up with what looked to me like old car parts and extra-long screwdrivers. .

At the time, I didn’t understand that these seemingly arbitrary metal elements were actually the instruments used in the rhythm section, the eternal pulse of Trinidadian music, or what the Trinidadian band Kes (also known as Kes The Band) coined “Liki”. Tiki,” also the name of their latest single for which VIBE exclusively created the visual earlier this month.

Teaming up with his real-life cousins, Haitian singer JPerry and producer Michaël Brun, lead singer Kees Dieffenthaller explained in a chat with VIBE that the mission of “Liki Tiki” and the band’s upcoming album is to “bridge the gaps between genres and worlds”, uniting Caribbean islands and black people as a whole using “music that feels Well.”

In truth, soca is all the stuff I had ignorantly assumed – it’s very fast, it’s borderline euphoric, and it’ll leave you drenched in sweat, but most likely to convert naysayers, it’s fun as hell ‘hell ! Or as Kes sang on “Pick A Side” in 2020:

We don’t want bad vibrations in the mass.

2011’s King of International Soca Monarch spoke about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the band’s new album, how he personally dealt with the “carnivalesque tabanca”, why he is eager to resume the “cycle ” carnival rigor and the interesting meaning behind the term “Liki Tiki”.

VIBE: You define “Liki Tiki” as the phrase you use to describe your rhythms and calypso-style feel. What is the origin of the expression? Can you take credit for it?

Kes: I think that we [Kes The Band] can! I think we kind of started that sentence. There is no historical origin to this. So Liki Tiki was really and truly just our phrase that we made up to describe our beats and rhythms, how we felt, to those who don’t understand it and to those who do.

Liki Tiki kind of imitates the rhythm section, and in this rhythm section, they hit the irons, they hit the drums, there’s a lot of different instruments, but it just gives you this feeling, that, “Liki Tiki, Liki Tiki, Liki Tiki” in rehearsal. It gives you that swing that we celebrate and appreciate. And if we want to infuse it into something, we usually say, “Hey! This needs a little more Liki Tiki” [laughs] to bring him home.

Some people describe it as “Ting-a-Liki, Ting-a-Liki, Ting-a-Liki”, which are different words but the same feeling. We just chose to say Liki Tiki and we said it for a while. We used it a bit loosely and in conversation and joking. It was easy to use to describe to someone our style and grip and grove or how you make it feel a little more calypso and soca. To a producer, let’s say, in the case of this piece, we explained it like that to Michaël Brun.

How did you, JPerry and Michaël Brun end up collaborating on this track? What sound or feeling did you want JPerry and Michael to contribute to “Liki Tiki”?

You know, sometimes you meet people and you to know to make music with them. I had met JPerry and Michaël Brun separately. In fact, I didn’t know they were related [first cousins] and I didn’t know they worked together.

I absolutely loved Michael’s vibes, I loved his global reach, but he’s very Haitian and has an island perspective but a global perspective at the same time. And I felt the album is that feeling so I really wanted to get in the studio with it. We have set up sessions without waiting. We just walked in and did what came naturally to us.

In the second session, Michael said, “Hey, I’ll bring my cousin” and I asked, “Who is that? and he said, “JPerry.” I said, “JPerry is your cousin?! Yes, I know JPerry. Awesome!” And JPerry came over and we had this session in Miami and the energies really locked together and it all just flowed. It was all just sort of out of our heads. It wasn’t planned. We really enjoyed our energies and decided to explore that appreciation and something amazing came out.

Most large-scale international carnivals like Caribana and the Labor Day Parade have been canceled over the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Have you suffered from carnival tabanca? For those who don’t know what this means or don’t believe it’s real, please explain.

I think we’ve all been through a tabanca. Tabanca is our way of saying heartache. It sure was a lot of heartache [laughs]. And heartache in many directions. However, my view is that while it was painful to break our routine, it was good to break the routine as well. It’s given me a moment to not only rest and relax, but also to sit down and realize what I want to feel and do artistically and put that energy into this new album without having to chase after tours across the world and getting ready for carnival. We had the opportunity to put our energies into different things and this album is possible because I had a break.

‘Cause when we’re on tour it’s really busy, it’s from town to town, carnival to carnival, and you go straight back into Trinidad carnival and the cycle begins again. So this album is really important. I’m very happy to have had this time to concentrate on it and prepare this body of work. So I had my tabanca but I also enjoyed the free time.

Kes performs at the Grand Parade during the 2019 Caribbean Carnival at Exhibition Place on August 3, 2019 in Toronto.
Isaiah Trickey/FilmMagic

What are you most looking forward to with the return of carnivals?

What I look forward to with this new “cycle”, I call it, is that there is an opportunity to try new things and new avenues and ways of spreading our gospel of good music and good vibes. The world has changed as we enter a new era.

I’m excited to get back on the road and meet the fans again and feel it like a real real human level – the people and the music and where it’s received and loved, you know? It’s tangible, it helps me, it inspires me, it gets you out of your head too. So I can’t wait to get back on the road and I can’t wait to see the new spaces we’re going to play in and see where the music goes. I think in general there’s now a better understanding and appreciation of music where we come from globally, so I feel like it’s time for people to see it in stock.

Speaking from an overall musical perspective, while the two artists of “Liki Tiki” are Trini and Haitian, I would say that the sound of the song is neither because it is actually After inclusive than just soca and kompa. How do you describe it?

It’s a global sound. I think there’s a bit of everything in there. There’s also that Haitian Kreyòl, there’s that soca feel, you know, of the expression Liki Tiki. There’s this sort of reggaeton swing, there’s also a bit of a dancehall vibe, and, of course, a bit of pop in the mix, so it kind of reflects today’s music in that it there are no more borders. The genres are fuzzy and I feel like we just want to make music that feels Well.

This song just made us feel good. It kind of touched on all of our influences in different ways and I love when we find those kind of in-between grooves, so “Liki Tiki” is a sound of the world. It’s an inclusive sound. It’s a sound that anyone around the world can relate to.

Even the video reflects this inclusivity by displaying various flags from different Caribbean islands. Why was it important for you to show unity and cultural exchange?

I think it’s very important for us to unite as Caribbean people. We must combine our forces and our energies. Our workforce must also come together, and not just English-speaking Caribbean, English-speaking Caribbean to French-speaking, English-speaking to Spanish-speaking Caribbean – all of these people must come together. African genres and Caribbean genres must also come together.

Everyone who moves the world, wins and has fun, we need to combine our forces, our resources, and really continue to collaborate and promote this movement because together there is a lot of power, a lot of influence and a lot of potential for change and constructive construction for industries at all levels.

Cross-pollination is so interesting and it keeps creativity alive, it just keeps inspiring. My mission has always been to bridge the gaps between genres and worlds because I am that kind of artist. I enjoy all genres. They all influenced me so I like to share the joys with those who may not know kompa or dancehall and reggae and calypso.

I feel like I like that on a soul level, so I’m very happy to be able to do that through my music, not just through music and videos, but culturally, where people take a minute to look through over the fence or over the wall and say, “Wow, you know, we have a lot in common, more in common than we think. It’s one of our constant missions, to somehow connect the worlds together and allow us to come together and create real change with a unified force. Together we stand and divided we fall, you know?

What can fans expect from the upcoming album due out this summer?

Expect amazing work! I’ve been working there for two years. It’s really a very complete album and I think anyone, anywhere can identify with it, feel it and understand it. My mission for this album is for everyone to continue to enjoy music, to continue to be open, to be inspired by new music, and, if you want to taste everything, if you want to taste everything, then this is the album for you. Yes! Blessed!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Watch the video for “Liki Tiki” below.

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