It is a warm summer’s evening and I am interviewing Kees from Kes the band in Trafalgar Square, in the heart of London, England. Whew! Relax, focus. Let’s get down to business. For those of you who have no idea why I am getting all flustered, shall I explain to you a bit about the undeniable mega star family that is Kes the band?
Kes The Band consists of, Kees Dieffenthaller (lead vocals), Hans Dieffenthaller (drums), Jon Dieffenthaller (guitar) and Riad Boochoon (bass guitar) all from Trinidad and Tobago. Kees, Hans and Jon are brothers. This band first came to my attention with the song ‘Right Dey’ (still one of my favourites) in 2009. However, the song that sent them straight to the soca stratosphere in my opinion was their song ‘Wotless’. Wotless struck a chord in the global soca consciousness in 2011. During carnival time, during feting, we may act with complete abandonment and can be judged. The words ‘tell them call me name, I go take the blame, right now I just wotless..’ resonated and rang true. It still does. ‘Wotless’ won them the title of International Groovy Monarch in Trinidad in 2011. Since then, Kes the Band have had countless hits such as ‘Big Ting, Small Ting’, ‘Show me where you from’, ‘Stress Away’, and have never looked back. They have collaborated with the likes of Snoop Dog, Kerwin Du Bois, Gyptian, Tessanne Chin. Probably for now, they are most known for their soca hits. However, this is a versatile band who tackle, dancehall, pop, dance, rock, reggaeton and funk with equal flair. Last year, they signed to a new record independent label called ‘Weirdo Workshop’. Kees and I perch on the edge of the fountain at Trafalgar Square and talk about music, carnival and what it means to be international artists.
I’ve seen you perform in Trinidad, Berlin and in London. But this is the first time the full band and ‘Tuesday On The Rocks’ concert will be in London. Why is that? London is a very important space for Caribbean music in general. The history of London, the many diasporas that come together, it is a special place. Our mission right now in music is bringing all cultures together in one space. London hasn’t seen us as frequently as the other regions such as Toronto, Miami, New York. You know we have grown over the years and I think it is time that London as well gets to see who we are in a beautiful space like Indigo O2. The venue I think, that it is important for any translation of music and introducing people to something new. We have a Tuesday on the Rocks concert in Trinidad which is a very powerful movement. People that come to the show know what to expect. It continues to grow each year and we want to carry that same concept to anywhere in the world that we touch and everywhere that we want to touch.
The band is very versatile in its music, for example your new single ‘Major’ is different compared to some of your other songs. Is that something the band wanted to do or is that a natural evolution of your music? Well to give you bit of history of the band we started off as a rock band in Trinidad. We grew up with rock and in my teenage years, I got more into the r’n’b and reggae and dancehall. And then we joined Imogen Company which is a soca band and that was our real introduction to the soca world. Along the way we have carried a lot of different styles and vibes of music but the fact is our soca will be heard the most because of the fact that the soca is a well oiled train and the music will reach the massses. The other music has a different level of promotion so a lot of people do not know all our styles. Our single ‘Major’ falls in line with what we do and soca is part of what we do. Not because you love soca doesn’t mean you can’t love rock too or dancehall or classical or anything else. I have sang on Jamaican riddims. I have played in dancehall circuits. I have songs in soca and songs in the pop world. Kes The band is not a soca band or a reggae band. We are a Caribbean Music band.
People have called Kes the band pop. What do you make of it? I think that people have different interpretations of what pop means. It could mean to something is a little more accessible. It could mean short lived. It could mean ‘yo I could hear this on popular radio’. And I am ok with that. I know who I am in this. If you come into my vibes, you are going to get everything. You ain’t going to get just one thing.
I like many of the band’s songs. But two are my ultimate favourites. ‘Right Dey’ and ‘Lion’. Are there any particular songs or albums which are significant for you and the band as a whole? I think that songs come for a reason and come for a time. I don’t judge what is to come. ‘Lion’ was an important song for me at the time. I was leaving Imij and Co. to do Kes the band. There was a lot of emotion. ‘Wotless’ was an important song in my life…you know for me to understand plenty things about the world and myself. The song ‘Tuesday on the Rocks’ is now a concert. If you like Lion, you will like a new track called ‘Balloons’. It’s about the journey of life. If you really listen to the lyrics it’s like I really want to reach where I want to go but sometimes I have to wait and have some battles before. But you have to wait, be patient and be present in the moment. The song is about that and means a lot to me.
You have done many collaborations with various artists. Is there any one person/ band that you really want to work with? I used to have wish lists but now I realise it’s about the vibes just locking. I love what Bruno Mars does. I always love what the Marleys do. Big up to Damian Marley. I want to do some more with home, with our Calypsonians. There are a few I want to vibe with. I have a chance to do one with David Rudder and that is one of my heroes, one of the people I look up to. I think that there is a lot in Calypso and it would be an honour to actually bring Calypso in a different place.
How do you guys come to a decision with regards to a sound, a vibe? With reference to your music and sound, who would you say is the most adventurous with reference to trying out a new sound? Well you know every machine has different parts and everything works. All of us have our strengths and weaknesses and we really pull them together. We really are a band. Even though the name of the band is Kes The Band. It is reminiscent of the old bands. We are a family. My brothers are in the band. We have learnt to make decisions together over the years.
You guys have been doing this for a long time and have been away from home for a long time. I’m curious. What keeps you going and how do you keep the motivation up? Wow. You really ask yourself that question a few more times than you would think. It is a real journey and a stretching of who you are as an artist, it stretches you quite a bit. I have to say that it is a soul purpose for me, to do what we do and to have the chance to do what we do and to see so many places and people and experience music and what that does and be entrusted in the power of that. I feel good.
What reminds you of home? What do you do to remind you of home? Cause you are away from home a lot. [Kees shows me a picture of his daughter]. This is what I do. I stare at her pictures and any videos that are sent. She is definitely the anchor in my life. She pushes me to be even greater and bigger that I can do myself you know?
Is there any audience that gives you the most love? I can’t say that I have found that crowd as yet. I think people do love us in different places, some more than others. So Toronto is one. Toronto is a huge market for us. But I still think the crowds have yet to see our full vibration, the full Kes The Band.
What are your views on the fusion of soca with other genres? This is a topic to me that is.. I’ll explain the history of calypso and soca. Calypso, Soca, our music in general, Caribbean music, whether it be calypso, soca, reggae zouk, everything was totally influenced by North American culture, by the British culture for years. Kitchener listened to the marching bands in England and that inspired him to make his style of Calypso. Sparrow use to listen to all these big bands, all these big names, all the Frank Sinatra and soca sounded like that, the big band sound is in calypso. In the 60s, funk and everything was happening, the funk was in calypso, disco in the 80s. Soca in the 80s sounded like disco. 90’s, dancehall start to get big, dancehall end up in the soca. Dance music end up in soca. Why is this any different?? This has been happening and will happen because music is collaboration and will always be influenced. My view on it is that you have to trust what you have. Your deep spirit, your deep Caribbean soul, that is something unique and something you are born with. So no matter what, the soul of calypso, the soul of soca will always live. If we didn’t have fusion, Justin Bieber wouldn’t not being doing what he is doing. People might have an issue with that but he is getting them familiar with the beat. And that what’s reggae did to have to buss too. Reggae had to cover ‘my boy lolipop’ in London. That was a pop song on the reggae ska beat! People shouldn’t be worried. If you really trust in your ting and believe in it then you will have it. I would never question the growth of it.
What does carnival mean to you? Carnival is the wind up and the release for me. You work and play as hard as you can and you release. It has been different over the years. I have been in carnival since I was small. I never miss one. It has become more of a spiritual thing depending on where I go. I like to observe the people of Trinidad and Tobago and the people who come show their true self, their true heart even if it is for a week. And yes there is ugly in that and there is beautiful but that is life. Life is a carnival for me.
What can we expect at the ‘Tuesday on The Rocks’ concert? Everything, I can’t lie. There are a lot of people who haven’t seen Kes The Band. Just come to have a good time. We will be doing stuff that you know, stuff that you don’t know, just bringing our vibe to the table which is energy. We have been touring the world for some years now. I love my team, I love my band, I love the energy and I believe in it. And I know that people who are in the vibration will feel the vibration. Expect a good time and a good vibe.
In the Caribbean, musical artists almost unconsciously play certain roles. There are artists which get us ready for the road to get on bad with their sound, there are those which us get us ready for j’ourvert or feting. There are those artists who remind us of our past and culture, get us to think externally, get us ready for our daily struggles and there are those who make us think about the future. Kes The Band? For me? Kes The Band is the seduction. Whether it is singing about being wotless, tiefing a whine being a true masquerader, lion, or being major, there is an underlying seductive quality to their sound that can not be replicated. And this band’s versatility is evident. Kees speaks about the vibe, the energy. This is there whatever genre the band covers. He is an artist and a man who has a deep knowledge of purpose and of self and is passionate about music. That is radiated when you speak with him. And just as there will always be one Machel Montano, one Bunji, one Sizzla, there will always ever be one Kes The Band. Can’t wait for their concert!
Kes The Band Tuesday On The Rocks concert is today at the O2 Indigo. Their most recent singles ‘Major’ is out now. For more information on Kes The Band, please visit www.kestheband.com, Kes (band) at Wikipedia, Kes the band on facebook, Kes The Band on YouTube, Kesthebandofficial on instagram, Kesthebandon twitter, Kes Official at Soundcloud, Kes The Band at ReverbNation. All photography by Raymond Lyttle. Make up by Ou Belle.