609. Tradition with a Twist: Kuenta i Tambú

Kuenta i Tambu, translates to “Stories and Drums” from Papiamentu. L-R: Mathias Holzner, Roel Calister, Diamanta von Lieshdek, Tshepho Pietersz.

Broadwayworld.com writes: “Tradition is a tricky beast. There are those who would leave it as a dusty, living museum exhibit. Then there are others who see further, into the possibility of tradition, a line that runs through history all the way to the present. They’re the ones who respect the past but aren’t going to be hidebound by it, who make it a very vital part of now. People like KiT, who’ve transformed the old tambú music of Curaçao into the 21st-century phenomenon of Tambutronic (Jiga Musica; US release: January 14, 2014).

Then meets now via hard kicks and hooky synths, the gritty good times that spawned bass music’s tropical, global offshoots, from baile funk to moombahton. Taking up the sounds that evolved in Dutch clubs and mashing them effortlessly with the group’s percussive, evocative Caribbean roots, KiT proves how easily traditional grooves can move in new, unexpected ways.

Though as fresh as M.I.A. or Major Lazer, KiT’s music began long ago and far away. On Curaçao, an island in the Caribbean close to the coast of Venezuela, history remains very much alive. Originally home to the Arawak Indians, it was conquered by the Spanish in 1499 then became Dutch in 1634. But in many ways it’s almost an outpost of Africa, a first stop for slave ships on their journey to South America, and the influence of another continent is still powerful. For centuries, the people have celebrated with drums and singing, styles like seú, muzik di zumbi (music of the spirits), and above all, tambú.” (More)

For all its contemporary sound, though, the music of KiT is very solidly based in tradition.

“On ‘La Señora’ you hear a very old style of singing from Curaçao. We’ve added bleeps and synths to give a modern contrast to that,” Calister observes. “We wanted to bring it all into the 21st century.”

“But I also wanted to give glimpses of where it all came from. ‘Zunta Zunta’ is untouched, that’s how the music often still sounds. It’s a work song from the west side of the island. The last track, ‘Bool’ is traditional tambú with solo percussion on top.” Listen here: https://soundcloud.com/aboutkit/zunta-zunta-ft-elia-isenia.

“We added Carnival drums to that,” Calister says with a smile. “Caribbean street drums to give that feel. And then we made it modern.” That updating extends to “Maria Ta Jora,” where the band took a sample from an old seú song and constructed something completely new around it. The past dancing side by side with the present.

And Tambutronic has proved to be very popular in Curaçao, where KiT have scored several major hits.

“The people there are very proud that we took the step to give the old music a new look,” Calister says. “We stay true to the roots but we also give the island its own voice in the modern world.” Older folk, familiar with the tradition, hear that in the music while youngsters who’ve grown up on American hip-hop, R & B and the global flavor of dance music, hear their own world reflected at them. And that’s an important way to keeping the past alive and strong.

Kuenta i Tambu performing at Lincoln Center Summer Stage 2012.

Kuenta i Tambu performing at Lincoln Center Summer Stage 2012.

About 1000awesomethingsaboutcuracao

I'm Carolina Gomes-Casseres, the creator of 1000 Awesome Things About Curaçao. I live in and love Manhattan, but sometimes miss my first Awesome island...

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