We chat to Kuenta i Tambu to get a glimpse into their unlikely coupling of electro sound and traditional Afro Caribbean beats.
Colourful and dazzling, Kuenta i Tambu have come together to create a brand new sound; infectious in its rhythm and unmatchable in its fiery energy. Meeting somewhere in between European dance and traditional Afro Caribbean music from Curaçao, the musical collective have found an exciting balance with the help of chanting, singing and ritual tambú drums. The originality of Kuenta i Tambu’s sound make their genre pretty hard to pinpoint – some liken them to Global Bass while others have labelled them Tambutronic. One thing however, is certain: their energetic percussion is guaranteed to see some shapes on the dance floor and their hypnotising beat is impossible to shake.
After making impressions from their spirited and dynamic performances across the globe and recently completing a successful show at The Great Escape festival in Brighton, we chat to Roel from the band on Kuenta i Tambu’s lyrical meanings, their live performances and the new EP.
Tell us what your name ‘Kuenta i Tambu’ means and why you chose it?
Kuenta i Tambu means stories and drums in Papiamentu, our native language in Curaçao. Tambu also is the name of the most traditional music style/dance and movement on the island. As a big fan of Tambu music, it did influence my style of composing and music production heavily. Originally I’m a percussionist and drummer. I used to accompany a good friend of mine – a storyteller – and play some percussions and sound effects. Later he asked me to set up my own formation to do educational concerts for school kids. We needed a name, so we picked Stories and Drums: Kuenta i Tambu.
How did you meet and come together?
I was looking for the best percussionists sspecialising in traditional music to join my group. The idea was to have a complete percussion section and a great combination of voices to be able to perform the different styles. We were 4 percussionists of which 2 could do lead vocals and we had one extra female vocalist. It was all traditional music from Curaçao with a twist and totally acoustic. We had our first radio hit in Curaçao called “E kalakana”. At some point I wanted to make the music accessible to a bigger audience and start using loops, samples and electronics to create the new music with. While some of the band members moved back to Curaçao, we were joined by new members with other music influences. Nowadays the group consists of one DJ, three percussionists (one also a MC) and one female vocalist.
What are the lyrics to your songs mostly about?
We try to come up with a story for every song. One of our lasts songs ‘Santa Electra’ is about the saint of electricity (positive energy). In the song we ask Santa Electra to come down here and help us fix some things that have been going seriously wrong. If she could make it down here, please send something or someone with good energy and vibration. So basically it’s like a positive message in a story. We don’t really do politics or criticism, which Tambu was actually known for. We try to focus on the positive stuff.
What are your biggest musical influences?
Because of the strategic geographic location of Curaçao, we were all influenced by different styles of music through radio and TV channels but also immigrants moving to Curacao. We all listen to Tambú and other traditional music from Curaçao and of course, the other Caribbean islands. Artists such as Juan Luis Guerra and Guaco, but also Yellowman and Bob Marley. Lately, also a lot of electronic music has been of great influence. Living in the Netherlands makes it all accessible. The last couple of years, I’ve been listening to mostly electronic music. Artists like Schlachthoffbronx, Major Lazer, MIA but also Calle 13, which is something totally different. Electronic but yet quite organic.
How was your time at The Great Escape?
It was just Amazing. It was our second year at TGE. Especially the show at Coalition, it was crazy. Many people liked it and hopefully they will keep talking about it.
What’s been your favourite performance so far?
It wouldn’t be fair to mention just one. We’ve had a few memorable performances! I think Pitch Festival in Amsterdam was an amazing one! Muzikfest in Philadelphia was just amazing and I think our last performance at Europavox in France was off the Hook! People went crazy. It’s something I’ve never experienced in my life. That much love, that much energy. EPIC.
Your songs are wild and full of energy. How do you prep for a live performance?
I think being in a good mood is the most important thing. A good rest is also important but a great crowd is essential. We feed off the crowd. That’s where we get our energy from.
What can we expect from your new EP?
The first single is out there. It’s called ‘Peace Of Mind’. You can expect a lot more melody and harmonics. Some of the songs are more laid back to show a different side of Caribbean music but some of the beats will still be hardcore and nasty.
Are there plans for an album release any time in the near future?
We will for sure release a few singles this year and maybe an EP or an album. I’m not sure yet. But there are many other beautiful things to come.
Words: Hannah Sargeant