Kuenta I Tambu – Interview – 2015

There aren’t many performers that get a crowd going like Kuenta i Tambu, and we couldn’t be more excited to have them round off our Alternative Great Escape show. The template of their sound is Traditional Afro Caribbean Music, but done in their own unique way which mixes electronic sounds with infectious ritual tambu drums. I met up with the leader of the band, Roël Calister, to find out more about their impressive music.
Where did you grow up?
All band members; Paco, Vernon, Tshepho and I grew up on a tiny little island in the Caribbean called Curacao. It’s part of the Dutch kingdom and sister island to Bonaire and Aruba. Diamanta was born on Aruba. We speak the same language, Papiamentu, on all three islands.
Is there much of a music scene there and how has it influenced your music?
There’s a great music scene on the islands. Due to it’s geographical location in the Caribbean (close to Venezuela), our link with the Netherlands and the fact that most people have US cable TV, we’re being exposed to different music styles from all over the world. The most popular music style is called Ritmo Combina (combined rhythms). It sounds a bit like soca/merengue, but sang in Papiamentu. Most band members have performed in popular bands of that genre at some point in their lives. Also, styles like bachata and hip-hop are very popular. When it comes to bands: there used to be quite a few rock bands on the islands. I don’t really know what it’s like nowadays.
What music were you brought up on?
Basically you hear everything on the radio, from merengue to classical music, from hip hop to heavy metal. I was particularly interested in the roots music of the island. Seú, tambú, muzik di Zumbi. This is nowadays the basic for Kuenta I Tambu’s music. Of course we combine it with all sorts of musical genres we’ve also been influenced by.
What was the first instrument you played?
Drums and percussions! Since I started producing music I had to start playing piano as well, but drums is my main thing. I studied Jazz and world music at the Conservatory of Rotterdam.
What drives you to write music?
Do you know that feeling when you’re at a festival or at a party and all of a sudden you hear this piece of musical art? You get that urge to run home and reproduce that beat you just heard? With your own melody and your own imaginary chords. And then you also see yourself performing that unfinished song in front of thousands and thousands of people?
Has your style of music always stayed the same?
No, we started as an acoustic group with only percussion and vocals. The initial idea was to get into theatres and spread the music of our island. We definitely did that but we figured out that playing festivals are much cooler. So than we switched it up a bit and started experimenting with electronics.
How was ‘Kuenta I Tambu’ formed?
Kuenta I Tambu consisted in the very beginning as a selection of the best curacaoan percussionists that were working and living in the Netherlands. After a few changes we ended up with this combination which doesn’t only consist of percussionists but also a DJ and a vocalist. We are actually best friends. This combination has been like this since 2012.
Is there a story behind the name?
Kuenta I Tambu means stories and drums, like we started. The songs in the very beginning were literally stories, which got turned into songs. Tambu is also a music style that inspires us.
What are the bands main influences?
We all listen to Tambú and traditional music but electronic music has been the main influence. Machel Montano, MIA, Major Lazer but also Black Eyed Peas, Sergio Mendes, Kassav.
How do you approach the writing & recording process?
We started producing with my friend Rusted Braces. I would come up with ideas and he would make it happen. Nowadays I can make some pretty decent productions myself. It all starts with the percussion. Diamanta and I come up with an idea or a story on which we can base the lyrics and than she works it out. Lately we’ve been doing some co productions with our friends from Kuddedieren with whom we produced the next three singles.
Are there any new releases coming soon?
One of the songs is about to be released very very soon. As in very soon!! It’s much slower than most of our songs and has a more familiar structure. It is less of a party song. It’s one that can have you thinking for a bit. It’s called ‘Peace of Mind’.
What has been a musical eye-opener and how has it affected you?
The music of Sergio Mendes was an eye opener for me. The way he mixes up traditional Brazilian music with American pop music is just incredible. The way he incorporates electronics in his music is amazing. He really understands Jazz, pop and traditional music, which is very exceptional. I guess that’s what makes him so special, besides the fact that he’s been around for such a long time.
What would be your perfect line-up of any 3 acts for a concert?
Juan Luis Guerra, Kassav, Maná
If you could work with any artist, who would it be?
Sergio Mendes! He would bring some crazy harmonics to our music and take it to the next level.
What music are you listening to at the moment?
Imagine Dragons, Alex Clare, Juan Luis Guerra
What are your future plans for the summer and after?
We’ll be releasing a single in a couple of weeks, by the end of June we’ll release an EP.
We’re on tour now until September. That’s the time to start writing again and see if we can finish off an album or another EP by the end of the year. In December, we’ll be doing a Caribbean tour.
Website: kuentaitambu.com
Facebook: facebook.com/KiT
Twitter: twitter.com/KiT