With new album, Kes the Band seeks to broaden soca's appeal
Kees Dieffenthaller, lead vocalist of Kes the Band
On August 31, while American R&B stars Monica and Brandy gave the Verzuz platform its highest number of views on Instagram — 1.2 million—Kes the Band was entertaining soca fans from Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean and around the world.
The soca band drew over 500,000 viewers across its social media platforms and the Tego app, for what was a concert to celebrate T&T’s 58th Independence anniversary.
The live show coincided with the launch of the band’s fifth full-length album, aptly titled We Home, and featured appearances from Nailah Blackman, Jimmy October, Erphaan Alves, Voice and Iwer George, all of whom have collaborated with Kes the Band frontman Kees Dieffenthaller in recent years, the last four in 2020.
With the concert deemed the best live event since the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were put in place, KTB has sealed its reputation as one of soca's top acts.
It’s a reputation that has been on a slow build since 2010 when the band took advantage of Machel Montano’s absence that Carnival to step into the spotlight as a unit to be reckoned with.
Since then, the band has built a catalogue of hits — 'Wotless' (2011), 'Where Yuh From' (2011), 'Stress Away' (2012), ‘Tuesday On The Rocks' (2013), 'Can’t Wait'(2013), 'Siddung' (2014), 'Endless Summer' (2014), 'Fallin' (2015), 'People’ (2016), 'Body Talk' featuring Chris Hierro (2016), 'Incredible' (2017, 'Workout' featuring Nailah Blackman (2017), 'Hello' (2018), 'I Shall Return' (2018), 'Savannah Grass' (2019), 'Close To Me' featuring Shenseea (2019), 'Totally' (2019), 'Stage Gone Bad' with Iwer George (2020), 'Dear Promoter' with Voice (2020), 'Magic' featuring Jimmy October and Etienne Charles (2020).
Along the way, Dieffenthaller has racked up a Groovy Soca title for 'Wotless' and the 2020 joint Road March title for 'Stage Gone Bad'. That song also earned Iwer George the 2020 International Soca Monarch title.
Now with new management in the form of international management duo Damon DeGraff and Evan Vogel and a new label, US-based Ineffable Records, Kes the Band is looking to expand its presence and following globally as well as that of soca.
It’s not the first attempt the band has made to make its name on a global stage.
Kees Dieffenthaller with his brothers Hans and Jon on left and bandmate Riad Boochoon
Under former management, Question Mark Entertainment, the band signed with Weirdo Workshop, a label founded by Grammy-nominated songwriters/producers Chuck Harmony and Claude Kelly. That partnership produced the single 'Balloons'.
Asked what he is looking to achieve under the new arrangements, Dieffenthaller told Loop News that the aim is to be as much as they can be and to put their best foot forward.
“You spend your time chipping away at who are you and I think when you get to know who you are, you know who fits to make things a reality and the reality is that for us is that we are conduits of an energy in some form and we were blessed with a love for what we do and I just want our message to be as clear as possible around the world and as far as we can reach,” he said.
Dieffenthaller said working with his new managers and label is like working with fresh energy as they are both new to the world of soca.
So far, the partnership has opened doors for KTB, which comprises Dieffenthaller’s brother Hans and Jon, Riad Boochoon, Ricardo Rameshwar, Mario Callender and Robert Persaud aka Robbie Styles, to have conversations with Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music.
Spotify made KTB the face of its new Soca Classics playlist, launched as part of its Carnival Sounds microsite. YouTube Music selected KTB to cover and leadoff its freshly minted Caribbean Pulse playlist. On Apple Music, The Ebro Show premiered the fourth and final We Home single, a new version of 2019 Trinidad Carnival anthem 'Savannah Grass,' on the newly-rebranded Apple Music 1 station.
Artwork for Kes the Band's new album We Home
For the entire month of September, Pandora will add an exclusive "Mode" on its Soca station featuring and hosted by KTB. The Road to Carnival mode will feature the band's commentary on We Home, and their reflections on the vibrancy of soca music and culture.
“Streams matter,” said Dieffenthaller, who sees significance in getting soca recognised as a category on the main Digital Streaming Platforms.
A presence on these streaming platforms also helps to grab the attention of new fans and underscores for Dieffenthaller the importance of putting out this particular body of work at this time.
Though the band was working on new material for an album, those songs were shelved in favour of a live reworking of old hits. Under the expertise of fellow Trinidadian and Grammy-winning producer Dexter Simmons, We Home repackages faves such as 'Hello' which has seven million views on YouTube, 'Magic', 'Savannah Grass', 'Fallin', 'Nah Let Go', 'Endless Summer' and the lone new song 'Beautiful Life'.
“There are a lot of new people listening to this sound that is calypso and we felt the live interpretation of calypso and soca is the important part to translate the genre in a different way because people can relate to instruments in any genre and once you can see how it is played on a fundamental level you get to understand as a listener especially if you never heard about it,” he explained.
Photo: Marlon James
Dieffenthaller said in this time when live gigs are on pause, artistes are given new space to create.
“It’s an exciting time, it’s a new time, and things had to die off for new things to start. You could look at it either way. You could mourn the death of an old world or look at the new possibilities that could happen here,” he said, revealing that he always wanted to delve into things like animation but couldn’t because he was constantly on the go.
Urging his fellow artistes to take advantage of this time to put out albums, Dieffenthaller said it is necessary to build the numbers that soca needs to have categories.
“It don’t have to be a 12-song album, it could be an EP, it could be a three-songs with a producer. Put out bodies of work, let’s register this stuff, let’s make the numbers count cause we been making albums of work every year and not packaging it cause things weren’t available to be very honest,” he said.
Asked what he believes is holding soca back from penetrating major markets, Dieffenthaller said it comes down to self-belief and education about our culture.
“We need to own our culture and stop flirting with it,” he said. “We as a society need to understand and learn and make it cool to learn about who we are and where we come from, where the music come from, we need to work on how that is translated to the young ones.”
Dieffenthaller is doing his part and will be working shortly with the Tego platform in which he has been involved to bring artistes, sponsors and fans together.
He said: “It’s an amazing platform with amazing possibilities and it is time for us to own ourselves.”