Words by Jillionaire, Photos by Daryll Willoughby—
When we heard that 2011’s T&T Groovy Soca Monarch(s) Kes the Band would be visiting California for a month of recording, shows, networking and all-around wotlessness, we knew we had to get the story, and we knew there was only one person to get it. Yes, our very own globetrotting DJ friend/Trini correspondent Jillionaire is among the small handful of Trinibagonians with a Los Angeles address, and it just so happened that he was home on a brief break from his hectic touring schedule with Major Lazer. We sent Jilli over to the Bel Air mansion where Kees Dieffenthaller and the band are crashing (yup, they’re really long-term Bel Air house guests) to get the scoop on bringing carnival to California, their new obsession with moombahton, partying with Kirsten Dunst—and also a scoop of ice cream. Yo hoss, to Bel Air!
Kes The Band are currently on a West Coast tour, and I caught up with them at their super secret Bel Air hideaway this week for a quick catch up. They played me heaps of new stuff, and even made me some tea and a sandwich. Shout to Robbie Styles for the half ‘n half Snickers/Vanilla ice cream cup as well.
Kees Dieffenthaller: So don’t ask “what allya working on now,” cuz yuh done hear everything…
Jillionaire: Nah, I doh really even care bout all that, I just wanna get an idea of how the experience has been for you guys outside of the bubble, cuz there isn’t really a Caribbean community here.
KD: We’ve been here a few times before and every time we came it grew into something bigger, but this band enjoys playing for the new crowds. A part of us feels that if we want to see a change in the industry at home, then something has to happen from the outside in, alongside trying to infiltrate change on the inside. So we can do the carnivals around the world, but we have to offshoot and try new things and touch new markets—we live for this.
JIL: Do you perform different songs if you’re outside the zone?
KD: Yes we do, but at the same time, what we want to do now is that anywhere you hear us, you’re gonna hear the same stuff. That’s the dream, to see the music reach as far as possible and go as wide as possible, but we also wanna see music in Trinidad free up a bit more.
JIL: What’s the reception been like so far at the shows?
KD: We played at a big reggae and jazz festival on [Memorial Day] weekend and we were given an early slot, only about 30 minutes. But we definitely set the pace and the vibe for the rest of the day. Afterward one of the organizers came to us and said that they’d made a mistake, and should’ve definitely put us on later, with a longer slot. People have definitely been enjoying the music, even though they’re not familiar with it—I was chatting to this guy who works for Disney, big lanky fella, and he was saying, “I don’t know what it is man, every time your song comes on, i just have to wine, and I don’t even know how to!” We had a pool party right here one night, and it was like carnival! But at a house in Bel Air.
JIL: What have you guys been getting up to while in LA?
KD: Last Monday night we were trying to figure out what’s good, so we went to Bardot and then we checked out Playhouse. As we were walking there we started talking to this homeless guy singing in the street, and then all of a sudden who we see coming down the road but DJ Buddha! He was just coming from the studio mixing Shakira and Pitbull’s new record. So we just had a lot of random nights out with a mix of work and play. According to Wayne Jobson, “you have to network to build your network.”
JIL: I respect Pitbull because he was able to hybridize the Latin sound with popular dance music, and I feel like you guys are on a road to bring that hybridized soca sound to dance music.
KD: Well we’re really into moombahton right now, cuz it’s definitely something we can combine with our Caribbean sound. Our Caribbean music is at a stage now where these club DJs who are doing dance music can play the sound that’s coming out of Trinidad seamlessly. The world has gotten a lot smaller, ears have opened bigger, and people want something new. We feel really confident about the new stuff, and we feel really strongly about the movement. It’s about teamwork.
JIL: Well you’ve always had a strong team behind you.
KD: Yeah but I want my team to get bigger, and link with other teams who are doing their own thing.
JIL: I know people had mixed views on the Snoop thing. Snoop’s taking it the other direction, he was just down in Jamaica recording a reggae record. Any interesting collaborations coming down the line? Do you see yourselves doing a mainstream collaboration, like a Kes and Justin Beiber?
KD: I think it’s important to do those things—people said what they wanted but I think to get snoop on a track was a huge accomplishment. when you grow up listening to doggystyle and then you hear “It’s the S to the Kes,” you know you’re doing something right.
We’re doing something with Konshens, and I touched a few dancehall riddims while I was down in Jamaica. Summer Wave has been pumping—us and Popcaan, Beenie, Vybz Kartel on it. “The soca man have vibes,” they say. I’d love to work with Jr Gong, because he’s always been such a strong musician yet stayed true to his roots. And he came up under that Bob Marley shadow, and was able to establish himself in his own right. Shakira as well—her voice and her sound is so global yet distinctly Colombian. I’d like to work with some of the older local heads as well, like Black Stalin, or The Mighty Shadow. These are the guys that paved the way for us, they put in the work years and years ago, so that we could be heard today.
JIL: What’s been your most ‘Hollywood’ moment?
KD: We went out last Wednesday night to this little club, somewhere in Hollywood. When I jump inside the scene now I realise, but wait nah this is a small nice lil cute place, first time in hollywood I expecting glamour and glitz. But just a simple setting. So i’m talking to this guy, and I eventually find out that it’s [Chad Gracey] the drummer from Live—we were having this big long conversation and I didn’t even know who he was before. over his shoulder i see kirsten dunst, hanging out and having a good time, and then, all the way in the back, i see Lil Jon drinking out of a chalice! and i remember it feeling just like home – people just coming into hang out, and chill out.
JIL: When we gonna get a [Kes the Band DJ] Robbie Styles EP? [Kes producer] Rykky Bobby got a new riddim coming out every ten minutes, and [keyboardist] Mario gave me a CD full of stuff last time I saw you guys in Trinidad. In other words, you have a band full of people doing their own thing.
KD: [laughter] It’s all about prosperity. If men pass through, use this vehicle to better yourself. We’ll never have a problem with guys going out and doing their own thing. We want to see everyone involved succeed.