Kees Dieffenthaller/Photo courtesy of Instaglam Photography
Influence of International Artists on American Culture : Kees Dieffenthaller of KES the Band
By Sandhyia Gosine
“Inspired by their native melting pot nation of Trinidad and Tobago, Kes fuses together a unique blend of soca, calypso, reggae and pop to bring the sounds of the Caribbean to the world stage” Those were the short and sweet words used in the About us section of the Kes the Band’s website (www.kestheband.com). The band consists of founding members, brothers Kees Dieffenthaller (lead vocals), Hans Dieffenthaller (drums), and Jon Dieffenthaller (guitar), Riad Boochoon (bass guitar). Kes’ style has elevated them to mainstream popularity. Kes has earned their rights in becoming a household name in their country (Trinidad and Tobago) and even throughout the Caribbean. They have even managed to transcend their vibes all the way to the United States. Performing at sold out concerts throughout NY, the most recent being at the PlayStation Theater in NYC this year, as well as Summer Stage at Coney Island, Brooklyn. The band’s performance and “vibes” truly captivates and win over their audiences, with their electrifying and high-energy performances.
I made my way to Water Street to meet Kees Dieffenthaller, the lead vocalist of KES the Band. The interview was conducted at the dining area at 55 Water Street as there is no better way to truly connect, than through food. The outpour of humility began from the moment he greeted me. Our conversation began effortlessly about the influence of Soca music in America, particularly in New York; and so began our interview:
I expressed that I had noticed the growth and appeal towards the younger generation of soca listeners, and asked if this year was different in comparison to others with respect to having the presence of such a younger crowd. Kees stated that he believes that all generations really are involved and they always were; “the Caribbean and calypso music, just the Caribbean feel comes back around” he referenced and connected the 50’s to Harry Belafonte, Bob Marley to the 70’s and connected 80’s vibes with Lionel Ritchie. He stated that Soca music connects to the world, “with the rise of the afro beats people are tuned in, it’s a beat that connects different cultures. It’s easier to cater for a Non-West Indian crowd” as Kees simply states “The world is feeling our beat”.
Kees mentioned that their sound can simply be described as “Kes the band music” which clearly signifies the unique style and blend of each of the band’s members. With such catchy lyrics and beats, one would wonder what the creative process entails. According to Kees “there’s not just one particular process, and that in itself is part of the creative process since you can’t call on inspiration, inspiration just has to happen, what you need to do is be able to catch the butterflies when they come your way. It’s good to stimulate creativity but also important not to force it” Kees passionately explains. Speaking of butterflies I asked if he still gets performance anxiety, to which he answered, “of course, but now I use it differently, it’s not the anxiety to not perform, instead it fuels my energy when I feel nervous about something, it means I haven’t done it before and there is something to explore, I don’t feel paralyzed as when you’re younger maybe, it’s a good indication, it means I’m not bored, I don’t want to be bored”.
When asked if he would like to collaborate with anyone he responded with a wide eye and bushy tailed “Yes, many, both dead and alive. Bruno Mars is someone I think is just such a vibe, as a performer, song writer and singer, But I kind of leave things open, I allow things to happen, I find that I meet people whom I’ve never met before and they change the course of how I create; I realize that no matter how far you’ve come as a performer if we link, we link, but I have to say if its anyone, then (it will be) Bruno. I think him and I would make a cool calypso.”
Kees has managed to remain relevant in today’s ever changing society, when asked how he was able to maintain the relevance he simply stated: “You have to be relevant to yourself as an artist, I just want to feel inspired all the time, constantly trying to find the cool spot on the pillow. Be true to yourself and you would find the art that is relevant to that particular moment, the moment in which you are relevant would become relevant. You find something that truly reflects. Every song that was a hit song was reflective of a time in my life. Relevance to you first is important”.
When asked what advice he would give to his younger self he said he would leave his younger self alone “because you have to feel lost sometimes to feel found. All of my experiences helped mold me; it truly completed a circle, for me. I can impart knowledge from a real place. My only advice to my younger self would be; continue believing and be less scared, live and do your thing”.
In this auditory chain of musical creativity, have you ever wondered what our favorite artists are listening to? What is on their playlist? Well, It turns out Kees’ Playlist at the moment includes “Yay” by Bruno Mars and “Welcome to the Party” by pop smoke (of which he does a great impression). His favorite oldie’s song is more than a feeling by Boston and Bohemian Rhapsody, he reminisced about when him and his mom won a cover band competition while performing Bohemian Rhapsody. His mother Deanna, who sings classical did all of the operatic parts. He, attributed his now bare playlist to the fact that that at the moment he is creating. Therefore, his playlist includes a lot of new music tracks that he is working on. I’m sure I can speak for all of his fans in saying that new Kes tracks is certainly music to our ears (all pun intended).
We spoke about his bucket list which includes reaching a place where he has the choice to unplug or plug in. He said he is at the dreaming phases of attaining that at the moment. “Its definitely not where I want to be at this point I have far more to give” he goes on to say as he comforts us all “it’s one of the long term items on my bucket list; before doing that I would like to see the earth from out of space”. Soca on the moon, perhaps!
We delved into the details of his perfect dinner party and his guest list included guest who were either deceased or alive, included, without the skip of a beat: Bob Marley, and then a long pause. I jokingly asked if that was it. To which he chuckled “Yes, for a while, I would invite him first, pre-dinner”. “I want to talk to Malcomn X because I love his story, where he came from and what he saw. Fela Kuti, the Nigerian activist and musician.” Jack Black also made the list as well as Quincy Jones; “Quincy would hit us jams all night long”. Kees’ greatest indulgence is chocolate he loves Cocobel Chocolate, which are hand crafted chocolates from Trinidad.
When asked to share a quote which he lives by he quickly responded with “live life like you’re playing Mas” referencing the free spirited tradition of Carnival, celebrated in Trinidad. A parade of costumes while dancing to soca and calypso through the streets “Live and enjoy be true” which happens to be one of his titled songs featuring artist David Rudder. He quickly added a second quote; “row, row, row, your boat gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream”, the well-known nursery rhyme which subliminally references life’s journey. Kees acknowledges many of the great advice he has been given over the years, however the one which resonates best with him is “be careful who you choose as your enemy, and be mindful of the battles you choose to fight”. Kees fans may be surprised to know that he loves to cook; he went on to praise “I cook well! My favorite thing to cook is lamb paleo, the rice is moist and the lamb is moist it’s just, umm!
When asked what he would you like to be remembered for, his response was; “I’m gonna be remembered for different things, from different people. Just as long as I was able to light a spark in someone life and make a difference that would be enough”. I think it’s safe to say that he sure does make a difference with his music and certainly does spark a few dance moves from us. When asked what brings him the greatest joy, he said being a vessel, Kees is truly both blessed and humbled. The most exhilarating part about being a performer admits Kees is “the process of such a very public act that is in reality, so personal, your creativity flows in your space of solace and this is then shared with the world. To be able to see something that comes from a thought and blossoms and connects to so many people, for me as a performer I see the beginning, the middle and end, the cause and the effects of the entire process. It truly is humbling and exhilarating at the same time”.
The jump while performing has become a signature for fans. What inspired this jump? Kees attributed its starting point, and gave so much appreciation to Robbie whom he deems as an “energy god of the band, he is a blessing The entire band are a blessing, my brothers Hans and Jon, Riad, Ricky, Mario”. The jump is a moment, their moment to connect, “Right before the jump, most times I’m like nah I’m beat I can’t make it, Robbie you’re gonna have to do this one alone, but then I look out at everyone and the energy that I see from the stage, I take it all in and then I give it everything I got and I jump! That’s my way of giving everyone who came out to see me, the very last of energy I have left. It’s my thank you to my fans”.
Kees admits that he has learned and has discovered so much about himself after becoming such a huge household name. “It’s a journey and it’s amazing, mind-blowing and scary all at the same time. The more involved I am in my career as an artist, the closer I am to the feeling of being a child, being 9 years old, because my imagination, dreams and passion for what I do is at its wildest”. Speaking of childhood I asked Kees for some advice for a young child looking for a way into the industry? His advice was simply; just be a child, enjoy it, get involved in as much positivity as you can and enjoy it. We concluded interview with Kees’ heartfelt message to his fans which was simply; “Life and Love that is what we are here for, why not help each other along the way”.