KiT bring synths and Curaçao dance music to the Levitt Pavilion in MacArthur Park Friday night

By Bliss Bowen 06/11/2014

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From the boisterous tumble of drumbeats that launches the opening track of their album “Tambutronic,” KiT sounds like another lighthearted, tropical-flavored club band. 

“Lightswitch” and “Jackhammer,” with singer Diamanta’s brash, M.I.A.-like vocals front and center, come across like bouncing invitations to party. But those robotic bleeps and samples arise from tragic human history.

KiT’s music is rooted in tambú, a traditional music and dance emanating from Curaçao, a culturally diverse island near Venezuela’s southern Caribbean coast that was colonized by the Dutch and is still a part of the Netherlands. Tambú, also known as “Curaçao blues,” traces back to slaves brought to the island in the 17th century; it was their musical lifeline to their ancestors and their own human dignity — and so was outlawed by repressive slave owners and the Catholic Church. (Curiously, some controversy still lingers around tambú dances and parties within Curaçao, even though tambú is the island’s foremost contribution to global music.) 

The life-affirming music is traditionally made by hand drums, triangle and percussive scrapers, with call-and-response vocals. Men and women are positioned face to face in the accompanying dance — yet despite the kinetic music and motions, no touching is allowed, a restriction that heightens the dance’s inherent eroticism. 

KiT’s members strip tambú of its “spirit music” origins, instead focusing on its rhythmic elements while fusing it with dancehall, moombahton, hip-hop, house and electronic music. They’re currently in the midst of a US tour to promote “Tambutronic,” which is a feast of beats from start to finish; tracks like “The Future” and “Waya Waya” wouldn’t sound out of place on Power 106. Deeper rhythms are found in the polyrhythmic near-instrumental “Bool,” the effects-enhanced “Dem a Call It Tambú,” the almost acoustic “Zunta Zunta,” and “La Señora,” with call-and-response vocals sliced up into rhythmic accents and dropped into a electronic setting. “Maria Ta Jora” was built up from a sample of an old seú (harvest celebration) song, with percussion and synth-generated beats overlaid with traditional choral sections that were chopped and repeated for effect. 

Dutch percussionist Roël Calister, who was born in Curaçao, started KiT in 2005 as an acoustic ensemble, but by 2010 a distinct hip-hop sensibility emerged in their sound — a change that has landed them in the pages of Rolling Stone and taken them to prestigious concert halls such as the Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center. They’re headlining the Levitt Pavilion in MacArthur Park this Friday, a concert that should make for one lively dance party. 

KiT headline the Levitt Pavilion in MacArthur Park, 2230 W. Sixth St., Los Angeles at 8 p.m. Friday. Admission is free. For more information, call (213) 683-3230. The band will also perform at the Dub Club at the Echo, 1822 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park, at 9 p.m. Wednesday, June 25; Tickets are $15 advance, $20 at the door. Visit aboutkit.com.

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