KES The Band brings Caribbean flair to USF

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Kees Dieffenthaller and DJ Robbie perform at the Caribbean Culture Exchange’s general body meeting. (Photo by Jasmin Lankford)

The energy in the room was electrifying. Toes were tapping and hands were clapping to the rhythm of Caribbean drums, guitars and a single soulful voice. Instantly, a woman felt as if she was standing on a beach in Trinidad, surrounded by clear water. Instead, she was inside the Marshall Student Center at the University of South Florida.

The music of KES The Band transported its listeners to the island it originated from, combining calypso music with R&B and reggae to create soca. USF’s Caribbean Cultural Exchange hosted this temporary island escape. The student organization treated its members on Oct. 15 to a meet and greet with KES.

“I have to say blessings to my management,” said Kees Dieffenthaller, the lead singer of KES. “They listen to what I want to do, and I really want to meet young people, vibe and just talk.”

Dieffenthaller visited the CCE’s general body meeting to answer questions from USF students and to sing several songs.

As one of USF’s largest and most diverse student organizations, CCE’s mission is to promote cultural awareness and recognition for students of Caribbean descent. By featuring Caribbean artists, participating in local volunteer opportunities and organizing other events, CCE strives to create a family.

“You feel like you’re at home,” said Julaine Moodie, an international studies junior.

Dieffenthaller also explained the family aspect of KES. He formed the band with his two older brothers. Their music features rock, reggae, soca and more. They never want to be defined by just one genre. Soca adds an undeniable energy to the music, but listeners get a little bit of everything, he said.

“Calypso is the voice of the Caribbean,” said Dieffenthaller. “But soca is the sun child of calypso.”

Dieffenthaller opened the floor for questions, and many hands shot up in the packed second-floor room. More than 70 people were seated while others lined the walls. He still attempted to answer as many questions as possible.

“We had a really great turnout, and KES is an amazing speaker,” said Shadari Crawford, a volunteer coordinator at CCE, while executive board members nodded in agreement. “He was very humble, and to have so much wisdom at such a young age is inspiring.”

One student asked for Dieffenthaller’s advice on pursuing a music career. Dieffenthaller recommended that aspiring musicians should believe in their dreams and do it because they love it.

“I chose music, and music chose me,” he said when another student asked about musical creativity and the process of composing new songs. “With creativity, there’s always something to do. It’s a constant evolution of yourself.”

He stressed the importance of content in Caribbean songs and how it has become one-dimensional. Calypso songs used to tell the various stories of Caribbean people.

“Having fun is great,” Dieffenthaller said. “But we need to sing about world issues, too.”

After answering questions, Dieffenthaller introduced his disk jockey, Robbie. He sang along to Robbie’s ukulele while the audience took pictures and videos. Many students knew the words and sang with Dieffenthaller, which widened his smile. Humbled by his fans and the diversity of nationalities present, he put his hands to his heart.

Dieffenthaller will visit other Florida universities before he returns home to Trinidad.

The CCE’s general body meeting also included a presentation on Breast Cancer Awareness. CCE members dressed in pink and posed for a large group picture.

“We’ve really been trying to promote to our members that breast cancer can happen to anyone,” said Crawford. “But there are ways to prevent it and just be aware of it.”

CCE is selling pink wristbands to raise money for the American Cancer Society. The organization also attended the annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk.

While CCE would not reveal any other upcoming artists, there are more events to come.