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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Trinidadian singer Kalpee on his hit single No One and signing to a Dubai-based record label

The song became an international calling card for the 24-year-old, having become a radio favourite in the United States and clocking up more than five million views on YouTube

Trinidadian singer Kalpee. Courtesy Sony Music Middle East
Trinidadian singer Kalpee. Courtesy Sony Music Middle East

It is one of the music industry’s age-old lessons: you never know who is listening.

When Trinidadian artist Kalpee (real name Christian Kalpee) released his single No One online, he would have been pleased if it created a stir across the Caribbean.

Instead, the song became an international calling card for the 24-year-old, having become a radio favourite in the United States and clocking up more than five million views on YouTube.

The track also netted him a distribution deal with the Dubai-based label, Sony Music Middle East.

Even a cursory listen reveals the song’s appeal. No One is anchored by sensuous tropical beats, there are glimmering keyboards and those hushed, sun-kissed vocals that are presently in vogue (see Justin Bieber’s Sorry and The Chainsmokers’ Closer).

While the lyrics are not exactly forward-thinking (there are at least six “baby” refrains and a couple of “oooohs”), it does what a good pop song generally achieves: provide a soundtrack for a decent holiday or some welcome escapism from routine.

Kalpee hopes he can repeat the success with the release of nostalgic single What About Us, which also rides on a blissed-out summer groove, as it recalls a deep friendship.

“I am big believer in energy,” Kalpee says from his home in the Trinidadian capital, Port of Spain. “I just feel that whatever you put out in the world, and I think this song is all about that positive vibe. I think people related to the song on that level; it made people feel good and I am proud about that.”

Indeed, it was No One’s sunny appeal that alerted the talent scouts at Sony Music Middle East, who signed Kalpee and used their considerable muscle to push the song out across digital platforms.

Which begs the question, how do folk in Trinidad feel about the overnight sensation in their midst? As Kalpee tells it, their response has been rather mixed.

“The song has been well-received in the States and Europe, but there has not been much enthusiasm from Trinidad and the Jamaicans, which is annoying,” Kalpee says with a sigh.

“But I understand it. A lot of it is generational, man.

“We have one generation listening only to the radio, which only plays traditional soca and calypso – which are our national music – and the younger generation who listen to music online.

“The older generation want us to sing songs in that traditional way, while the young people are excited with where the music can go. I think this excitement will inspire more young artists to come from Trinidad.”

Another reassuring aspect, Kalpee reasons, is the country’s strong emphasis on cultural education.

“Everybody had to something in something,” he recalls. “I remember in our school that any one of the boys who had a semi-decent voice would be forced to join the choir. I was annoyed about how I would have to give up my lunchtime breaks for practice, but now I realise how important it was for my development.”

Unencumbered by the drive to solely sell physical albums, digitally-driven record labels are scouting further in search of talent. With the music sphere increasingly becoming an online game, a Dubai-based label teaming up with a Trinidadian artist is not unusual.

“It is encouraging for artists and it shows that if you work hard and put good music out there will be someone who is interested in it,” Kalpee says. “But the fact that I am signed with Sony in Dubai is amazing. I was scared at first, but once I came to understand what was going on, then it was good. They are like my family now, who are always supporting me.”

The connection with the UAE also means that we should expect a Kalpee live performance here sometime in the near future.

“I have to get to that part of the world,” the singer says. “This is something that I really want to do, so I would say that I would definitely be doing a concert there at some time.”

What About Us by Kalpee is out now on Sony Music Middle East

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