“Consequently”—Kid Creole and the Coconuts
Written by August Darnell
From You Shoulda Told Me You Were… (Sony, 1991)
Although R&B/world music visionary Kid Creole (née August Darnell) is superficially known for his colorful suits, a culturally vibrant stage-dandy persona, and funny-story lyrics, I’ve actually always felt that he is one of the most subversive voices in pop music, ever. His lyrical content has its share of frivolity, but his best stuff is highly nuanced, meticulously crafted, and thoroughly encoded with sophisticated explorations of both historical and contemporary issues, as well as scathing societal critiques. He’s like a street-wise Cole Porter, this guy—the wit, the clever turn, the smirk…. but with the biting edge of a man whose observant eyes have seen some trouble, big and small.
“Consequently” does a number on your brain in a few ways. First, the musical stew Darnell cooked up for this track is quintessential Kid Creole—all mixed up, and all the better for it. The initial vocal hook has roots in his beloved NYC doo-wop, but it then morphs into a keyboard figure with a vaguely Asian feel. The relentless (electronic) drums and live percussion ground the song in Africa and Latin America, as well. This sets the stage for the story he wants to tell, which he does through his homegirl, Cory Daye. She starts by singing:
The year was 1492,
Columbus sails the ocean blue,
And stumbles on an island in the sun
The natives greet them with a song,
The sailors dare not stay too long,
For their concerns are economic ones
This song was written around the 500-year anniversary of Columbus’ 1492 voyage, and clearly Darnell wants to remind people of the other side of the story. The final lines of the last verse, addressing the destruction of the native cultures in the Caribbean, paint a clear picture:
A tribe that lived 500 years
Is decimated then and there,
Don’t be surprised,
It’s just formality…
The real punch in the face, though, is the pessimistic chorus, which describes a domino effect stemming from the darker side of “discovery” and colonization. The chorus, like the verses, is sung with an ironic sweetness by Daye (the Kid can’t resist jumping in on these juicy lines himself, though):
Life goes on…
Life goes wrong…
Man is born to be
Darnell adds “thief” and “conniver” to the very last chorus, in case you don’t get the point. Though there’s a negative/cynical streak in the chorus that is philosophically difficult to get behind completely, one has to admire Darnell for reminding folks that slavery and genocide are a crucial part of this “discovery” story; a part that really ought to be as thoroughly discussed and examined as the well-heralded journeys of the explorers.
In the mid-‘90s I saw Kid Creole and the Coconuts perform at the Bimbos 365 Club here in San Francisco. The pineapple-hat wearing party boys and girls at the show seemed to have no idea of the types of messages August Darnell’s lyrics contain, but they were having a great ol’ time. The Kid didn’t seem to care; he was doing his thing on stage, singin’ and dancin’ and smirkin’. I still don’t know whether Darnell actually cares if people understand his words or not—onstage he acts like he doesn’t, which I find interesting. I’ve always admired his pursuit of excellence in both showmanship and lyrical dexterity, and seeming nonchalance about whether or not people “get it”.
And to be honest, I just love the fact that on the sometimes controversial issue of the American holiday called Columbus Day, at least one challenging corrective is offered by a pink-suit wearin’ smartass songwriter who calls himself Kid Creole.
Check out what he’s up to these days at kidcreole.com