BY: DELLIA RISMAY
Take the grittiness of Toronto hip-hop, the more laid-back feel of Canada’s East Coast, and the reggae, dancehall and soca heard throughout the island of St. Lucia, and you have Kayo Guevarra’s vibe. Add in a roller coaster of emotional highs and lows from his personal life and you get the inspiration for his new EP, Winter in St Lucia. Described by Kayo as the soundtrack you can add to just about any activity—relaxing on the beach, taking the subway, or driving down the 401 the EP was inspired by his three-month stay in his homeland of St. Lucia in 2017.
Those that have been to the idyllic Caribbean island won’t be surprised by its ability to strike inspiration into those who could use some. Even for those who have never visited the country, one listen to Winter in St Lucia makes it apparent that the “Helen of the West Indies”, in all its relatively unspoiled beauty, is the perfect place to get those creative juices flowing. However, Kayo wasn’t simply there for inspiration; he had traveledback home to spend time with his family, especially his father who had just fallen ill.
“The real reason that I went down was because therewas a lot of stuff going on with my family that I wanted to be around for. My dad had just been diagnosed with prostate cancer,” Kayo recalls. “By the grace of God, he’s good now, which is a blessing. It also was sort of an inspiration for this project, that I’m able to kind of put those vibes out into some sort of physical project. I just wanted to go down and really be there for my family. In the midst of all of that, I was going through a lot of personal stuff as well. Also, just being an artist, I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop doing what I had to do.”
That determined drive is something Kayo has had for years. After collaborating with dancehall and soca artists from the Caribbean, Kayo realized that successfully pursuing his true passion, rapping, would be difficult if he decided to stay in his country of birth. He made the decision to move to Halifax, Nova Scotia in 2009, as part of a recruitment program that helps enroll St. Lucians into Saint Mary’s University. While he got accepted, he says that initially,he didn’t really have any intentions of attending the school. After deferring his enrollment to another semester, he focused on his music, catching the attention of Halifax-based rapper Classified, who would go on to become his mentor. Since then, he’s gone on tour with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Xzhibit, and more.
These days, Kayo splits his time between Halifax, Toronto, and, of course, St. Lucia. “Each of these three places sort of serve a different purpose in my life. I feel like I go home to St. Lucia to feel inspired and rejuvenated. I come to a place like Toronto to be focused and get to work and Halifax feels like a place where I take inspiration, and I take all of this work that I’ve been doing, and I’m able to sit back and curate it. I put it together in a way that I feel comfortable withbecause I’m in a comfortable environment,” he says.
During that curation process, Kayo started to find his niche. Realizing that there was an opportunity for him to give listeners more of a taste of the island, he worked on incorporating more St. Lucian culture into his music. “It wasn’t really until I moved to Canada that I started to embrace that other aspect of my creativity, of my culture, my musicality, it’s not until I realized how entranced and how interested people are in our own culture. It made me sort of embrace it and appreciate it more. Now every time that I go home, I fall in love with our culture and our people just a little bit more.”
Working with the likes of fellow St. Lucian Yogi (also known as Yogidaproducer) for most of the EP, Kayo began to step outside of his comfort zone, going from focusing on hip-hop and rap, to experimenting with using more vocals, as is evident on his latest jazzy, R&B influenced single, So Cold. “I always tried to sing, but I was never really good at it. The more I started to develop that craft, it’s not only the better I got at it, but the more comfortable I got at it, and the more I think I found my own voice within it, almost more so, outside of hip-hop. Whatever it is that I do right now, I wouldn’t even really know what to call it. This feels more me than it ever has been, than when I was just a rapper,” Kayo says.
Winter in St Lucia is now available on YouTube as well as every streaming platform. Go to www.iamkayo.com for additional music, tour information, and more.