Caribbean Beat Magazine

Gilbert “Dibo” Doran: “I want my legacy to live on” | Own words

Gilbert “Dibo” Doran, Curaçao’s 2019 King of Tumba, on his decade-long journey to winning the title, the role of culture in national identity, and Carnival as a time of solidarity — as told to Nelly Rosa

  • Gilbert “Dibo” Doran. Photo courtesy Dibo Doran
  • Photo courtesy Curaçao Tourist Board

I was raised in a single-parent household. My parents split when I was nine months old. My father Gibi is a famous singer, musician, and composer in Curaçao. But growing up at my mom’s place, I wasn’t surrounded with music.

Unlike at my paternal grandparents’ house — my grandfather Bèti Doran was an actor, a writer, a musician, and a composer. He was also an advocate for the creole language Papiamentu. The whole household was breathing music, art, and literature. My aunt had her own children’s choir, my dad and his brothers were also active in the music scene. Back at my mom’s house, I would play music on cooking pots and buckets. Instead of a bike or a Nintendo, I would ask for drums, a piano, or cymbals as a gift.

Whenever I would sit in class, I would start drumming with my fingers. I got punished so many times for making sounds in the classroom. I could make music out of anything. To the teachers’ dismay, a random phrase would turn into a song.

At the age of eleven, I won the Tumba Festival for kids with a composition my dad wrote. After being crowned Youth Tumba King, I joined the musical folkloric group Karabela. That’s where I got a profound appreciation for our culture, folklore, and tradition. I’m a patriot to the bone. Your culture and tradition are part of your identity. It’s your roots. Dominicans are faithful to their bachata and merengue, and Colombia holds on strongly to their vallenato and salsa di Cali. No matter the music genre — zouk, merengue, urban, salsa, and lately jazz — I always try to add some Curaçao flavour. I’ve taken it upon myself to teach my generation the value of our heritage. I’m happy to see there are producers out there who use the influences of Afro-Curaçaoan rhythms like seú and tambú in electronic music and urban styles. Curaçao’s Carnival anthem tumba has its roots in the history of slavery. In the past, tumba was played all year long. The music genre was and still is popular for ending parties on a high note. Nowadays, the Tumba Festival is the biggest music festival of the island. Local composers and musicians compete for living their culture to the max.

Before the tumba, calypso was the official Carnival anthem. It’s a shame it’s no longer part of this festive tradition. Curaçao is known for its multicultural society. Calypso could have helped with expanding the festivities. Boy Dap, the first Tumba King, made references to the calypso in [his 1971 song] “Bashé”. His first win is considered a calypso-style tumba.

This year we’re celebrating the fiftieth edition of the Tumba Festival and Carnival. It’s beautiful to see that the fest has been around for fifty years. It has proven its right to exist. The Tumba Festival and Carnival make people forget about everyday problems, political disputes, and economic disparities. These moments of joy unite people.

The climax of my tumba “Kòrsou ta den su Gloria” (“Curaçao Is in Its Glory”) is the kick “say goodbye to problems, turmoil, and feuds.” In the intro, I sing, “I’m going to proclaim that this country is glorious, but I need everyone to pitch in to make a mark on history. It’s time to share, like a big family living under one roof. Elders say that with patience one day glory falls on you. All you need is patience and perseverance to get through. Let’s create a wave of positivity so we can reach victory. As tumba sounds, it will break all chains of tension.” Even though the next sentence is commonly used, I think it was one of the strongest punch lines in the song: “If God is with us, who can be against us. So, let’s live the glory of happiness and fantasy” — that’s a reference to the Carnival fest. 

It was ten years before I took home the crown. In the past ten years, God paved the way for me. I’ve written history as the first third-generation composer to win best lyrics. I’m the only Youth Tumba King who has also been crowned Tumba King in the adult competition. And I’m the record-holder for being the composer who finished in the top five more than anyone else. One top of that, one of my dreams came true. I’ve always wanted a double win with the title and the Bèto Doran Award for best lyrics and melody — the award is named after my grandfather. Lyrics and melody carry the most weight in the total score.

I strive to be an example. I truly believe no one is ever outlearned. There is so much more to obtain. When I’m gone, I want my legacy to live on. A great composition will forever be a great composition. Same with poems. A great poem will stay a great poem for eternity. Just like many singers and composers before me, I want to leave my mark on the Tumba Festival. Perseverance is key. You’re not always going to get your heart’s desire whenever you want it. It’s my duty as leader of the band ONE to continue to deliver music of the highest quality. Even if I don’t participate with my own composition this year, the band will participate in the festival and Carnival. At this point, I’m not sure if I’ll defend my title. I haven’t written any lyrics. I’m not going to beat myself up. The inspiration has to come naturally.

I was sixteen years old when I first started composing songs for the Tumba Festival. For eleven years in a row, I’ve been the youngest composer competing in the festival. That’s one of the reasons why I support the Youth Tumba Festival. I want to contribute to the longevity of the festival. Without new blood, tumba goes extinct. 

Curaçao’s 2020 Carnival season stretches from 3 January to 25 February, with almost two months of festivities, including the Tumba Festival, a four-day musical event (27 to 31 January) where artists compete to win the Tumba King or Queen title, and have their song showcased as the official soundtrack for Carnival celebrations.

Curaçao Carnival culminates in six days of parades, running from 16 to 25 February, with designated days for children, teenagers, adults, and a Grand Farewell Parade to close the annual festival.

Throughout Carnival, tumba is the soundtrack. Derived from West African musical traditions brought to Curaçao by enslaved peoples in the seventeenth century, tumba has evolved through contact with other Caribbean musical genres, including merengue and calypso. Like calypso, tumba — sung in Papiamentu, Curaçao’s national language — features topical lyrics, social commentary, and double entendre. Singers are accompanied by drums, brass instruments, and traditional iron percussion instruments like scratchers and bells.