Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Malpais: A Retrospective



Malpais: A Retrospective

     A little more than a year after the sudden passing of Fidel Gamboa, I thought it might be time to look back on the impact of the band Malpais and the void created by Fidel’s tragic, early death, creating an end to this very popular musical group.
Tierra Seca
     Although the band had been together for some time, there first national exposure came in September of 2002, when they provided the back-up music for their uncle Max Goldemberg and his musical partner Odilon Juarez, for a recording at the Spanish Cultural Center in San Jose that was released as “Tierra Seca” on the Papaya Label. Though technically not a Malpais album per se, it reveals the genesis of a band that understands how to play as an intricate unit.
“Malpais Uno” was released the following year, a stunning initial venture of eleven new songs penned by the Gamboa brothers, demonstrating their Guanacastecan folkloric routes, but with their own contemporary, jazz influenced sound. Several of the songs on this album were destined to become classics, including “Son Inu’”, “Como un Pajaro” and “Malpais”. To date, “Malpais Uno” has sold more than 25,000copies, an astonishing number in a country the size of Costa Rica. In 2004, “Historia de Nadie” came out, the Gamboa boys unleashing their prolific songwriting abilities and the band evolving into sound genre uniquely their own. The album has sold more than 18,500 copies. I think they always demonstrated this willingness to leave open space for improvisation and growth and that this was an element that kept it interesting for all the band members as musicians.
Historia de Nadie
     Recorded in 2006, “Malpais en Vivo” proved to be a vehicle to showcase these improvisational skills throughout their recital of ten of their popular songs and four new ones. The crowd response throughout the concert is indicative of their popularity. The CD has sold more than 21,500 copies, an incredible amount for a live recording. It also introduced Daniela Rodriguez as a new vocal member of the group.
    The band’s next album, a twenty-six song, two disc, herculean monument titled, “Un Dia Lejano”, was released in 2009. It included a montage of session players, including a six piece horn section. It created a grand stage for the group to stretch out and grow and has sold an impressive 8, 5000 copies, which are really 17,000 discs of music…
Hay Ninos Aqui
     Released, the same year, “La Cancion de Edad” was a “hidden” Malpais album, kind of a follow-up to Tierra Seca that included Max Goldemberg. It’s a “back to the roots” project, with an obvious traditional Guanacastecan folk backbone, once again in presented with a contemporary twist. It’s been a well-kept secret, selling a little over 3,000 copies. In 2010, the Gamboa brothers set out to help commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Vision Mundial, an institute in Costa Rica to help orphaned and homeless children here. The project began with five songs, but when the brothers brought the work to the rest of the band, it grew into an entire album, “Hay Ninos Aqui”. All proceeds from the album, which has now sold more than 6,000 copies, go to Vision Mundial, a true barometer the Malpais heart.
     Following the passing of Fidel last year, the remaining members of the band searched through the final songs he had been working on in the studio, and put together “Volver a Casa”, a gift to their fans. It has sold nearly 7,000 copies. It may seem cold, but I mention the numbers throughout this article because I feel it demonstrates the impact this group has had: nine discs in nine years, totally more than 90,000 sales. Numbers don’t lie: Malpais was the Costa Rican group of the decade.
      All the Malpais CDs are available at the three Jaime Peligro cooperative bookstores in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos and Nuevo Arenal.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Wealth Magnetz by Regina Ruf



Wealth Magnetz

     OK, I admit it: I judged a book by its cover. Or by its title, actually. Yes, it’s true – when I picked up a copy of “Wealth Magnetz” by Regina Ruf, I immediately assumed it was another “Think and Grow Rich” book. But I heard that Regina was living in the Tamarindo area, so I decided to give it a try. Boy, was I wrong! By the third page, she had taught me just how wrong I could be. The book is a guide for “abundant living”, including monetary wealth, but really focuses on taking responsibility for your life and propelling it toward your own set goals.
     The book is comprised of short, manageable chapters in alphabetical sequence, from A through Z, and each chapter opens with a short affirmation, which I found inspirational. The sequencing also makes the book easy to use as a constant reference once you’ve read through it, to go back and touch on points that are pertinent to you at the moment. Some of the points and practices are things I already do, but they’ve been encapsulated in the book in a way that was new to me.
     Regina told me the book “came out fairly quickly, after about four or five month’s work writing it”. Her inspiration came in a seminar she attended by Mark Victor Hansen, who said that everyone had at least one book in them. She knew at that point that “Wealth Magnetz” was hers to write. She also told me that her motivation to write the book is her love for people and indeed, she continually espouses the rewards for giving back in this book. She is good at making her points clear, with her “inspirational pushes”, what I called her timely bluntness and she refers to as “loving kicks in the butt”. I also like her style of presenting a concept, then demonstrating it with plain simple examples. An example of her examples: If someone said they’d pay you a million dollars to cross the same road a thousand different ways, you would get creative and come up with that many ways, right?
     The book is a source of positive reinforcement and success through repetition, conviction and belief in self-worth. She is a great coach, if a person is willing to enlist her. Here again, it is the individual’s call to commit. I also like the parts where she talks about living in the moment, the only true gift of life we have, and experiencing life through unfiltered, exuberant eyes, not unlike those of a child. Toward the end of the book she writes about aspiring to move to the tropics. When I read that and knew she had followed through, I knew we were kindred spirits, of a sort.
     Regina told me she is considering a second book, that there is a potential there and she is playing with the idea. I hope she writes it so I can read it! Until then, “Wealth Magnetz” is available through her website at: www.wealthmagnetz.com and at the Jaime Peligro book store in Playa Tamarindo.
     All comments concerning this article are gladly welcome.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Hostile Acts: U.S. Foreign Policy in Costa Rica in the Eighties



Hostile Acts

     Writing about politics and the political arena can be a touchy subject. Too many times the author ends up preaching to the choir or simply alienating their curious reading audience. It does not often happen that a book can sway members of an opposite political faction or belief. This, however, seems to be the unique case with Martha Honey’s “Hostile Acts: U.S. Policy in Costa Rica in the 1980s”. Since its release, several of the main players berated in the book have changed their colors and revealed their true roles during this embarrassing chapter in the checkered history of the foreign policies of the United States of America.
     But back to Martha’s book. Ms. Honey has combined extensive academic research with her own first-hand experiences as a journalist. Martha lived in Costa Rica from 1983 until 1991 with her husband Tony Avirgen, who is also a journalist as well as a cameraman. During those years, nearly a decade, Honey worked for the London Times, the New York Times, The Nation, NPR, ABC and BBC, impressive credentials, indeed. As a result of her endeavors, she was awarded the Pio Viquez National Award for journalism in 1989, presented to her by none other than Oscar Arias.
     The U.S. involvement on the Contra debacle as they tried to stamp out the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua during the collective terms of presidency of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr. is no clandestine mystery. In fact, quite a few books have been written and published recently on that very subject. What makes “Hostile Acts” unique is that it is told from the Costa Rican viewpoint by someone who was actually there to witness it and, at least theoretically, impart impartial reporting on the subject.
     Here in Guanacaste, a folkloric glow hangs around Ollie’s Point because this is where Ollie North, working as a CIA directive, used to slip into the country too illegally supply and aid the Contras with American clout and cash. It all sounds somewhat mach-romantic until, upon reading Martha’s book, the reader discovers how many people were shot or blown-up due to these actions. It’s also interesting to note that John Hull, an ex-pat who owned property in that vicinity at the time and was receiving ten thousand dollars a month (of U.S. taxpayers’ money, without their consent) and that he was picking upon another cool ten grand every time a cocaine delivery used the airstrip on his property built by the U.S., which was often and always under the watchful eye and consent of the covert CIA operatives. It wasn’t until after the publication of “Hostile Acts”, however, that Hull was brought to court and prosecuted for his actions during the Contra operations.
      Oscar Arias comes out smelling like a rose in the book, although he is at times depicted as being contradictory and wishy-washy, a dreamer and an idealist. From my perspective, he was a little over-glorified by the author, making him appear as responsible as the Sandinistas for thwarting a U.S. coup in Nicaragua. Still, Ms. Honey has done her homework, as the nearly one hundred-fifty page appendix of her book exhibits. Through all that data, though, Martha Honey makes “Hostile Acts” a very digestible book for the average reader.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Mayan Glyphs Unraveled




Mayan Mysteries Decoded


Yaxchilan in the Yucatan
     The recent publication of “A Forest of Kings” has shed new light on some of the mysteries surrounding the ancient Maya culture. The book is a collaboration between the two prestigious archeologists Linda Schele and David Freidel, who collectively have spent more than fifty years in Central America and Mexico excavating Maya ruins and deciphering their glyphs. For some time, archeologists have understood the Maya counting system, their adroit understanding of astrology and the systemic patterns of stars and planets, and some of their religious beliefs. A big question mark has been the explanation for the apparent collapse of the entire empire nearly five hundred years prior to Europeans arriving on the continent and what predicated the slow repopulation of their abandoned sites. And this is where Schele and Freidel come in. Linda spends most of her time in Guatemala and Honduras, while David generally concentrates on the Yucatan Peninsula and Quintana Roo in Mexico. Though the two rarely work side by side, it was through their sharing of information and comparing notes that most of the break-through occurred. And it was by translating several key verbs, understandably, that the actions of Mayas started making more sense. Truly, this work has the makings of a giant puzzle, much more real than any Dan Brown novel. It also has nothing to do with the 2012 Doomsayer’s predictions or some New Ager reading your Mayan Astrology. As an amateur student of the Maya civilization (I’ve visited twenty-two different sites), I take great offense with these pretenders when they sling the Maya moniker around to gain ambience or credibility.
Palenque temple in Guatemala
     With their new information, Schele and Freidel postulate that, ironically, success led to the Mayan civilization’s failure; that as sites became more populated, there was a need among the hierarchy to dispense power to maintain the population and try to defend against and/or conquer neighboring city-states. And kings lost their credibility among the masses as the voice of the gods through their lineage as they relinquished the reins. In addition, as the upper-middle class grew in each community, the concentration of population in the center of the community intensified. Originally, these sites had been chosen because they were fertile but as these richer areas became covered with temples and upper-end dwellings, farmers were pushed into the less fertile hills, which were soon depleted, their topsoil washed away in the rainy season. And so the cycle began and the kings’ credibility lessened even more. Prosperity, theoretically, bred an eventual defeat and evacuation of the sites.
Yaxha ruins in the Peten region
     It is amazing how the written language survived during this seemingly dead time because upon returning to their original sites, the Mayas continued to build and inscribe. Even more amazing is the hundreds of unexcavated sites the jungle still harbors, some small and some massive. It will take lifetimes to unearth these places, just as it took lifetimes to create them. “A Forest of Kings” is a useful book for readers interested in more than just a glimpse at the storied Maya civilization.

Avelino Here, There & Everywhere


                                                      Avelino Here, There and Everywhere


     Fabio Avelino dos Santos was born in the small town of Limoeiro, near Recife, on the Atlantic coast of Brazil. He started playing guitar at the age of fifteen and began performing to audiences at the age of eighteen. He considers Brazilian musicians like Luis Gonzaga to be among his major musical influences, as well as the writer Paulo Coelho and The Beatles. Avelino had a big smile when he told me about the difficulty he had learning the Beatle song “Yesterday”, his eyes a little lost in memory. But then, Avelino smiles a lot.
     Let’s fast forward now to 2012. Fabio has been living in Tamarindo for nearly eight years. When he arrived, he spoke only Portuguese and he now handles himself very well in Spanish, English, Italian and French. His musical influences have grown to become international as he continues to perform in this town and outlying areas that get visitors from all over the world. If you go out at night in Tamarindo, chances are good you have seen him perform: he could easily be the hardest working musician here. He told me (smiling, again) that during the high season, it is not unusual for him to perform as many as twelve shows in a week. He recounted to me a time he played in Pinilla at midday, then a sunset show at Playa del Coco and wrapped it up with a night show in Tamarindo, then singing to himself on his way home on his scooter, to keep from falling asleep. His shows are exuberant as his passion for playing can be magnetic, drawing the crowd into his always upbeat energy.
Performing at Open Mike at Pasatiempo
     Fabio recently completed his new CD “Costa Rica Paraiso Tropical”. It was recorded live at a sunset show on June 10 of this year Langosta Beach Club. I believe it is one entire set, played consecutively from beginning to end, so it is an excellent representation of what to expect at one of Avelino’s shows. Fabio sings and plays guitar accompanied by local musician David Herzovich, who actually hales from Argentina. He plays a steady, anchored bass guitar, allowing Avelino to venture into his musical flights of fancy. As a duo, they call themselves Che Brasil. The twelve song set opens with a lively percussion and vocal intro, setting the tempo for the show. Avelino tracked and looped the basic percussion tracks and adds live percussion along the way. The music definitely has a Caribbean influence, as well as samba and bossa nova; it is very up-tempo, jubilant even. Standouts on the sixty minute disc include “Sina” and “Filhos de Gandhi”. My personal favorite is “Estrela Divina”, a song in which Fabio poetically describes an early evening star as a “descendent of the Big Bang”.
     Avelino also told me he is working on new songs that will continue to incorporate Spanish, Portuguese and English in the same lyrics, a true musical marriage of cultures. The CD is available at any Avelino live show; finding a live Avelino performance should not be a problem at all in the Tamarindo area: he’s everywhere!
   

Friday, July 20, 2012

Terry McLaughlin - Harmonica Player Exraordinaire


                                              Many Lives of El Gato

     Terry McLaughlin is a cat of many lives. He is an educated, interesting conversationalist and he loves to blow harp to some low-down, dirty blues. Terry was born in Letcher County, Kentucky’s poorest and has a sharp sense of humor that is somehow unable to hide his softer, compassionate side. He’s a cat of many lives, a few of which, he is ready to admit, he blew through when he was younger and time was expendable. Terry told me that gospel and “porch music”, especially of the Appalachian variety, were his first exposure to his lifelong fascination with music. He had his first paying gig as a musician at the age of thirteen and has been at it some forty-odd years since. After a lifetime of touring, in the new incarnation of El Gato, Terry and his wife Lynn have now been living in the Tamarindo area for about ten months. Terry shows up regularly at the Wednesday night Open Mike shows at Pasotiempo and this guy is a walking music encyclopedia, a true fellow music geek. He’s played in dozens of bands throughout his career and has played with some of the true blues greats, such as the three Kings: Albert, Freddie and B.B., and with Carla Thomas, who recorded with Otis Redding. Honestly, I’m in awe. And it is apparent in his stage presence that he is comfortable in his skin, a born “Front Man”.
     I recently picked up a copy of Terry’s CD, “El Gato”, an impressive collection of eight blues standards, recorded at the Dead Mule digital recording studio. The songs were recorded live, with Terry playing keyboards on the main tracks. He then went into the studio and overdubbed his harmonica work and background vocals. I thought it was a nice technique to intersperse songs with Terry accompanying himself only on harp in between songs by a band of hand-picked musicians whom he had worked with at various stages throughout his career and that he assembled for this recording. The guitarist, Little Little Milton, also played and recorded with Rufus Thomas. Terry had played with LLM but they had lost touch with each other. Twenty-five years later they ran into each other in Richmond, Virginia. Terry considered it a sign and recruited Milton for the session work; turned out it was a positive sign as the guitar work is slick and clean on the CD.
     The album kicks it off with Terry covering the Mississippi Sheiks hallmark “Sittin’ on Top of the World”. The second number unveils the band performing “634-5789”, a Wilson “The Wicked” Pickett gem. The band also does a great version of The Temptations classic “Just My Imagination” and Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground”. Terry also does deft solo delivery of Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man” that he should be proud of.
     El Gato has been performing solo around town, at Kahiki Restaurant and with the Leatherbacks at the Open Mike sessions at Hotel Pasotiempo on Wednesday nights. Terry recently performed a four hour solo blues revue at El Pescador that included an incredible tribute to Ray Charles. He is definitely worth checking out. Terry has performed at a plethora of private and corporate events and is available for bookings at terrymack55@aol.com or 8683.2408. With his musical expertise, I am sure he can streamline his show to accommodate any needs. You can pick up a copy of “El Gato” at his shows or at the Jaime Peligro book store in Playa Tamarindo.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Central American Music Box II


Cajita de Musica

     Largely overlooked by the global music scene, Central America is diverse and rich in its musical genres. Luckily for the music listener, there are people dedicated to exposing this treasure trove. Central American Music Box 2 is the second release contributed by Moka Discos in Nicaragua, Stonetree Records in Belize, Costa Norte in Honduras and Papaya Music in Costa Rica, under the collective name Central American Music Network. The first installment came out in 2010 and laid the groundwork in exposing both traditional and new, cutting edge musicians from this area. The new twelve-song CD is a welcome companion, expanding the list of bands and musical styles.
Guillermo Anderson

      The album opens with “Si tu no quieres” by Yomira John from Panama who sings a style of Afro-Latin and indigenous music, mixed into her own unique style, which was captured by Ivan Duran, founder of Stonetree, in his Belize studio. Also from Panama is Cienfue, with “Cosita Linda”, a song that blends traditional and folk music from that country, meshed with straight-forward Rock. Honduran Guillermo Anderson turns in a nice version of “La noche y su cancion” with his sweet voice accompanying his clean guitar work in his trademark, upbeat Caribbean style. The touching “Canta mandolina” by Malpais from Costa Rica reminds us of how lucky we have been to experience the artistry of Fidel Gamboa. Another highlight on the album is “Ineweyu” by Aurelio Martinez, who has carried the Garifuna banner since the passing of Andy Palacio. Aurelio is another discovery of Ivan Duran, who was responsible for mixing the entire album. Nicaragua is well represented by Katia Cardinal with her passionate voice and Perrozompopo with his equally passionate delivery, which was also recorded by Duran.
     I enjoyed hearing The Calypso Limon Legends doing their song “Stop”, with their authentic stamp of calypso in the whimsical lyrics. The Garifuna Collective play the spellbinding, “Weiyasu”, a reminder of the African-Arawat culture that is rapidly fading. And I believe this is the goal for these music boxes: to preserve musical styles before they disappear and to present new sounds from the area and make them both available to the entire world. Lloyd Augustine from Belize seems married to these two ideas with “Chatuye” a song that gives a nod to his Garifuna roots while incorporating new vocal harmonies and guitar work.

Sonambulo
     New to me is Malacates Trebol Shop with their song “Todo se pagara”, a Guatemalan rock band with four albums under their belt, well known in their country for their uninhibited lyrics, and an impressive contribution to this collection. And I was happy to see Sonambulo included in the new Central American Music Box with “Bolero Carabali” from their new CD. They are a signal of a new direction in the area, with their infectious “psicotropical” music and deserve this recognition.
     Central American Music Box 2 is the perfect progression from its predecessor, unveiling new and traditional music for a global audience. The result is a highly enjoyable serving of Central American music in all its diversity. The CD is available at the Jaime Peligro book stores in Tamarindo, Quepos and Nuevo Arenal. Any comments concerning this article are welcome.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Pachanga Kids - Contagious Laughter


Laughter Is Contagious
In the New Pachanga Kids Book

     Imagine a land where none of the citizens speak but rather communicates in colors instead. Every tint has a meaning and every hue has its own connotation. People quietly express themselves with these colors and by gestures and, of course, by their actions. The place is called the Silent Country and there is no place more beautiful.
     The Costa Rican publishing house Pachanga Kids recently unveiled its newest book, simultaneously in Spanish and English, titled “La Risa Contagiosa”, or “Infectious Laughter”. The story begins as described above, with wonderful illustrations by the Venezuelan artist Maria Elena Valdez throughout the book and they play a major role in depicting the sequence of events. The story itself is the creation of Jaime Gamboa, a founding member of the popular Costa Rican band Malpais. As with all Pachanga Kids books, the storyline is not only entertaining for the young readers; it conveys a nice message for them (and their parents too) to think about after they have finished the book. Along the way, Gamboa has sprinkled the story with enough innuendos and asides to keep the adults’ interest, too. I don’t think it is a secret that least at certain times in the story, Fidel has used Costa Rica as a model for his beautiful country in transition.

     Pachanga Kids launched its line of books for young readers in 2007 with “El Mar Azucarado – Sea, Sweet Sea”. It is a hardback book, printed in Spanish and English, side by side on the same page, with a CD containing the theme song in both languages as well as an instrumental version. The book was quickly embraced by the public and two subsequent books with CDs followed: “El Coyote y la Luciernaga (The Coyote and the Firefly)” and “The Mono Paparazzi”. In 2010, Pachanga Kids’ matron, Yazmin Ross unveiled three activity/coloring books based on these successful storybooks and they, too, have been very popular.
     But back to 2012 and the “Infectious Laughter”. Always looking for new approaches, Pachanga Kids has released this new book in a softback edition in Spanish and English separately. In either language, the story remains memorable. When the people of Silent Country run out of tint and dyes, when the well literally runs dry, they have to find new ways to express themselves. A colorless world does not work for them, so they need to find a solution outside the parameters of their known world. After all, what good is a black & white rainbow? I’m happy to report that the citizens do indeed find a workable solution and a wonderful lesson is imparted as well.
     Once again the people at Pachanga Kids are to be commended for their innovative approach and their pursuit of art and education. Their messages tend toward teaching children to collaborate and have fun doing it. The new book is the first joint venture between Pachanga and Grupo Amanuense, a Guatemalan publisher that specializes in cultural and educational material for people of all ages and walks of life; and so Pachanga Kids has built a bridge with their neighbor.      
     Both versions of “La Risa Contagiosa” are available at the Jaime Peligro book stores in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos, and Nuevo Arenal.  Any comments concerning this review are gladly welcomed.                                     

The Gentle Swing of Rialengo



The Gentle Swing of Rialengo

     The first time I listened to “Musica Profana”, the new CD by Rialengo, I found myself being impressed time and again by the vocal and instrumental harmonies and the seamless, gentle flow of the melodies. The music is a mesh of Cumbia, from Colombia, and Swing Criolla, which itself is a marriage of Peruvian Criolla and American swing music, all blended in a Costa Rican, Latin stew.  Francisco Murrillo, the singer and songwriter of the band, has a perfect voice to portray this flowing music. Francisco was born in Rialengo, a neighborhood in Guapiles, on the road to Limon, on the Caribbean shore of Costa Rica. 

     The ten song disc reaches out still further musically, embracing influences from such diverse styles as Reggae, electronica, straight-forward Rock and even rap, all the while not losing its Swing Criolla backbone. And the music simply floats along, a very Caribbean sensation, indeed.  The opening “Intro” sets the mood right away, followed by “Cumbia” with the vocal harmonies of Bernardo Quesada and Karla Gutierrez. The use of female accompaniment on vocals is a very nice vehicle for this style of music, the harmonics blending beautifully with Francisco’s voice. Guitarist Carlos Delgado shows his expertise throughout the disc, especially on the reggae-influenced “Andar el Camino” and the rocky “La Malacrianza”; Carlos has been a part of the Costa Rican music scene for more than two decades, bringing an impressive resume with him, having played and recorded with too many names to list here, so I will only mention Manuel Obregon, Ray Tico, Perrozompopo, The Escats, Jazz Garbo and Bernardo Quesada, who co-produced the album with the band and sings back-up on many of the songs. Quesada recently released “Donde Te Espera Mi Nombre” with Rumba Jam, another swing Criolla CD, but of a more metropolitan sound, with more brass and horns. I would consider the two albums more complimentary than competitive. 

     But back to Rialengo and its diverse, smooth groove. I like the accompaniment of Hector Murillo on accordion on the song “Fin del Mundo” and the suave clarinet playing by Checko Davila on “Musica Profana” to lend to the sound of the American Swing era. I also think the exemplary keyboard work by Nelson Alvarez helps give this harmonic music a rich, full texture throughout the album. And guest appearances by Guadalupe Urbina, Yaco and Perrozompopo add to the disc’s diversity, as well as giving a nod of approval from these seasoned veterans.  The fact that Papaya Music, one of the premiere labels in Central America, has decided to distribute this project also speaks a lot about its potential.

     Swing Criolla is definitely undergoing a revival, potentially putting the musical genre and its accompanying dance style on the international map. When it does, Rialengo and the aforementioned Rumba Jam will be there to take their bows, and then, who knows, possibly go on a world tour together. Until then, their CDs are available at the Jaime Peligro book stores in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos and Nuevo Arenal, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers. Any comments concerning this article are welcomed. Check our Tamarindo Jaime Peligro site on Facebook.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Latin Beat from Putumayo


Latin Beat

     Latin music in varied forms has gone global in the Twenty-first Century, in no small part thanks to Putumayo Music. Oh, and Shakira and Carlos Santana. Putumayo recently released their new CD, “Latin Beat”, showcasing rising stars of the Latin Pop, R&B and Salsa genres and it is an impressive collection.
     The album opens with the Cuban band Moneda Dura, a band formed by two University of Havana students, singer/bassist Hugo Fernandez and singer/guitarist Nassiry Lugo. They have created a stylized Afro-Cuban rhythm to a Pop sound and on the song, “Goza” they incorporated vocals by Ibrihim Ferrer, who gained notoriety in the Buena Vista Social Club. It’s a great opening number for the disc, with a bright, alive sound from the first notes.
     The Colombian band Profetas also turn in a strong number with “Chocolate”. This band was also formed by two musicians, but they were from very different parts of Bogota: Antombo Langangui offering an Afro-Latin beat, played against Paul Fortitude’s hip-hop influence. One of my favorite cuts on the album is “Locuraleza” by Jontre, from Medellin, with their use of clarinet, blending the traditional Colombian genre with a modern Pop Latin sound. I also am partial to “Guajira” by Grupo Lokito, a Twenty-first Century version of The Funkadelics. This UK based band creates a gumbo of Congolese, rumba, salsa and seben, soukous and Cuban son. Founded by pianist Sara McGuinness and Jose Hendrix Ndelo, they have a frontline of truly glitzy performers, just coming off a very popular and successful live tour that culminated at the London African Music Festival.

Profetas
     Other standouts on this eleven song compilation include “Echale Guarapo” by the Cuban band Edesio, short for wiz kid Edesio Alejandro Salva, a master of electronica who has worked on many television shows and movies and was nominated for a 2010 Latin Grammy as well as a 2011 American Grammy; the Ecuadorian band Sarazino plays “Pelo Shao”, an Afro-Latin reggae song by the band’s brainchild Lamine Fellah, who was born in Algeria, raised in Quito and attended college in Montreal, before returning to the Andes; Mariposa Solar turns in a nice performance, too, with “Bonita Mente-Bonita Suerte”, a song that fuses acoustic South American folk with bossa nova, funk and cumbia, a unique blend, indeed; similarly, the Spanish band Digitano mixes gypsy flamenco with layers of synthetic effects on “Asi Sin Querer”.
     And Latin music from New Zealand? That is precisely what you get with Sola Rosa, the stage name for Andrew Spraggon, a one-man band from Aukland that grew to four members and are currently touring Europe and the U.S. with their brand of hip-hop, funk and jazz to a Latin beat.
     If I have a knock on this compilation, it is that of the eleven songs, seven of the bands are from Cuba or Colombia. I would like to have seen a little more diversity, but the presentation and all the songs are successful in their portrayal of the popularity of the Latin Beat in the Twenty-First Century.
     Latin Beat is available at the Jaime Peligro book stores in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos and Nuevo Arenal, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers. Any comments concerning this article are welcome. Please check out our Facebook page at Tamarindo Jaime Peligro.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Bernardo Quesada and Rumba Jam


Having a Swinging Time

     Criollo music actually originated in Peru, and was quickly absorbed by Venezuelan and Argentinean musicians. But swing criollo with its tico flavor had its genesis here in the Sixties with a merger of American Swing music and a Latin style of music from Colombia called cumbia. Initially, it was frowned upon, considered an uncultured, even crude style of music to a point where in the Seventies in San Jose, there were many signs at dancehalls and clubs proclaiming, “Swing Dancing Forbidden”. But the style continued and grew, both in popularity and refinement over the next forty years. Last 30 November, Costa Rica’s president Laura Chinchilla and Minister of Culture Manuel Obregon officially declared swing criollo “one of the expressions of dance of the intangible cultural heritage of Costa Rica”.
     Now, here to usher swing criollo into official credibility is another merger: Bernardo Quesada and Rumba Jam, with their new CD, “Donde Te Espera mi Nombre”. Rumba Jam is an eight piece band made up of graduates of University of Costa Rica, the National Institute of Music and the National University. They recently participated in the Festival de Artes Turrialba 2011 and the Tegucigalpa Jazz Festival 2011 in Honduras. They have also worked with the popular San Jose jazz Band Escats. Rumba Jam is a brassy band of piano, bass, percussionists and a deep section of trumpet, sax and trombones.

     Bernardo Quesada is a household name in the music business in Costa Rica, recognized as a performing musician with two CDs, “Cuervo Blanco” in 2000 and “Mas Cerca de mi Corazon” in 2007. He is an established producer, working with Editus, Malpais, Ruben Blades and more recently with Perrozompopo from Nicaragua. In the past few years he has been touring the U.S., Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Brazil and Colombia.
     The result is a very nice marriage of a fine composer and conductor working with a slick band. It’s obvious from the first song on the album, “Pa Curubande’ Yo Voy” that these guys are a nice fit and enjoy playing music together. Bernardo is a clever lyricist and has constructed songs to fit around the musical concept of the album; Rumba Jam does the rest. The music, which also includes Costa Rican Salsa, jumps right off the disc, directing the listeners’ feet to the dance floor. The title song, “Donde Te Espera mi Nombre” has a snappy, almost hypnotic staccato beat that is definitely infectious. Other standouts on the album include “De Tu Boca” and “Congoli Shango”, two very danceable tunes. The final song, “Salsa Marinera” is another tune with a mesmerizing beat, a nice send-off that should leave the listener anticipating the next project by Bernard Quesada & Rumba Jam.
     Papaya Music, one of Costa Rica’s premiere recording labels, has decided to distribute the CD, a vote of confidence that should give this CD excellent exposure. The CD is available at the Jaime Peligro book stores in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos, and Nuevo Arenal, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers.
     All comments about this article are gladly welcome. Please check out our Facebook page at Tamarindo Jaime Peligro.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

La Cuneta Son Machin


La Cuneta Son Machin

     The musical genre referred to as chinamera in Nicaragua has always had the connotation of being the music of the poor, without finesse; but it is also the embodiment of the sounds that have been heard at festivals and street parties, at holiday parties and parties in general throughout the country literally for generations and is now appreciated, treasured and even revered by many of the general population. Enter: La Cuneta Son Machin, a young new band of six musicians from Managua that has fused this traditional musical style with their own humor, along with generous helpings of funk, pop and a good dose of Rock & Roll. Their goal has been to bridge traditional Nicaraguan culture with new cultural trends and on the way, they’ve become the best (and only) self-proclaimed “Cumbia-Rock-Latin-Chinamo-Funk” band in the country. Even their name (Curbside Sound Machine) is part tongue-in-cheek, but is also a fun way of saying “the peoples’ music. It started, not surprisingly, as a kind of joke during practices and sound checks – taking a traditional song and putting their unique spin on it. In a short time, they realized they had stumbled onto something new and enjoyed themselves while they were dong it. But make no mistake: through all the fun, they are still serious, talented musicians. The reaction to their live performances has been rapid and very positive. “We never thought the response from the people would be so big, so soon,” admitted lead singer Carlos “Frijol” Guillen. “We never imagined the people would be so enthusiastic”.
     Papaya Music in Costa Rica, always a frontrunner in supporting new, talented Central American musicians, has opened a large door for them, in distributing their new, vibrant album, “El Zafarrancho”, a ten song set that comes close to defying musical boundaries in a seamless conglomeration of sound. The first nine songs were recorded in Managua; the final cut, the Carlos Mejia Godoy classic, “La Hacienda de Don Nelo” was recorded live, complete with jubilant audience responses, and nearly jumps out of the speakers. Other standouts include the traditional “Entre Ritmos y Palmeras” with a very untraditional, straightforward Rock & Roll drive to it. To be sure, guitarist Omar “El Profesor” Suazo was well educated at the School of Rock, and brandishes his style through the whole disc, especially in songs like “La Del Mono Colorado” and another Godoy song on the album, “Un Gallo de Chilincocos”. The whole album is full of fun and energy, breathing new life for a new generation into a Nicaraguan tradition that has earned its respectability. Two sure indications that La Cuneta has obtained the respectability they deserve: they were recently flown to South San Francisco to play the State Room at a show sponsored by Movistar, and they performed live at this year’s Miss Teen Nicaragua.
     When asked if they were worried about being labeled a “gimmick band”, Frijol smiled wryly and mused, “It’s just the beginning”. I certainly hope so. The La Cuneta Son Machin CD, “El Zafarrancho” is available at the Jaime Peligro book stores in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos, and Nuevo Arenal. All comments to this article are gladly welcome. Check oout our facebook site at Tamarindo Jaime Peligro.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Nadine Pisani is Happier Than a Billionaire


A New Kind of Wealth in Costa Rica

     I have to admit it: before I began reading “Happier than a Billionaire (Quitting my Job, Moving to Costa Rica & Living the Zero Hour Work Week)”, I immediately lumped it into a catch-all category inhabited by dozens of other books I had seen with a similar premise. Boy, was I wrong. To begin with, I have since met the author, Nadine Hays Pisani and her husband Rob. They are definitely not a pie-eyed New Age couple, afloat in their own naïveté (not that there is anything wrong with that), nor are they a Bonnie & Clyde couple fleeing some lurid past. In fact, they are a level-headed professional couple who got fed up with the rat race and opted for a more rewarding lifestyle.
     In her book, Nadine presents the dilemmas and angst of taking the gamble, cutting the cord of a secure job (they were both chiropractors with a private business), and allowing yourself to freefall. I remember and it’s scary. But Nadine’s approach in her writing is unique because she uses humor to tell their story. She is able to laugh at herself and I admire that. She also does not candy-coat their experiences, presenting the beauty, the splendors and the reward of a more relaxed lifestyle alongside the frustrations, tiny remorses and fears that come with relocating to a new culture. Paradise has its nuances, after all. But it’s delivered with a quick East Coast wit where anyone and everything is fair game.
     Nadine also uses the book as a kind of memoir, often reflecting back to earlier experiences in her life, many times including her sister and her dad, who appear to be cornerstones in Nadine’s life. Her real anchor in this new environment is her husband Rob, a knight to her rescue in perilous times, the brunt of her venting episodes and generally an even-keeled genuinely nice guy. She is also able to include helpful facts about Costa Rica seamlessly into her story so they don’t feel like a history or geography lesson, not an easy feat.
     I particularly enjoyed Nadine’s depictions of the friendliness of people here throughout the course of everyday life, be it shopping for vegetables, walking your dog or chatting with friends and nearby customers in a restaurant, likening it to life in The States in the Fifties. “You may spend more time at the bank because the teller speaks to every person about their day,” she told me, “but then she gets to you and asks about your day…and it feels nice when she does”. One point Nadine learns from her experience is that we are all allowed to choose how we ingest what life deals us and I thank her for reminding me. And her humor! If she ever wants to look for a second occupation, she might want to consider “stand-up comic”. She told me she is actually already considering writing a second book about life here.
     Considering the fact that “Happier than a Billionaire” was featured on CNN, I think she is making a wise decision. Her book is available at the Jaime Peligro book stores in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos and Nuevo Arenal. All comments on this article are gladly welcome.

Norm Shriever: Push-Ups in the Prayer Room


Norm’s Age of Discovery

     I’ve just finished reading an advanced copy of “Pushups in the Prayer Room”, Norm Shriever’s account of his year long global backpacking adventures and now I don’t know where to start this review. The book has a lot of interesting details and informative histories of the many places he visited, but it’s not that kind of travel book. I guess it is Norm’s delivery that really hooked me in. The book reads like he is speaking directly to the reader, something that is not as easy to do with the written word as it might seem. But when it is done correctly, is conveys a personal sense of familiarity and camaraderie and this book oozes a sense of kinship.
     In 1999, Norm and his buddy Shane literally dropped everything, bought open-ended airline tickets and took off with little or no agenda and only a little more clothing and money; they were in their late twenties and ready to drink, womanize and generally party globally. The airline tickets were good for a full year, so part of the goal was to see as many places as they could and put on as many miles as possible. In total, they logged more than seventy-thousand miles (the equivalent of nearly three times around the equator), visiting more than twenty countries in six of the seven continents, excluding only Antarctica, so they definitely got their money’s worth.
     The story Norm recounts gives the sense that he isn’t holding much back, that we are given privy to all the sordid details. Part of the success is Norm’s use of his own slang and colloquialisms and his own humor which I confess had me laughing out loud while I was reading it. I also like the fact that they used basketball as an ice-breaker. Being an old hoopster, I can relate to that. I also liked the fact that they continually trekked down the path less taken in an attempt to meet the real inhabitants of the countries they were visiting. Along the way, something happened: partying became far less important and absorbing the corresponding cultures took precedence. Another thing happened as they viewed abject poverty throughout the world: they came to recognize just how lucky they are, and this is another revelation I can identify with.
     Norm recounts his journey some eleven years after it took place; so obviously, it is being told by someone older than the twenty-something kid on a life-excursion. It is definitely touching, human and bust-a-gut funny at times. But the real story here is about that young travelling adult maturing and this makes the book special and well worth the read.
     It is also notable that the first country Shane and Norm visit is Costa Rica and that now, more than a decade later, the author has decided to call this country home and in fact, it is here that he wrote this account, after scouring the seventeen-plus notebooks he filled throughout his sojourn, now the testament to a young man becoming an adult. Check his website at: www.normshriever.com or email him at hi@normshriever.com
     All comments regarding this article are gladly welcome. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Roxanne Oliva


Mama’s Got a Squeezebox

     Who is Roxanne Oliva and what is that style of music she plays? This is the question I ask myself as I listen over and again to her solo album “Box Candy”. The first song, “FiFi’s Closet” sounds Middle Eastern, while the second song, “Willow Slip” sounds Celtic, like an Irish jig. The third song has an ear-catching intro and what sounds like an Arabic and Medieval wedding, with a rock drummer for backbone. When I looked at the CD jacket, I discovered the song is titled “Playa Negra”, which really piqued my interest. I also noticed that the CD was recorded in Sonoma County in California, where I lived prior to moving to Costa Rica nine years ago. It truly is a small world.
     Contacting Roxanne to write the article, conduct an interview and compare our Guanacaste and Sonoma overlaps was a shear joy; she truly is a Renaissance woman, and yes, she plays that style of music as well, along with Cajun, polka and whatever else you can imagine. She also plays the harp, and percussion and wind instruments. Although she has a formal music degree, she told me that she generally plays by ear and/or by improvising. Unbelievably, she did not pick up an accordion until the age of twenty-six.
     But back to her instrumental CD of original compositions: “Blue Box Waltz” would fair well anywhere along the Danube. “Mr. Missing” is a rich harmonic tango, half steamy, half light-hearted, her “tribute to bipolar men”. Roxanne lives in the Playa Negra area for about two months each year, and it is her favorite place to practice and compose- she stores three of her twenty-one accordions and several wind instruments there. “The tropics are not gentle with musical instruments,” she recounted, “so I store them in layers of thick plastic. Once, after months of storage, I unwrapped an accordion, started playing, and a scorpion crawled out!” Inspiration, perhaps, for a forthcoming song.
Accordion-slingin'  Roxanne Oliva
     But back to her CD, which is peppered with guest fiddlers, guitarists, percussionists and several songs backed by KAZAMOZe, a band with whom she collaborates. One of their songs, “Pay My Way” is a collage of sound and utilizes the only vocals on the disc, as well as a barrage of stringed instruments. Roxanne also plays with the “post-eclectic” trio Youkali, and the all girl accordion band Sweet Penny Royals. She has appeared on more than thirty albums, including the soundtrack “Liberty Heights” which she recorded with Tom Waites, after he scoped her out incognito at one her live shows. And, I am not making this up: she was the cover girl for the Accordion Babes 2011 Pinup Calendar.
     But back to her CD: my favorite song, “Each Part Was Played” has an atonal backdrop and a sweet, sentimental accordion riff up front, sounding at times like an immense cathedral organ. And “Freedom’s Fanfare” is an up-tempo affair, a danceable song that sounds like it has gypsy and Eastern European influences.
     So who is Roxanne Oliva and why do I keep listening to her CD, “Box Candy”? One way to find out is to start a campaign to entice her to play live in Tamarindo the next time she is here. In the meantime, “Box Candy” is available at Jaime Peligro Book store, where they will sample the CD for their customers.
     All comments regarding this article are gladly welcome.Please check out our Facebook page at Tamarindo Jaime Peligro.

Alex Shelter


Gimme Shelter

     Alex Shelter is a traveling minstrel, and that’s a good thing, because it brings him to Tamarindo from time to time. Originally from Paris, Alex has been spending the past few years playing throughout California and Central America. On the way, he has collaborated with the likes of Camille, Beth Hirsch, Subsonic and Muzak, to name a few. The comfort and familiarity in the recording studio that he garnered with these musical encounters comes through on his new CD, “Free from the Past”, an eleven song introspective, biographical journey that definitely reflects the musical avenues that have influenced him as well. I am pretty sure that I can hear the influences of the music of both Neil Young as well as Fred Neil in Alex’ collection of songs. And he looks a little like a young Eric Clapton on the cover photo.
     The album itself was recorded at the New Old Sound Studio in Lyon, France and was produced by Chris Hierro, of Back to Mono Records fame. Alex sings and plays guitar, harmonica and piano on the album, backed by a five piece band comprised of violin, flute, bass, and two percussionists. Additionally, on three of the songs, a string section is used, arranged and conducted by Marie-Jeane Serero, who has also worked with Vangelis.
     The CD opens with “Bad Man”, a nice retrospective, confessional intro for the album. The title, “Free from the Past” (which is also a short song on the album) may be a message from Alex that by recording this album he has purged himself of his former life, but the depth of the songs seems to infer that his past will always touch him. “Remind Me to Forget You” is a touching song about a love lost, a parting of ways that also seems to indicate that the past is still very much alive in Shelter’s songs. “I Hate Getting Old” is a harmonic Neil Young inspired song where Alex laments about his memories fading, another reference to the past from which he has freed himself.
     One of the most moving songs is “I’ll See You in Heaven”, a tune about reconciliation between Sr. Shelter and his father. In fact, the entire album has a kind of cathartic feel to it, a way for Alex Shelter to confront major hurdles from his past, itemize and deal with them, and then move on with his life. Toward to end of the set, a corner appears to be turned, and songs like “It’s Worth a Try”, “Happiness” and the final “And I Hope” all reflecting a revitalized, optimistic nod to the future.
     When he is in town, Alex plays solo weekly at Voodoo Lounge and the Langosta Beach Club. He’s currently on another one of his gypsy tours of South America, Europe and California, but when he returns next month, he will be playing everywhere here again, as usual, probably with a few new songs to play for us. Until then, his CD is available at the Jaime Peligro book store in Tamarindo. 
     All comments regarding this article are gladly welcome.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Bossa Nova Around the World


Bossa Nova Around the World

     Most musical styles are not born: they simply evolve from other genres, being interpreted by musicians who are influenced by them. The Brazilian style of music known as Bossa Nova is no different, but it still has parents: samba is its mother and soft jazz its daddy. That’s my theory and I am sticking to it. Popularized in the late Fifties and early Sixties, the term literally means “new trend” and has now reached international recognition and influence, as demonstrated by the new Putumayo CD, “Bossa Nova Around the World”. The twelve-song album offers songs by artists from all over the globe, a true salute to Bossa Nova’s universal appeal. A typical bossa nova band would include a guitar and percussion section, often a piano, jazz horns (such as trombone) and very often a lush string arrangement as well. In my opinion, the female voice is a much better a translator of this genre than its male counterpart. 

Didier Sustrac
     And this theory is demonstrated in the first song of the disc, “Jardim” by the Brazilian/French group Bri, delivering a classic Bossa Nova sound, a great intro to the album. Next, singer Nancy Vieira and guitarist Tito Paris, two musicians from Cape Verde currently living in Lisbon, team up for “Esperanza de Mar Azul”, another soft & lilting number. Didier Sustrac is next up, with “Tout Seul”, a song with a nice jazz beat. Didier is a guitarist from France who moved to Venezuela at the age of eighteen, then to Brazil two years later. He has recorded six CDs and remarkably, has written four children’s’ books as well.
     “Melancholisch Schon” was recorded by 2raumwohnung, a Berlin band founded by Inga Humpe and Tommi Eckart, who originally teamed up to write a jingle for a television tobacco ad. The song unexpectedly became a hit and they were able to pursue collective careers playing music together. The song is another example of the far-reaching popularity of bossa nova as is “Menina Moca” by famed Serbian jazz trumpeter Dusko Goykovich, who is eighty years young and still going. The song is from his album “Sambo de Mar”, his first recordings of Latin Jazz.
Hilde Hefte
     Pierre Aderne was born in the south of France, but relocated as an infant to Brazil. As a teen he formed the rock band “Habeus Corpus” and when they disbanded, he moved to Rio de Janeiro where he found his real calling, as demonstrated in “Vida de Estrela” on this CD. Amanda Martinez is a self-proclaimed “Mexican gypsy” and has a wonderful delivery of “Hasta Que Pueda” on the disc. Nominated twice for best Latin Jazz Artist”, she has a perfect bossa nova lilt to her voice.
     Other impressive performances are by the versatile Norwegian jazz singer, violinist and pianist Hilde Hefte with “Vakker Natt” and the final cut, “Mon Pere a Moi” by the Frenchman Kad Achouri, who has gained notoriety for mixing and looping, but this song has a funk all its own.
     The entire compilation is a great demonstration of how this musical genre has captured the ears of music lovers all over the world. Bossa Nova Around the World is available at the Jaime Peligro book stores in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos and Nuevo Arenal, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers. Any comments concerning this article are welcome.