Saturday, November 18, 2006

Malpais Live

Malpais is Alive and Well

   It is a simple contradiction. In Spanish, Malpais means, literally, “bad country” and is a term that is meant to represent a desolate, destitute place. As they say in Costa Rica, “Malpais is where the road ends”. The irony is that this word was chosen as a name for a band that continually creates melodic, fluent music. For their third CD, “Malpais en Vivo,” the band went for the more conventional, obvious title. The disc presents a compilation of live recordings taken from their September concerts last year at Antigua Adiana hall in San Jose. In all, ten of the band’s more popular songs are represented, from their first two studio albums, “Malpais Uno” and “Historias de Nadie”. The new disc also includes four new entries, “Bazar de Urias”, “Rosa de Un Dia”, “Bolero 10” and “Contramarea”.

Jaime Gamboa
   The crowd response on the recording is indicative of the respect and popularity the band has garnered in its three year existence. The audience is enthusiastic in its responses throughout the shows, showing recognition for the “old treasures”, singing along unabashedly and very attentive for the new songs.  With more than sixty-five minutes of music on this disc, Malpais demonstrates their ability to stretch out their compositions and allow more room for instrumental solos that emphasize and highlight the musical versatility of the respective band members. Ivan Rodriguez certainly shows his talent on violin and mandolin on songs like “Como un Pajaro”. And the band uses several songs on this CD to spotlight Ivan’s virtuoso capabilities. Manuel Obregon also has his fair share of piano solos. Besides plying keyboards for Malpais, Sr. Obregon is the president of Papaya Music, Costa Rica’s premiere music label. But Malpais remains Fidel Gamboa’s band, and he its bandleader, from a musical standpoint. Fidel takes many opportunities to lead the direction of the band with his flawless guitar playing, while his brother Jaime, the group’s bassist, handles most of the lyrics.

Fidel Gamboa
   As noted in the liner notes and clearly demonstrated on this recording, “live songs take on a different aspect than those recorded in the studio”.  And, as always, the inimitable Papaya CD packaging lends to the feel of the music and accents the attention to detail these artists take in their work. The CD jacket is a double fold-out and comes with an extensive booklet in Spanish and English. The tangible feeling while listening to this recording is like that of visiting an old friend. I am not a big fan of live recordings, but for this one I most enthusiastically make an exception.
     The CD is available at the Jaime Peligro book stores in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos and Nuevo Arenal, where they will sample the music for their customers. Any comments concerning this article are gladly welcomed.

Sunday, October 8, 2006

Baila with Putumayo


   Since 1993, Putumayo Music has garnered a well-deserved reputation for having its thumb on the proverbial pulse of what is new, hip and coming down the pike of World Music. Their method is simple: once they have ascertained a “new sound”, they find a cross-smattering of bands from different locations around the globe, pitch the project to each of them, and then get them signed onto the project. Next, they all agree on their individual songs that are suitable for the band and the situation, and, when necessary, reserve studio time at the nearest sound lab to lay down the tracks for each artist’s representation on the compilation disc. After that, there is only the packaging (i.e., artwork, descriptions of each song and individual artist, photos, etc.), and the publicity and distribution in a variety of languages to convince the prospective customer to purchase their final product.
And that’s all there is to it, really …

Raul Paz
   Proving once again that they have designed and carved their own niche in the music industry, Putumayo recently released “Baila! A Latin Dance Part”, an eleven song, forty-two minute compilation of very danceable Latin tunes, ranging from salsa to cumbia to timba and beyond. The disc kicks off with “Mua Mua Mua” by Raul Paz, a Cuban musician who moved to Paris in 1997. The song is in collaboration with Euro dance producer Danya Vodovoz and Ferry Ultra and really gets the party jumping. Next are the Africano All-Stars with “san Fo”, where salsa meets the African beat, with foot-tapping results. Then it’s Bogata, Colombia based La-33 and “Que Rico Boogaloo”, a song done in retro 60s style, with an alternating salsa and R&B twist. Also included in this set is “Escucha el Ritmo” by The Spanish Harlem Orquestra, featuring legendary pianist Oscar Hernandez on this mid-tempo cha cha cha. “Hoah” finds Calle Real shifting between a contemporary timba style and classic salsa tempo. Anda Yerba Buena, based in New York City, serves up “El Burrito”, laced in classic cumbia and infused with elements of straight rock.

   Whew! If that doesn’t get you on the dance floor, nothing ever will! The CD comes with a booklet with liner notes in Spanish, French and English. As with all Putumayo CDs, a portion of the proceeds from this disc is donated to children in Colombia who are victims of landmines. Baila! is available at the Jaime Peligro book stores in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos and Nuevo Arenal, where they will sample the music for their customers. All comments concerning this article are gladly welcomed.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

A Simbiotic Relationship

A Symbiotic Relationship
     The seed of an idea can arrive at any time and sometimes that idea sprouts into a beautiful plant. Patricia Maynard is a musical producer and she is full of ideas. One that really germinated happened when some of her biologist friends were recording the sounds of the inhabitants of Monteverde National Park, strictly for wildlife identification purposes. It occurred to Patricia that the “soundtrack” to the park could be accompanied with music. And voila! The seed for the CD “Simbiosis” was hatched.
     Initially, Ms. Maynard had envisioned the trio Editus, the Grammy Award winning instrumental band from Costa Rica, to provide the music. When that idea did not pan out, Patricia turned to the renowned pianist Manuel Obregon, who readily accepted. I cannot imagine the logistics of getting a baby grand piano into a dense jungle, but it did indeed get accomplished and beginning at three o’clock on a morning in 1999, Manuel Obregon sat down for a fourteen hour live recording session with his indigenous forest accompanists. The recording session began so early because this is when the wildlife is particularly vociferous and their response on this day was impressive.

     The next step was for the recording engineer Alex Villegas and the sound editor Claudio Schifani to sculpt the sound (prune the plant) into a cohesive, palatable display of the musical interplay that transpired that day between a man, his piano and Nature. The result is nothing less than spectacular. In the final package, spanning nearly an hour, Manuel accompanies the long-tailed manakin (Chirosciphia linearis), the Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomacrus moccino), the Black-faced Solitaire (Myadestes melanops), a myriad of hummingbirds as well as the national bird of Costa Rica, the clay colored Thrush (Turdus grayi), known locally as the Yiguirro and selected as the national bird not for its appearance but for its beautiful, unique song which, according to local folklore, the thrush sings at the end of the dry season to call forth the rains. In addition, there are duets with Obregon’s incredible piano coupled with a league of Mantled Howler Monkeys (Alouatta palliata) with their unmistakable calls, as well as one with a chorus of Marine Toads (Bufo marinus) or Cane Toad, which can weigh more than 3 ½ lbs and has a voice to prove it. Manuel Obregon’s classical training and sense of improvisation shines throughout the entire album. The artwork by Mark Wainwright is clever and eye-catching, putting a slick ribbon on the package. 

     Patricia has since produced two more albums: “Monteverde Music Fest 2008”, which is a compilation of studio tracks from a variety groups who participated in this festival, and “Nattiva”, an album similar to “Simbiosis”, this time with recording engineer Alex Villegas teaming up with percussionist Carlos “Tapas” Vargas. Coincidentally, Villegas plays drums with pianist Manuel Obregon in the popular Costa Rican band Malpais. He is also the percussionist for the aforementioned Costa Rican trio Editus.

     All three of Patricia Maynard’s CDs are available at Jaime Peligro bookstore, next to Supermercado 2001 in Playa Tamarindo, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers.All comments concerning this article are welcome.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Miriam Jarquin and Blues Latino

Miriam Jarquin and Blues Latino

     Prior to performing with Carole Camara, Miriam Jarquin embarked upon her career in 1977 with the Choir of Orquestra Sinfonica Nacional in San Jose. Four years later, in 1981, she became the lead singer for the rock band Chacal. In the nine year span between 1985 and 1994, she sang lead with Igni Ferroave, DCO and Route 66, and even did some work with Jazz Garbo. In 1991, she formed Academia de Musica Moderna with Carlos Pardo and Carlos Sanders. Yes, Miriam Jarquin has paid her dues and has the receipts to prove it.

     Hector Murillo had studied at the Conservatorio de Castella, where he later became a music teacher. After a two year stint in Chicago, he returned to Costa Rica to work at Academia Moderna, where he would meet and work with the aforementioned Sra. Jarquin. After a short stint together in Jazz Garbo, the two decided to form their own band, veering in a different direction musically and calling the venture Blues Latino. Now, they have released a CD of their collective effort on the renowned Papaya label. They recruited Checko Davida to play saxophone and flute, Pepe Chacon to perform their percussive tasks and with Sr. Pardo on bass guitar, vocal accompaniment and Hector on keyboards. Joining them on seven of the thirteen original songs on background vocals is the acclaimed Marta Fonseca, who has also provided vocal tracks for Grammy winners Editus, among other bands.

Miriam belting it out Live
     The result, according to Murillo, is “born from a deep experience in classical music, the improvisation of modern jazz, the power of rock and the restlessness of our original music.” The album, dedicated to the memory of Miriam’s father, her musical inspiration, definitely lives up to its own hype. Sra. Jarquin has a voice as sweet and clean as any fruit from Costa Rica. Her torch songs are as warm and breathy as a local tropical breeze. And Murillo juxtaposes between piano and accordion to accommodate the mood of each particular song. Pardo’s bass riffs carry the rhythm with a solid beat that sticks every time.

     The CD opens with “Blues de Hatillo” and “Capullito de Aleli”, two catchy, very danceable tunes. “Que Vamos a Hacer” is a dreamy number with lilty, electric piano meandering through it. The entire album alternates in this mode: between upbeat, finger-snapping songs to torchers guaranteed to burn the house and your heart down. And the band was smart enough to include three instrumental numbers in the collection, to add to the overall span of the album. This CD is a very impressive recording, especially considering it is their first.
     Blues Latino is available at Jaime Peligro book stores in Playa Tamarindo, Nuevo Arenal and Quepos, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers.All comments concerning this article are welcome.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Costa Rica Reggae Nights

Costa Rica Reggae Nights

   The origin of reggae in Costa Rica dates back to the 1920s, when Jamaican leader Marcus Garvey evoked his ideas and beliefs throughout the Caribbean province of Limon. Born in St. Anne’s Bay, Jamaica, the future birthplace of Bob Marley, Garvey is considered the prophet of Rastafarianism. So, it is easy to see how reggae music is considered a kind of Costa Rican folk music.

   Remaining consistent in its mission statement, Papaya Music recently unveiled its newest release, Costa Rica Reggae Nights. The CD embraces a variety of Costa Rican reggae bands and styles. Included on this disc are eleven bands, demonstrating the versatility during a span of the past two decades of reggae in this country. All the recordings were previously unreleased and the compilation offers songs in Spanish, English, and Limon Creole.

   Baby Rasta Band, now defunct, appears twice on the CD. Ricardo “Baby” Collette, from Puerto Limon, took his band to San Jose to record as well as to reach a larger audience. They are generally recognized as Costa Rica’s first nationally popular, modern reggae band.

     Bamaselo’s lead singer, Michael Livingston, was the first Costa Rican to sing Bob Marley songs in Spanish. The band got its start in the mid-1980s. Bamaselo means “we are going to do it” and they certainly do so on both songs preserved on this disc, with their highly inventive style of Latino and Jamaican music.

   Mentados is from the new breed of twenty-first century reggae, which at times combines Latin punk and ska music into the reggae stew. “Frente al Mar”, their contribution on this compilation disc, is a good example of Mentados’ spin on modern reggae. Born and raised in Puerto Limon, Roberto Clarke was an original member of the Baby Rasta band. In 2001, he ventured south to Cahuita and formed the Trinity Roots Band. Their song “Modern Times” demonstrates the more laid back style of southeastern Costa Rica reggae.

   Native Culture calls San Jose home. They have been together for nearly five years and recently completed their first CD. “Don’t Cry” is an example of the “old school” following in Costa Rica, more in the style of Bob Marley. It is a great example of how good a band can sound after playing together for half a decade. Next up is Ragga by Roots, with the song, “Baby Broke”. This quartet was founded in 1996 and had an immediate hit with “Jump to the Sound”. Both these songs are indicative of the rhythmic, less structured form of reggae dubbed “ragamuffin”. The last spot on the disc was appropriately reserved for Mekatelyu, the new bearers of the Costa Rica reggae torch. Lead singer Johnnyman’s easily identifiable voice on “Don’t Worry My Girl” is the trademark of the band, confirming its place in modern Costa Rican reggae.

   The packaging on this disc bears the same standard as with all prior Papaya CDs. Even the artwork on the disc itself is undeniably Papayan, as they demonstrate again their astute drive to chronicle any and all Costa Rican music. Costa Rica Reggae Nights is available at the Jaime Peligro stores in Playa Tamarindo, Tilaran and Quepos, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers. Any comments concerning this article are welcome.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


Symbiotic Papaya Music

   Papaya Music, a Costa Rican based music label, has long been known for its representation of indigenous musicians and their regional sounds. Manuel Obregon, besides being one of three partners who own Papaya, is also a highly acclaimed pianist/songwriter/conductor/producer who has put his stamp on Papaya since its inception. The result has been a variety of offerings, ranging from Obregon’s solo efforts to a collection of Costa Rican gospel music and even a CD of Manuel conducting, scoring and performing with the Papaya Music Orchestra.

   Recently, the Papaya team presented a package with a wildly new concept. A Costa Rican camera crew was recruited to film the natural wildlife at the national preserve at Monteverde. Watching the footage, one cannot help but marvel at the cameramen’s patience and dedication to the project. It is nothing less than stunning. But this, in itself, is not innovative. What sets the film, appropriately titled, “Simbiosis”, apart from others like it is the soundtrack.

   Obregon has taken footage, complete with its natural wildlife sounds, into the studio to score and record piano accompaniment to interplay with the original Costa Rican musicians – Mother Nature herself, in all her glory.

The Simbiosis Team
   Recorded in Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound, the final result is truly breathtaking. Manuel Obregon dances on the keyboards with the songs of the birds and the monkeys, the waterfalls and the rainbows, as the audience is allowed to view on their screens the Costa Rica that existed before developers invited themselves here to plunder and pillage. It is a shame that the Papaya crew had to go to Monteverde to give the audience a glimpse of the splendor once known in all of Guanacaste. But such is the price of high-rise condominiums, fast food chains and capital gains.

   Simbiosis is presented in two formats. The CD is a wonderful accompaniment in the car, as a mood-setter or a dinner supplement. The DVD is a great keepsake of a Costa Rica that is rapidly vanishing. Any comments concerning this article are gladly welcome.