Saturday, January 13, 2007

Al Pie del Balcon: Serenading in Guanacaste

Serenading in Guanacaste
Papaya Music Offers a Glimpse of a Fading Art

   Entering the Twenty-First Century, the Latin American practice of serenading a “sleeping heart” has nearly become a lost art. Recently, however, four well-versed musicians from the province of Guanacaste in Costa Rica gathered themselves in the Papaya Music Studio in San Jose to share songs and stories, reminisce and record their folkloric songs together and to chronicle, embrace and preserve this cultural tradition. The practice of the wandering minstrel has markedly declined in Central America in the past few decades, but one can still catch a glimpse of these musicians plying their trade in Playa Tamarindo and its surrounding beach areas. At one point in time not so very long ago, this practice was so prominent that local authorities actually levied a Serenading Tax.  

A young Odilon Juarez
   The result of the recent meeting of the four musicians in San Jose has been the release on Papaya Records of “Al Pie del Balcon, Guanacaste Serenades”. The four prominent vocalists are the seasoned troubadours Jose “Papi” Everado, the brothers Odilon and Santos Juarez, and Max Goldenberg, all who once strolled the streets of the small towns in Guanacaste, singing their love letters. Fidel Gamboa, the founder of the popular Costa Rican band Malpais, brought the singers together to record this disc. In fact, the musicians accompanying the four vocalists on this project are basically the rhythm section of Malpais with the addition of the renowned Costa Rican classical guitarist Mario Ulloa.
Fidel in the studio
    The recording is obviously Gamboa’s baby, as he produced it as well as appearing everywhere on the album, playing a variety of guitars, as well as marimbas, piano, mandolin and the four-string requinto. He even employed a small town marching band for one of the sixteen recordings. Five other songs on this disc employ the credible use of a male chorus and a horn section that includes a deep, resonating tuba. But it is primarily the acoustic guitar, along with a variety of other wooden, mobile stringed instruments played by Ulloa and Gamboa, that highlight the romantic portraits and frame the mood for the vocalists and their torch songs. The fifty minute disc opens appropriately with “Serenata Romatica”, a classic serenade of Grand Passion.
   In typical, impeccable fashion, Papaya Music has packaged the CD in an eco-friendly, cardboard jacket with an insert booklet of lyrics and photos that have a nice touch: old black and white, dated snapshots with red, highlighted flowers, enhancing the romantic mood of the CD. Not to be lost in the ribbons and bows, it should be noted that Papaya once again has done a comprehensive, commendable job at preserving a rapidly fading facet of Costa Rican culture. There is also a deluxe box set that makes a great Valentine gift.
     “Al Pie del Balcon” and all Papaya Music CDs are available at Jaime Peligro Book Shops in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos and Tilaran, where they will gladly play the music for their customers. All comments concerning this article are welcome.