Saturday, August 4, 2007


The Cantoamerica-Papaya Connection

   The history of the Costa Rican band Cantoamerica spans a quarter of a century.  And this country’s most popular music label, Papaya Music, has been around for about half that time. Both of their stories have been chronicled in previous articles in this column, so I’ll keep the synopsis brief. There won’t be a quiz.

   Classically trained pianist Manuel Obregon founded Papaya with the intent of preserving as much what remains of Costa Rica’s musical past as possible, before it disappears. He also wanted to generate an outlet for an upcoming generation of musicians to help put them on the global musical map. He is to be commended for his intent, his foresight and his success.

   Manuel Monestel grew bored with the music scene in San Jose in the early 1970s and embarked on a trip down the Caribbean that changed his musical tastes for the rest of his career. He soon founded Cantoamerica and became a modern protégé for the likes of Walter Ferguson, as Monestel carried the Calypso torch into the Twenty-First Century.

     The musical scene in Costa Rica has always had a strong element of camaraderie, so it makes sense that these two local pioneers would meet and work together. In fact, Monestel worked with Papaya on one of their first projects, Orquestra de Papaya, a CD showcasing a collaboration of musicians from five different Central American countries. Monestel also released “Songs of a One Pant Man”, a solo effort on Papaya, as well as appearing on the Calypso Legends CD on that label. In addition, he traveled with Obregon to New Orleans in 2003 to participate in a world music festival with him there.

   Meanwhile, Manuel Monestel continued to work with his own band, Cantoamerica, releasing a total of twelve independently produced CDs with them. The newest chapter in this musical relationship has been for Papaya to release a compilation of those albums. The concept is not new for Papaya. They extended the same courtesy to Honduran legacy Guillermo Anderson and to the modern Nicaraguan rock band Perrozompopo. The idea has been to give a condensed sampling of these artists to a much broader listening base. Once again, Obregon appears to have hit a musical home run.

   The new Cantoamerica CD, “Vientos Del Caribe”, has just been released in Costa Rica. Papaya has culled through a treasure trove of songs and come up with thirteen nuggets to represent this fabled band’s achievements over the past twenty-five years. The sixty minute disc has done a commendable job of displaying Cantoamerica’s mastery in the musical styles of calypso, salsa, son and bolero. Along the way, it presents a nice chronology of the development of the band through the years. This is the kind of stuff that music geeks like me revel in.

   Highlights on the new CD include “Maria Calypso”, “Tacuma and Ananasi’s Party” and “El Espejo”. I enjoyed listening to the development of the band’s rich horn arrangements and its unique style of layering their percussion section. I think this kind of exposure for Cantoamerica will give them the recognition they deserve.
   Papaya Music 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 .  All comments concerning thhis article are welcome.