Monday, November 10, 2008

Rutas Viajes: Unique Guanacaste Travel Guide

Unique Guanacaste Travel Guide

      One of the big keys to being a successful nature photographer is patience: the light needs to be correct or the clouds are not in the right place today, for example. Of course, you still need talent and ideas and good equipment, but without patience, the end result most times would not look as good. Luciano Capelli has proven that he is a patient man. Sr. Capelli is one of the four founders of Papaya Music, Costa Rica’s premiere recording label. Among his other duties with Papaya, Luciano has always been at the helm of the Visual Images department. His wife and co-founder Yazmin Ross handles the written word. Together, they recently released “Guanacaste – Travel Routes”, a photographic journal of this province, accompanied with written captions for the photos and introductions to each of the seven sections.
     The images in the book are stunning. In a recent exclusive interview, Luciano explained to me that he took approximately five thousand photos over a period of more than two years as base for the three hundred photos that ultimately made the final cut into this book. In most cases, Sr. Capelli was using three cameras: a panoramic 120, a panoramic 35mm, and his trusty hand-held digital. The patience needed for this kind of selection and editing process speaks for itself. It is not every day that a photographer can catch a school of manta rays leaping out of the water, as if on cue… He also confided that he used a very high-resolution printing process that helped produce the incredible results, along with augmenting his own photos with about fifty others by Pablo Cambornero and Simone Manzo in addition to the underwater photos of Diego Mejia.

     The journey really began in 2005, when Papaya recorded “Al Pie del Balcón”, a compilation CD of historic serenades from Guanacaste. Luciano became infatuated with the landscape of the area, and a new romance began. During the selection process for the images Luciano would ultimately choose and while Yazmin was writing the accompanying verbiage, the photos began to fall into distinct categories and a theme for the book presented itself. The final result is seven chapters: Marine Routes, Volcano Routes, Pre-Colombian Routes, Routes of Tradition, Ranch Route, Nature Route and Summertime Route. There is an introductory passage titled “Routes to Get Lost In”. I’ve never seen such a unique premise and presentation for a book on travel routes. As always, Yazmin Ross’ descriptions are informative and instructional, yet easily digestible at the same time. It’s a special writer with a gift who can be interesting while informing their readers and Ms. Ross has that gift.
     The team has put together an incredible virtual tour of the making of the book, complete with video footage by Sr. Capelli, accompanied by another founder of Papaya Music, Manuel Obregon, with his unmistakable piano work. To enjoy this presentation, simply go to: 
     Once again, Luciano and Yazmin have demonstrated where their hearts are: the first 2,200 copies have been donated to schools, public libraries and to the Ministries of Culture and Conservation and other relevant outlets where the book will be accessible to students, conservationists, and the general public. Playas de las Palmas, Fundación Natura-Cultura and Banco Nacional backed the project and Capelli and Ross extend their gratitude to Alessandro del Bello for his contributions to make their idea a reality.
     Luciano is overflowing with anecdotes that occurred while working on this project. Perhaps their next book should be “The Making of Rutas de Viaje”. I would read it!
In Tamarindo, Quepos and Nuevo Arenal, this book is available at Jaime Peligro book shops.
     All comments concerning thhis article are gladly welcomed. 


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Christian Porras: Ticolandia

Good Company in Ticolandia

     According to an old adage, we are judged by the company we keep. In no other environment is this truer than in the music world. No successful musician wants to waste his time with a new artist lacking in talent or charisma. That being the case, I think it is safe to say that Christian Porras has emerged as a voice in the new generation of Guanacaste music. Sr. Porras recently released “Ticolandia”, his first album, which is a collection of his own songs. But the solo project ends there. He was aided in the studio by his friends to record the tracks.  And it is the appearance of these fellow-musicians that lends credence to the strength of Christian’s voice and songwriting ability.
     Joining singer/songwriter/guitarist Christian Porras on the album is world-travelled keyboard player Andres Piedra, appearing on several cuts. Piedra plays in the popular band Blue Jazz along with bassist Randall Nagera, who also performs on the disc. When he is not playing with Blue Jazz or the popular Tico-Celtic band Peregrino Gris, Nagera also plays bass in the Pop band Time’s Forgotten, alongside percussionist Jorge Sobrado, who also lends a hand on this CD. All this might sound a bit convoluted but there is a simple point to it: these musicians know each other and their familiarity shows in their playing on the disc. It also speaks volumes about them allowing Christian into their musical circle. And for good reason: Ticolandia floats out of the speakers, the lyrics full of local cultural and geographic references, including peaceful volcanoes and butterflies that dance in the wind like leaves freed from their trees. And there is a good portion of coffee and humor, embraced in a poetic world of romanticism. The musicians match this mood with their accompaniment and Christian’s voice is a perfect vehicle for the sentiment of his songs.

     In the CD’s liner notes, Porras describes Ticolandia as “a surreal landscape that reflects a volcanic exotic land nestled between two vast seas.” He goes on to explain that Ticolandia “is not covered with roses, but with great pride for my motherland I can say it is a beautiful unique landscape in this ever-changing Latin American land”.
     It should also be mentioned in the “Good Company” department that Ticolandia is produced by Dartempo, an organization born in Guanacaste in 2004 with the express purpose of promoting the diverse cultures and arts of this area. The disc was mastered by Eugenio Saenz, a member of the board of Costa Rica’s Cultural Radio. The album has also received a lot of airplay on ICER, the radio station sponsored by the Nacional Educational Institute, thanks largely to Miguel Jara Chacon, ICER’s executive director.
     Guanacaste has always been in a unique cultural bubble and there has recently been a flowering of a new generation of musicians from this area. Malpais probably planted the seed. It’s nice to see the movement blossom with the likes of Christian Porras and Ticolandia.
     The album is available at Jaime Peligro shops in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos and Tilaran, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers.  Any comments concerning this article are welcome.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Eulogy for Ray Tico

Ray Tico

   When asked to name a single artist who best exemplifies traditional Costa Rican music, most people will answer, “Ray Tico”. Born Ramon Jacinto Herrera in Limon, Costa Rica in 1928, Ray received his first guitar at the age of seven. Later, he worked as a fisherman in Colombia, where he launched his career as a professional musician. After moving to Cuba in 1953, he was dubbed Ray Tico, a stage nickname that stayed with him throughout the decades. And it was in Cuba in 1956 that he penned the bolero “Eso Es Imposible,” easily the most popular of the fifty-plus songs he wrote. With this newfound notoriety, Ray relocated to the United States, performing often at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City and spending considerable time in Hollywood. He was known as something of a Latin playboy, seen often in Las Vegas with members of the Rat Pack - international stars Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. In 1969, Ray Tico returned to Costa Rica, the hometown boy back from conquering America and putting Costa Rican music and culture on the world map. He was forty-one years old. His unique style of playing his guitar, which included using it as a percussion instrument during performances, became one of his trademarks.

   Ray Tico spent the following thirty-eight years writing songs and performing them virtually everywhere and anywhere, including presidential inaugurations in Costa Rica, and basically doing all the things that gained him word-of-mouth legacy. Recently in San Jose, Papaya Music celebrated eighty years of Ray Tico, with Sr. Jacinto performing live with Editus and various members of Malpais, among other notable Costa Rican musicians. Earlier this year, Papaya released “Solo Para Recordar”, a CD of Ray performing a collection of his classic songs.
   Ray Tico passed away at the age of 79 on August 17 in his home in Limon, embracing his guitar. He will be sorely missed. And he will be happily remembered.
     All comments concerning this article are gladly welcomed.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ricardo Ramirez: Complicidades


     Eric Clapton once said, “I think of guitar playing as accompaniment. Anything beyond that gets gimmicky”. Apparently, violinist Ricardo Ramirez agrees with Clapton. A member of the Costa Rican Grammy award winning band Editus, Ramirez recently released his first solo endeavor, and I really like the concept of the album. Sr. Ramirez invited fourteen Central American singer/songwriters to bring one of their previously recorded works into the studio, to allow them to experiment with their vocal arrangements. And Ramirez takes care of the rest, the accompaniment. Hence, the title: “Complicidades”.
     Ricardo’s selection of “accomplices” on the album is a nice vehicle to represent the vast musical styles currently blossoming in Latin America. The CD opens with a song by Evolucion and closes with a number by Ghandi, two of Costa Rica’s most popular rock bands. Between these two “bookends”, the album is spiced with a potpourri of musical flavors. Noted Calypsonian Manuel Monestel checks in with a new version of one of his standards, “El Espejo”.  Alejandro Erdmenger, guitarist from the Guatemalan jazz/flamenco band Siroro offers his song “Tropico de Cancer”, while Argentinan transplant Adrian Goizueta puts a new spin on his previously recorded “La Adavina del Barrio”. And Patricio Torres contributes another take on his “Perfume de America”, which he normally plays with saxophone accompaniment.
     Notably, Ramirez has selected several women to bring their songs to the table as well. Uba Mason is the wife of Ruben Blades who has worked with Editus on many occasions. It’s a cool twist that Uba has chosen one of Blades’ songs, “The Calm Before the Storm”, which he co-wrote with Lou Reed. It is the single song on the disc that is not written by the singer and the only one sung in English. But then, Uba’s husband and Ramirez’ band share a history that includes an Emmy award, so I think she might have been allowed to modify the concept for the album a little. Besides, the result is a stellar version of the song.
     Pamela Robin has opened for Editus on several of their national tours. Ricardo Ramirez must have seen and heard something he liked, because she also received an invitation to participate on this project, responding with “Los Dias”. And famed Costa Rican songstress Maria Pretiz renders an incredible new version of her “El Oficio de Esperar”.
     Speaking of Editus, I think Ramirez used good judgment in not including the other two members of the band on this solo disc, if for no other reason than to display its uniqueness. Ramirez has been quoted as saying that this project is the most satisfying work he has done outside his twenty year relationship with Editus, which lends credence to this project’s complete separation from that band. It’s nice to see an artist develop a concept and take a chance with it by having the faith to plunge into it one hundred percent. It’s easy to feel this elation in the finished product of Ricardo Ramirez’ “Complicidades”.
     In Playa Tamarindo, “Complicidades”, as well as all the Editus CDs are available exclusively at Jaime Peligro, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers.All comments concerning this article are welcome.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Guillermo Anderson - Of Time and Tropics

Of Time and Tropics

     When famed Dutch photographer Hannes Walraffen decided to publish a book of his photography that depicts some of the history of Honduras, he recruited his friend, the Honduran novelist Julio Escoto, to supply the needed verbiage for the project. Escoto in turn suggested contacting the country’s premier musician, Guillermo Anderson, to write and record a CD with a complimentary theme to include in the book, creating a kind of multi-media package.

     Max Urso is the founder of Costa Norte Records, the music label that puts out Anderson’s albums. Urso liked the idea of releasing Anderson’s CD separately, so he brought Guillermo back into the studios in La Ceiba and Tegucigalpa to add some new songs and tweak a few of the existing ones to create an album that would stand on its own as an independent, marketable entity. The final result is a seventeen song epic, spanning centuries of coastal culture, including the artist’s own memories. Appropriately, the eighty minute opus is entitled “Of Time and Tropics”.
     In his past eight albums, Guillermo Anderson has pursued a unique theme on each disc, with a distinct sound for each venture. For his new CD, he draws from each of these influences, along with some new sounds as well. In the liner notes for the album, novelist Escoto speaks of the “richness of his (Anderson’s) musicality, based in local roots, but also his inconformity with what exists, the contemporary fresh air about it and the sweetness of his poetic vein”. The first track on the album, “Wooden Floor” is a perfect example of that sweetness, as Anderson conjures up his own childhood and adolescent memories that were witnessed by the floor in his house. How sweet is that?
     Other songs visit the old banana railway, port bars and seafarers, fiestas and carnivals. Anderson handles these various topics with a milieu of musical styles, ranging from acoustic and Latin rock to the indigenous Garifuna, all with a Caribbean texture to them. I think that sometimes Anderson’s storytelling overshadows his incredible voice and very talented guitar work, not to mention his gift for meshing these three components into songs that are distinctly his and his alone. His new role as historian fits right into this menagerie, becoming another color of his tapestry.

     Anderson is assisted throughout the album by long-time associate Eduardo “Guayo” Cedeno on electric and acoustic guitars, percussion and an instrument called the caramba, a type of bass using a gourd as the soundbox. As he has done on previous albums, Anderson also uses the chorus of schoolchildren from the Garifuna classrooms in Sambo Creek. Along with a host of other guests on saxophone, vocals, percussion and a variety of indigenous instruments, the end product stands as an homage to Honduran history and culture. Guillermo, in fact, has said that when writing the lyrics for this project, he did so “as if writing for a film”.
     In Guanacaste, all Guillermo Anderson and all Costa Norte CDs are available exclusively at Jaime Peligro in Playa Tamarindo, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers. Any comments concerning this article are welcome.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Guanacaste Atardecer: Listenng to the Sunset

Listening to the Sunset

   Watching a sunset in Guanacaste can conjure up images of classic Monet paintings that display a melding of colors as the sun dips into the sea. It’s that unique time of day between dark and light that has always been synonymous with romantic interlude. Now, Costa Rica’s premier label, Papaya Music, is offering a soundtrack for that distinct space of time. The CD, titled Guanacaste al Atardecer, is a nice mix of musicians of different ages and styles, some already on the Papaya label and some not. I really like the fact that Nicaragua is included in the CD package as a part of the Guanacaste peninsula, or “Gran Nicoya”, as this entire area has shared a cultural bond for centuries. I also appreciate the way Papaya recognizes artists who are not a part of their recording family as a part of this presentation.
   The eleven song LP opens with a mood-setter that states the tone for the whole disc. “Concierto Para un Coro de Lapas” combines the natural, ambient sounds of crickets, macaws and other birds, with the unmistakable piano of Manuel Obregon, one of the Papaya co-founders, accompanied by the trio Mandragora on guitars and flute. The song is taken from a recording session on the Osa Peninsula in 1990.

The unmistakable Clara Grun
   The second song, “Pochote” was written and sung by twenty-five year old Nicaraguan Clara Grun, who claims she was “born singing”. The song first appeared on her premier CD on the tiny Moka recording label. Other Nicaraguan artists who appear on this compilation are Perrozompopo, a popular Managua band, with “Entre Remolinos”, one of their soft songs from their first disc, on Papaya. Elsa Basil, also from Managua, offers a torch song which also has Clara Grun playing piano. Popular Costa Rican vocalist Martha Fonseca covers the bolero “Como Fue” with Malpais in a live recording previously unreleased, and Malpais offers their live version from the Jazz Café of a Ray Tico song, “Romance en Habana”, which does not appear on their recent live disc. It’s a nice touch, as the LP itself is dedicated to the memory of Ray Tico. The list also includes a tango by Mario Ulloa, who recently released a CD on Papaya and the seldom seen Cuarteto Esporadico (including the Gamboa brothers and Obregon, from Malpais) performing a classic bolero, recorded live at Café do Playa last Valentine’s Day. The final track, “Sobre el Agua” is by the San Jose musician Fred Miranda, from the rock band Gandhi. It is from his from his solo project, Baula Project, which centers around the plight of turtles and their nesting spots in Guanacaste. A portion of the proceeds are donated to the project.

Martha Fonseca
   Again, Papaya spares no expense on packaging, offering a jacket that folds out twice to display a memorable photo of a Guanacaste sunset. The CD also comes with a very booklet in Spanish and English, as has become the norm for the label. And, once again, Papaya has taken a chance with a new concept that works for them, offering a rich mix of musical styles designed around a tranquil afternoon that is pleasurable enough to keep your attention, rather than slipping into the background or putting the listener to sleep. “Guanacaste al Atardecer” and all Papaya CDs are available at Jaime Peligro in Tamarindo and Seventh Street Books in San Jose. Both shops will gladly sample the music for their customers.  All comments concerning this article are welcome.


Friday, August 8, 2008

Blood of Brothers

 Blood of Brothers    

Nicaraguans are an enduring people. Their history is one of a proud, diverse people who have witnessed a lot of calamity and disaster in their country… and Stephen Kinzer has witnessed a lot of their recent history, first-hand. Kinzer started his career as an independent reporter in Central America in 1976 and continued until 1989. Initially, he found himself roaming from country to country, going wherever there was a hotspot or new scoop. However, he always found himself drawn to Nicaragua, finally returning and developing an earnest interest in its people. This passion led him to accepting a job with the Boston Globe, and on those merits, later with the New York Times, who awarded him a full-time position reporting exclusively in Nicaragua, with an office in Managua - the first of its kind for The Times.

Stephen Kinzer was there before the revolution, during the revolution, and after the revolution. His detailed chronology of this era has been published in, "Blood of Brothers, Life and War in Nicaragua". In his book, Kinzer delves into the history of Nicaragua to explain how the Somoza dictatorship fell apart as well as the impetus for the war that brought the revolutionary Sandinista government to power. He does a good job in remaining politically impartial while recognizing the Sandinista's strength as revolutionaries, their commitment to the people in ousting the Samoza regime, and their terrible ineptitude in governing a country. Likewise, Kinzer relays the earnest intentions of the Contras and the Catholic priests, their international infractions with the CIA and Honduras, and their killing of Ben Linder, an American volunteer whose crime was helping impoverished communities build small hydroelectric plants. However, it is impossible for the author not to be effected by the sight of so many non-military corpses. In a six-year span, thirty thousand Nicaraguans perished amidst their civil war (fifteen people every day for two thousand days). Most of the civilians were killed by their fellow countrymen, in what was perceived to be for the best of intentions.

Kinzer also did an exceptional job reporting on the plight of the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean; how they were transplanted and abused by both sides during this nearly decade-long confrontation, and how some tribes never recovered. The modern history of the indigenous peoples of the Americas has traditionally been swept under the carpet, but in ”Blood Brothers”, the author brought their story to the forefront. Commendably, he also did not hold back reporting on the deplorable, covert actions of the United States during their revolution, as well as their inhuman and bullying tactics. The CIA’s role came to light when Eugene Hasenfus, an independent contractor employed by the CIA to drop supplies to the contras, survived the crash of his C-123, which was shot out of the sky by a Sandinista patrol. Hesenfus’ testimony, along with the documents uncovered at the wreckage, confirmed covert CIA activities and proved that a portion of the profits from the sale of weaponry to Iran was funding the Contras. Unbelievably but truly, the U.S. was laundering money with sales to the Ayatollah Khomeni from missiles that he was secretly buying to fund their war against the Sandinistas. By the same token, Kinzer was quick to point out that the Sandinistas were not hesitant to seek help from North Korea and the PLO, two frightening bedmates.
Ultimately, it was Costa Rica's new president, Oscar Arias, who was instrumental in getting the opposing factions to sit down and hammer out an agreement, including an open election that led to Ortega's demise. Still, it will take decades for Nicaragua to recover. Stephen Kinzer's book is enlightening, revealing and non-partisan, making it a must-read for anyone interested in the modern history of Nicaragua. 

All comments concerning this article are gladly welcomed.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008



   Nearly all music is a melting pot, a new image of its influences and predecessors. In Central America, Garifuna music is unique in that it is a blend of African and indigenous music without any influence from the European cultures that became dominant in all the Americas. The offspring of the indigenous Awarak tribe and African slaves who survived from two sinking slave ships, the Garifuna have always preferred an isolated existence. As these people enter the Twenty-first Century and near extinction, Ivan Duran and Stonetree Records in Belize have undergone painstaking labors to at least preserve the music by recording it. Likewise, a spin-off of Garifuna music came into existence around the middle of the seventeenth century when Spanish guitar and musical styles lent themselves as a variation on Garifuna music, and a style called Paranda was born.

   Ever vigilant to preserve disappearing Central American musical genres, Stonetree has released a compilation CD called, quite simply, “Paranda”. The lineup of musicians is, in itself, a revealing portrayal of this fading musical style. Most of the performers on this disc are getting on in their years, with very few students left to carry the torch. Paul Nabor, who is featured several times on the Paranda disc, is a religious leader in Punta Gorda, the small village in Southern Belize where he resides. He is also seventy-two years old and the last living Parandero there. Garbaga Williams was exuberant about having his songs preserved. He explained that due to his arthritis he could no longer play guitar, that his friend Dale Guzman would play his songs. Since the recording of the CD, Garbaga has passed away. Tall and thin, Jursino Cayetano, 60, is one of ten children and the last living Parandero from Guatemala. And Junie Aranda, at the age of 57, is one of the youngest of the living Paranda legends. Aranda was born and raised in Dangriga, the largest Garifuna center in Belize. The last musician there to play Paranda music, he is teaching it to his son. And there is a new generation of Garifunas who are eager to learn the music. But the number of torchbearers keeps dwindling.

   The music on the CD is the result of two years of research, traveling and recording on Duran’s part, to small Garifuna villages spread throughout Belize, Honduras and Guatemala. The percussion comes from handmade drums, shakers, turtle shells and conches with a definite, distinguishable West African style to it. As with traditional Garifuna lyrics, the subject matter of the songs deal with local events, from the death of an aging sister to, as Junie Aranda describes them, the “getting back songs”. When someone in Dangriga crosses his path, he writes a song about it. In no time, everyone in town hears about the neighbor who owes Junie money or a former employer who did him an injustice. The songs all have a very personal texture to them, especially the laments. You can almost hear Paranda singing its last breath. Hear it at Jaime Peligro book store in Playa Tamarindo. All comments concerning this article are gladly welcomed.

Friday, June 13, 2008



   Bernal Villegas has paid his dues. He has been in the Costa Rica rock & roll scene for a good twelve years, a guitar slinger and composer who has earned an excellent reputation for himself in the local music community. In 1996, he started the band Suite Doble with Marta Fonseca, who has since put herself on the national music map as well. His next venture, the short-lived band called 50 al Norte, gained recognition for their only CD, “Religion”, by distinguishing themselves as the first Central American rock group to use horns in their arrangements. Both bands carry their own legacies and both are now defunct. They have both also been included in the Papaya Music compilation CD, “Costa Rica Rock & Pop”, which lends credence to Bernal Villegas’ contributions to the Costa Rica rock scene.
   In the meantime, Villegas has become a desirable commodity in the studio, as an accomplished, diverse guitar player and for his knowledge at mixing and mastering recordings. Recent evidence of Bernal’s popularity is in his slick guitar work on most of the songs on the new Papaya CD by Amigosintimos, “En el Pais de las Maravillas”.
   Now, Bernal Villegas is ready to make a name for himself. He has recruited the maniacal drummer Carlos Morales, who played in Suite Doble with him, and bassist Abel Guier from the popular Costa Rican band Gandhi, to form the rock trio Villegas, then record and produce a CD by the same name. “I think with this disc, we finished one cycle and then opened another,” says Villegas, who wrote and sang all the songs on the CD, as well as providing the blazing guitar work and co-producing the album.
  While recording the Amigosintimos CD, Villegas worked side by side with executive producer Andres Quintana and musical producer Eduardo Olive’. Bernal has recruited both to provide their same talents on his album, with Olive’ assisting Villegas with the mixing and mastering, as well as lending his keyboard playing to the recording. There are some interesting studio tricks on the disc, but the result comes off as a clean and well planned straight-forward rock & roll package. The accompanying booklet, like the music, is direct and to the point: song titles, lyrics and photos, with credits on the final page. The tee shirts the band members wear in the photos display their influences, from Megadeath to Led Zeppelin.
   Villegas offers nine new songs, in addition to “Estas Putas Guerras”, which he wrote during his days with 50 al Norte and rerecorded for this inaugural disc. Other highlights on the CD include “Que Locura” and the opening number, “A Dios le Pido”.
   The band recently premiered the album live before an anxious crowd at Jazz Café in Escazu with a unanimously positive response. The patrons of this establishment are renowned for being a music-savvy crowd and the establishment has built a very good reputation for featuring top-notch acts, so the bandmembers considered this show a real boost for their credibility.
   In Playa Tamarindo, all Papaya Music CDs, including “Villegas” is available at Jaime Peligro, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers. All comments concerning this article are welcome.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Mario Ulloa - Afternoons in Alajuela

Afternoons in Alajuela

   Growing up on the outskirts of San Jose, Costa Rica in the late 60s and early 70s, television sets were a rarity, the exception to the rule. So people improvised. For Mario Ulloa, entertainment came in the form of music: around the age of ten, he simply picked up one of his mother’s guitars and learned to play, much as she had done in her youth with one of her father’s guitars. For Mario, having uncles who also played, brothers of his mother, was probably a big help as well. Mario recalls that they all “played and sang all night for entertainment”.

   After fifteen years of training in classical music, Ulloa moved to Brazil and started teaching at the School of Music in the city of Bahia, where he has resided for the past sixteen years. Recently, the city of Bahia bestowed on him a Medal of Honor, for his “cultural contributions to the city”. He has toured and performed live in over twenty countries in North and South America and Europe. He recorded an album in 2001 of his interpretation of J.S. Bach scores and another in 2006 of the music of Caymmi. And he has always thought about his Costa Rican roots, with the plan to some day pay homage to them. Last September, he participated in the Festival of Guitars in San Jose and stayed in his home country to record an album with the national Orquestra Filarmonica. It was during this time that Ulloa reunited with Manuel Obregon, the president of Papaya Music.

   Sr. Ulloa is no stranger to Papaya. He performed on “Al Pie del Balcon”, a CD compilation of romantic Guanacaste songs, recorded in 2005 with Obregon and various members of the popular band Malpais. His project fit right into the scheme of the Papaya mission statement of preserving traditional Central American music while furthering the collective scope of contemporary local musicians. They went straight to work. The end result, “Tardes de Alajuela” does a very sincere job of allowing Ulloa to interpret the work of his mentors by playing his versions of their songs.

   The ten song CD contains selections from six songwriters spanning more than one hundred thirty years. The album is completely instrumental, strictly Mario Ulloa and his acoustic guitar. I have to admit that the overall sound and feel of the music remind me of an afternoon of dimming light in a place and time far less hectic than our own. The musical direction on this project was overseen by Edin Solis, a friend of Mario and the songwriter/arranger/guitarist for the three time Grammy award winning Costa Rican band Editus. Ulloa does an incredible version of the Ray Tico classic, “Eso es Imposible”, and four songs by Ernesto Alfaro, including the title track.

   Mario Ulloa’s “Tardes de Alajuela” and all Papaya CDs are available at Jaime Peligro in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos and Tilaran where they will gladly sample the music for their customers.All comments concerning this article are welcome.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

New Putumayo Generation

Putumayo’s New Listening Audience

     The recording label that coined the term “world music” has broken into the Young Listener audience and no, I’m not talking about competing with the Jonas Brothers. Putumayo recently unveiled their first releases in their new “playground series” and they appear to be on the right track. Three of the first four titles have a Latin theme running through them that I could not help but notice. Here is a quick rundown of them.

     Caribbean Playground kicks off with “Great Big Boat”, sung by an old acquaintance of mine, Taj Mahal. I’ve known Taj for more than twenty-five years and everything he records exudes his genuine exuberance in his work, this song included. Jamaica is represented by no less than three of the twelve songs on this album, including Desmond Dekker’s version of “Jamaica Farewell”; Trinidad and Haiti each check in with two regional numbers. And Jose Gonzales y Banda Criolla from Puerto Rico turn in a great rendition of “Bomba Te Traigo Yo”. A perfect example of what a classy organization Putumayo is: 100% of their proceeds from sales of this CD will be contributed to the relief efforts in Haiti.
     Latin Playground is a compilation of up-tempo songs for the kid in all of us. Omara Portuondo opens the set and sets the pace with “Guantanamera”. Other standouts include Cubanismo doing a foot-tapping, finger snapping, “Mardi Gras Mambo”, Terri Hendrix’ offering of “Lluvia de Estrellas” and legend Flaco Jimenez checking in with a truly memorable “De Bolon Pin Pon” on this  eleven song album featuring songs from nine different Latin American countries.  
     Sure to be an instant hit, with “Reggae Playground”, Putumayo received an incredible response from Jamaica’s surviving musical royalty with contributions from Toots and the Maytals (“Take Me Home Country Road”) and Rita Marley (“Haramble”) as well as a regal performance of the Beatle classic “Here Comes the Sun” done by The Burning Souls. It’s an impressive list of bona fide reggae masters whose contributions lend credence to Putumayo’s credibility on this project. But the disc is also a nice international compilation, including kiddie reggae ditties from Indonesian, French and Hawaiian performers.

      All the Putumayo Playground CDs come with concise intros about the regions and cultures covered in each particular disc, a nice little historic blurb for the kids and their parents. The Latin Playground especially does a good job covering Latin Culture, concentrating on that culture’s history in The Americas. It should be noted as well that the emphasis of the music on all the discs is to have a good time, also highlighted in the notes which, as with all Putumayo productions, are in English, Spanish and French, as are all the lyric sheets and notes on each individual performer and their songs. And Putumayo contributes a portion of each sale to their Foundation Cross-Cultural Initiative, which introduces children (and their families) to varied world cultures in positive and educationally stimulating channels, in an attempt to open doors of communication and to encourage peaceful relationships among peoples of all ages and backgrounds. As The Beatle song says, “A splendid time is guaranteed for all!”
     Putumayo CDs are available at the Jaime Peligro book shops in Playa Tamarindo, Nuevo Arenal and Quepos, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers. All comments concerning this article are welcome.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Leroy Young - The Grandmaster

Leroy Young – The Grandmaster

   In Belize City, they have nicknamed the city prison “Rasta Ramada”. Leroy Young did a couple stints there, for stealing cars and then again for selling drugs. Born in 1967, Young grew up not just in the ghetto in Belize City, but in the toughest area, called Majestic Alley. Life’s full of ironies, right? After two attempted suicides and watching his best friend die in his arms from five bullet wounds because of a cassette tape, Leroy went through rehab and started washing cars in front of the BC Radisson.

   After high school and before his “rocky times”, Young had performed in Fresh Breeze, one of the first rap groups in Belize. And, luckily, he had started writing down his poetry. He began reciting his prose during and between car washing jobs. Eventually, Channel 7, an independent TV station in BC, gave him a job doing a ninety-second “wrap” of the evening news at the end of the program. As a result of this job, Leroy had two small books of poetry published and, more importantly, caught the attention of Ivan Duran, the president of Stonetree Records, the major recording label in Belize. Duran immediately booked recording time for Leroy Young and went into the studio with him, to lay down music tracks that complimented his prose style, called “dub poetry”. Duran would later proclaim the result “one of the most satisfying recording experiences I have ever had”. And rightfully so, since Duran plays a variety of musical instruments on every one of the sixteen tracks on the CD, titled, “Just Like That…”

Just Like That  CD Cover
       The music is infectious, drawing from styles as diverse as Garifuna, Creole, Ska and African percussions. Duran even plays a little Maya K’eckchi’ guitar on a few of the songs. But it is Leroy Young’s album and it is his words and voice that take center stage on the CD. A follower of Jah, Young is a Rastafari, albeit an unconventional one, if such a thing exists. His songs deal with corruption and love, police brutality and family values, poverty and the purity of the soul. I would call it free association humor, with a bite. The whole package reminds me, more than anything else, of the beatnik scene of the Fifties and early Sixties. I’m not quite that old, but I caught the tail end of the generation that influenced mine and I think Leroy Young would have fit in quite well at Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco.

The Grandmaster Doing His Thing
   The music slithers and meanders as Leroy scats and moans, free-associating on the way, at times overlaid with some interesting dubbed recordings. He jibes with the musicians on “Time” and poses serious questions about racial inequality on “Black and White”, noting that, “the deadliest weapon is the mind of the oppressed…” The album closes out with a very tongue-in-cheek, mock samba called, “Que Sera Sera”. The CD itself is enhanced with all kinds of goodies when played on a computer, including a bonus song that utilizes television news snippets and marimba in a sobering duet. To be sure, it’s not the kind of album that will get a lot of radio airplay outside Central America.

   In Guanacaste, Leroy Young and all Stonetree CDs are available exclusively at Jaime Peligro in Playa Tamarindo, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers. All commetns concerning this article are welcome.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Mayan Music

Music of the Mayas

   Mention the Maya civilization and its culture and most people think of its amazing architecture and its feats in astronomy and mathematics. One rarely refers, however, to the music of this civilization that has survived for nearly three millennia. Yet, I can’t think of a civilization that does not have music as part of its culture as, of course, do the Maya. I became interested in Maya history about a dozen years ago, did a lot of homework and started visiting the ruins. So far, I’ve been to more than twenty different sites in the Yucatan Peninsula, Belize, Honduras and Guatemala. I can recall noticeably non-Hispanic music being played around some of the ruins I went to, specifically in Altun Ha and in Ceibal and Yaxchilan on the Usumacinta River in the southern area of the Maya world.

   According to Maya folklore, all their songs were composed and named by Maya gods. The musical instruments that play these songs of the gods are stringed, resembling conventional harps, guitars and violins, with percussion as an accompaniment. The musicians are chosen as understudies at an early age and placed under the tutelage of resident musicians. In addition to being schooled as musicians, they are also taught how to craft their own instruments, using indigenous material, which can each take as much as four years.

   Florencio Mess was born seventy-four years ago in San Pedro Colombia in the Toledo district of the southern Maya Rainforest in Belize. In his youth, he was selected to play the harp, the lead instrument for the local combo. Recently, Stonetree Records brought his group into the famed Radio Belize recording studio for a seven day spree of live recordings, direct to disc. The result is “Maya K’ekchi’ Strings”, a sampling of music that has been passed from generation to generation among the Mayas since before the time of Jesus. On the recording, each song has a brief verbal introduction. All the songs are instrumental, intended to be played at major events in the community and accompanied with dancing. The titles of the fourteen songs on this forty-five minute disc give insight to the rural themes of the songs. Four of the numbers are dedicated to local animals: the songs of the rooster and the bull, the vulture and the raccoon. Other titles include, “Itch Song” and, quite simply, “Small Sticks”. The music itself has a Middle Eastern sound to it, I think at least partially due to the beat.

   Florencio Mess is one of the subjects of the film, “The Three Kings”, which the Belizean National Institute of Culture and History premiered recently in Belize City. The ninety minute documentary, capturing performances by three of the country’s legendary musicians, is slated to receive international distribution early next year. Mess has also participated in the eighth annual Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawat, Malaysia and recently appeared at four shows for FolkFest in northern Italy. It’s nice to see Stonetree, among others, fulfill their mission statement of preserving historic Central American cultures, like the Mayas, even as they literally dissipate in front of our very eyes. “Maya K’ekchi’ Strings” and all Stonetree CDs are available at Jaime Peligro in Tamarindo.All comments concerning this article are gladly welcomed.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Kugwe Kira

Kugwe Kira

   Costa Rica has been blessed with a plethora of regional music and musicians. Their sounds and talents are as varied as the different landscapes of this country. Recently, Tamarindo was rewarded with a live presentation of truly indigenous music in a concert by Unchi, of the Ngabe tribe residing in southwest Costa Rica. The concert, a benefit for CEPIA, was held at the Hotel Diria amphitheater, which, sadly, hosts far too few live shows.

   Unchi lives in the Guaymi Reservation, near the town of Sanuito, north of Golfito. The women of the Ngabe people are easily identifiable on the streets of Sanuito, dressed in their brightly colored, festive, traditional attire. Unchi considers his mother to be his mentor, teaching him the ancestral history of his people, including their songs, in their indigenous language, called Ngabe. This ritual of passing of information from generation to generation is a tradition that has survived in areas like Guaymi in Costa Rica for literally thousands of years.

   There are actually only three Guaymi reservations that still exist: two in Costa Rica and one in northwest Panama. Each time a song is passed to a new generation, it is adapted with new perspectives, new voices. Traditionally, one song exists for each event of the day. The storyteller sits in the center of the local people, reciting the story with a traditional fan propelling the words. The singer, not unlike a town cryer, delivers news of the day’s events as he holds a traditional cup of ka (hot coco) or do (a syrup of fermented corn).

   From June to September of this year, the process of this tradition was recorded by Luis Porras, who also provided all the instrumentation for this new, Kugwe Kira CD., which means “Ancestral Histories”. The disc is a compilation of six traditional songs, written by Unchi. Their themes are inspired by such diverse topics as a drop of Ngabe blood and its path through generations, a song about monkeys, and a song about seagulls and their eating habits and flight patterns. Three of the songs are repeated strictly instrumentally at the end of the CD, signifying a ritual of dance at the end of Ngabe ceremonies. The result is almost hypnotic, a passing of the ages from pre-Colombian times. The CD extends over forty-five minutes, three quarters of an hour of authentic Costa Rican folklore.

  Kugwe Kira is available in Tamarindo, Quepos and Tilaran exclusively at Jaime Peligro the Jaime Peligro bookstores, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers. A portion of the proceeds are donated to the preservation at Guaymi. All comments concerning this article are welcome.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Nomadic Music

Nomadic Music

   The band members decided to call themselves Amarillo Cian y Magenta to represent the three primary colors: yellow, blue and red. They considered this an appropriate metaphor to describe their style of music, which they see as an “overview of musical colors” and because they see Costa Rican music in general as a mix derived from many cultures. The word “neo-jazz” has cropped up as a catchphrase recently to embrace an entire wave of Twenty-First Century fusion music. The band itself acknowledges influences as far reaching as Arabic and African beats, electronica, classical, urban mix and, yes, even jazz.
   Amarillo, Cian y Magenta (ACM) made their public debut on 21 June, 2003 at Parque Morazan in San Jose. Since then, they have appeared at the Costa Rica Museum of Modern Art, Papaya Fest, the National Arts Festival, the University of Costa Rica, and the Jazz Café, in San Jose. Having Carlos “Tapao” Vargas as one of its percussionists probably helps the band get gigs. Carlos also plays for the popular band Malpais and for three-time Grammy winners Editus. But it must also say something about the rest of the band if Vargas chooses to spend his “spare time” with them. The other members of the band are Nelson Ramirez on sax and flute, Sean Dibango on tenor sax and clarinet, Glen Ramirez on keyboards and Andres Lamb on bass guitar.
   ACM recently released their first CD, “Nomadas” on the Papaya label. Their only other CD appearance was on the live Cantoamerica CD, celebrating that band’s twenty-fifth anniversary. If one of Papaya’s goals is to reach back in time to preserve traditional Costa Rican music, then this CD his helping Papaya fulfill their goal at the other end of the spectrum, which is to stretch forward, to expose groundbreaking talent. Nomadas, an entirely instrumental production, has a symphonic element to it, as it is presented in seventeen movements, or passages, creating a musical landscape along the way.
   The CD opens with an overture, introducing this movement as an “episode in dreams”. The listener then travels through time (“Zero Hour” and “After Midnight”) and places (“Train”, “The Road” and “The Other Road”). The music segues are very smooth transitions. African and Arabic beats are easily discernable, and the blending of styles and instrumentation did make it seem other-worldly to me. The musical production and mixing by ACM and Walter Flores are immaculate. It seems very clear that the band knew what they wanted and did a very good job in the studio attaining it.
   Even the artwork and graphic design, by Arovar and lettering by Grafos work into the overall concept. The collage and airspray artwork is Dali-esque, suggestive of the surreal music on the disc. Papaya took a calculated risk promoting Amarillo Cian y Magenta with the production of this CD. I firmly believe that in a few years’ time, this album will be referred to as a watermark in modern Costa Rican music. And yes, you can quote me on that.
   In Guanacaste, “Nomadas” by Amarillo, Cian y Magenta is available exclusively at Jaime Peligro in Playa Tamarindo.All comments concerning tis article are gladly welcomed.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Cafe Cubano

Café Cubano
New Putumayo CD Celebrates Acoustic Cuban Music

    During the 1950s, Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack hung out in the nightclubs and casinos in Havana and basically transformed Cuba into America’s playground. All that abruptly changed when Fidel Castro took control of that island and any cultural exchanges became clandestine, at best.
     In 1996, the American guitarist and musicologist Ry Cooder put modern Cuban music on the world map with his production of The Buena Vista Social Club. In the ensuing twelve years, Cubanismo has seeped into the musical mainstream. As an indication of its cultural wealth, Putumayo Music, the label responsible for coining the phrase “World Music,” has released no less than four compilation CDs dedicated to the music of that small Caribbean island. Make that five compilation CDs. This month, Putumayo unveiled “Café Cubano”, a collection of mostly acoustic music, presented as a collage of legendary Cuban performers and some of the newer names of that scene.
     The album kicks off with “El Chacal” by Ola Fresa, a band founded in 2000 by singer/composer Jose Conde. Originally from New York, Conde moved with his immigrant parents to Miami, where he was exposed to his Cuban roots. The song is lilty, danceable with a distinct Afro-Cubano beat, a great song to start the disc.
     Ignacio “Mazacote” Carrillo was born in Guanabacao, Cuba in 1927 and moved to Havana at the age of twelve. He had an eight year stint singing with the well known band The Afro-Cuban All-Stars and is currently the lead singer for La Sonora Cubana, who is represented on this CD with their song “Lagrimas Negras”, a sweet bolero.
     Born on the eastern side of the island in 1944, Felix Beloy went on to become a member of the Cuban All-Stars, as well. His contribution to this CD, “Despues de Esta Noche” is from Baloy’s first solo project, which was released last year.
     Fidel Castro is not a fan of Pedro Luis Ferrer. His music has been banned from Cuban radio, although he has released three underground albums there. “Rustico”, his first CD to be released in the U.S., offers “Como a Cada Manana”, an acoustic number in the Cuban style referred to as guajiras.
     Armando Garzon was born in Santiago in 1948, where he received classical voice training in his youth. He has been nicknamed “The black angel with the velvet voice”, a long-winded moniker. But he backs it up on “Escandala” with his countertenor voice that climbs the ladder to its ultimate crescendo at the end of the song, from his album on the Cuban label Corason.
     Asere was the name taken by five young Cuban musicians in 1998 for their new band. Over the next decade, the band has become a voice for its generation. “Corazon”, a traditional son, is presented acoustically, in a recognizably Cuban sound.
     All told, Café Cubano presents ten songs on this forty-five minute CD. Putumayo does a very good job of offering a generational cross-reference of the current explosion of Cuban music, presented on this CD in an acoustic format. In Playa Tamarindo, Café Cubano is available at Jaime Peligro Book Store, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers. All comments concerning this article are welcome.

Rockin' in Costa

Rockin’ in Costa Rica

   Rock & Roll made its initial impact in Central America in the late 1980s when national radio stations started playing popular songs of the time and local bands began writing their own material in Spanish and started getting broader airplay, outside their immediate vicinity. Of course, cable TV and MTV were major contributing factors as well. But the Eighties was the cradle here and the culture embraced it and rocked with it. Recently, Papaya Music released “Costa Rica Rock & Pop”, a compilation of some of the landmark bands from Costa Rica, covering the last twenty-plus years. Some of them enjoyed lengthy careers, spanning decades, and some had meteoric but monumental ones.

  The first band out of the gate on this twelve song disc is Gandhi, with “Senor Caballero”. The song is their first release in three years, prepping the audience for a new CD, due out this year. The band has a ten year history, with four successful LPs under their collective belt. It’s a great opening number because it rocks hard, setting the stage for the rest of this compilation. Next up is “Profanar”, by Suite Doble, fronted by Marta Fonseca and Bernal Villegas. Marta has a career that has bridged musical genres and generations. She is one of the most recognizable pop starts in Costa Rica. Villegas is a prolific rock musician whose name will appear several times in this review. He is probably not the godfather of Costa Rock, but perhaps he is the god-uncle.
Suite Doble Live
      The quartet 50 al Norte is known for being the first rock band in Costa to use horns. By the way, there guitarist was a guy named Bernal Villegas. During their brief history, from 1990-1993, they released only one, self-titled CD, from which “Dime Que Puedo Hacer”, their contribution, comes from. And no Costa Rica compilation would be complete without a song by Jose Capmany, the cornerstone of the band Café con Leche. Jose has been referred to as “the Father of Tico Rock” and is represented here by one of his most recognizable songs, “El Barco”. Capmany died tragically in an automobile accident in 2001 at the age of forty.

   The next song, “No Podras”, is by a group called Inconsciente Colectivo, the brainchild of Patricio Barraza, the singer/songwriter, guitarist and pianist who put the band on the map when the won first place at the 1992 Yamaha Pop Festival and received the award for Best National Rock Group the following year. The song is from their only CD, released in 1994. In addition, there are contributions from the band El Parque, who enjoyed a twelve year career, and Raquel, who’s single CD was released on the international Sony/CBS label. Another interesting entry is “Raton de Pelucha”, by a four-piece band called Hormigas en la Pared (HELP), from their self-titled 1999 CD. This band is as alternative, non-mainstream as they get, yet they enjoyed a lot of notoriety, demonstrating just how much Costa Ricans understand Rock & Roll.
      Costa Rica Rock & Pop is available at Jaime Peligro in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos and Nuevo Arenal where they will gladly sample the music for the customers. All comments concerning this article are welcome.