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.