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 CafĂ© 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.