Saturday, October 24, 2009

Stonetree Grows in Belize

Stonetree Grows in Belize

   Ivan Duran got his first guitar when he was fourteen years old and living in Belize. Within a relatively short amount of time, he had also called Mexico, Spain and Cuba home. Then, in 1995, he returned to Belize with one project in mind: to build a quality recording studio, Stonetree Records, in his home town of Benque Viejo, near the Guatemala border. In fact, he told me in a recent interview that the recording studio “is on the same street where I used to play futbol when I was growing up”.
   In order to pursue his dream, Ivan sold most of his musical instruments to generate cash flow. But he kept his first guitar, which, he told me, “plays a part in every album”. It took about two years to get the studio up and running. During that time, Sr. Duran played in a project called Free Access. The group had one concert and recorded one album that provided “an unforgettable experience for all those involved”.
   Stonetree recently celebrated their tenth anniversary. Looking back, the results have been nothing less than fantastic. The studio has produced nearly thirty albums of music that embrace a variety of cultures, including Garifuna, Creole, Maya and Mestizo. They have been recognized as archivists of historic music while at the same time pursuing modern trends in world music. Ivan has attended WOMEX (World-Wide Music Expo) every year since its inception in 1997, where he has “developed many friendships with people who share the same passion for world music”. In fact, when Jacob Edgar left Putumayo Records to launch the Cumbancha label, he contacted Duran, according to Ivan, “to see what was in the works at the Stonetree lab”. The initial result was the acclaimed Watina, an infectious CD of Garifuna music. In fact, Jacob agrees with the stories of Duran being a perfectionist. “Ivan has an incredible ear for detail,” he told me recently, “and he keeps working on songs over and over again until they are exactly how he thinks they should be”. And Ivan’s perfectionist’s touch can be heard in the diverse Stonetree recordings, such as Leroy Young’s Dub Poetry, Wilfred Peter’s recordings of Belizean Creole, called Brukdown, Andy Palacio’s first CDs and Maya Collection of Florencio Mess.
   Ivan and Stonetree have also worked with the Garifuna Women’s Project for nearly ten years, recording more than one hundred songs in the Garifuna language with more than fifty women participating. Upcoming projects for Duran include two more Garifuna albums with Cumbancha, one being the aforementioned Garifuna Women Project, backed by the musicians who appeared on the Watina CD. Another recording in the works is by Honduran Paranda star Aurelio Martinez.
   Ivan Duran told me that the name for the studio, “just came to me. It was more of a feeling: stone representing the past and our cultural heritage, and a tree that is alive and growing now”. They have recently released “From Bakabush”, a compilation of songs from their catalogue spanning the last decade. It’s a great introduction to the label, including songs from all the artists mentioned earlier in this article.
   It seems that Stonetree has lived up to the concepts behind its name.

Stonetree CDs are available in Costa Rica exclusively at Jaime Peligro in Playa Tamarindo, Tilaran and Quepos.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Amigosintimos - Intimate Friends in Wonderland


   When Alice stepped through the looking glass, one of her first observations was that “things are not what they seem to be”. Lewis Carroll’s fairytale was written as a double-edged sword: a bright and cheery surface story, with an underlying cynical twin meaning. The rock duo who call themselves Amigosintimos have taken this theme and extrapolated on it with their debut CD, “En el Pais de las Maravillas”. There are direct references to Carroll’s work, including a song titled “Alicia” and a quote from Edgar Allen Poe in the lyric book which is included in the CD package.

   Salvadoran Keren Mizrahl and Costa Rican Marco Arias met in 2002 and started making music together less than two years later. The concept for this disc has been evolving since then. The music is a collaboration between the two, with Keren writing most of the lyrics, singing lead and back-up vocals, and playing piano and acoustic rhythm guitar. Marco handles most of the music composition and guitar work, as well as some piano and vocals on the project. The songs are playful and bouncy, with bright, lilty vocal harmonies. The duo is ably assisted by producer Edu’  Olive’ on Fender Rhodes and Hammond organs, lending a circus/fantasy motif, which is depicted in the album artwork as well.

   The irony lies between this Twenty-First Century Pop music on the surface and the serious political and social issues addressed in the content of the lyrics. The music certainly makes the message more digestible, especially in the songs “Amnesia” and “Voz de Guerra”. It also creates the possibility of a broader audience, verified by the album’s huge radio support from both 94.7 and Radio U. Not unlike the hippie movement forty years ago, some of the main issues center on loving more and shedding the warm coat of apathy. The sentiment is genuine and the music is infectious. “We’re not considered politically correct,” muses Arias. 

   An incredible job was accomplished on the slick mixing and mastering by two-time Grammy (Ruben Blades, “Tiempo”) recipient Oscar Marin. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Beatle’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was a major influence on the production of this LP. Studio guitar ace Bernal Villegas is all over the CD, playing on nearly every song. Even Hector Murillo, from Blues Latino, shows up for a cameo accordion appearance on one song. It’s an impressive legion of peripheral help, as we observe Amigosintimos “get by with a little help from their friends”.

   The self-produced project was picked up for distribution by Papaya Music and given co-founder Manuel Obregon’s stamp of approval with a nice quote on the back of the jacket. The packaging is pure Papayan, too: nice, bright inks for the sleeves, an extensive booklet and a fold-out, eco-friendly jacket. The label has already backed a live promotional push for the band and the unveiling of its new CD. And given Papaya’s success and approval ratings, we should be hearing a lot more from Amigosintimos in the future and on the radio.

   In Playa Tamarindo, Tilaran and Quepos, Amigosintimos is available exclusively at Jaime Peligro bookstores, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers.All comments concerning this article are welcome.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Luis Nubiola

Nubiola Finds a Home

   Some musicians have a sixth sense about where and when to be in a certain vicinity. This was definitely true about the time and place I grew up, as hip, young musicians from all over flocked to the San Francisco area to become entrenched in the Summer of Love. Similarly, in Costa Rica, there currently appears to be the genesis of a jazz movement. In fact, Papaya Music, the country’s major independent label, is now planning to release a compilation CD of modern, budding jazz bands from the area, similar in concept to the “Costa Rica Reggae Nights” disc they produced a few years ago.

   Luis Nubiola started playing saxophone at the tender age of six in his hometown of Havana, Cuba. As he grew up, he was a member of several jazz bands there. He told me that one of his most memorable encounters during that time was when he jammed with Winton Marsalis. To be sure, Luis could have enjoyed a musical career in Cuba. But Costa Rica beckoned and he responded, moving here in 2004. Initially, he took session work for established acts, such as Walter Flores, Miriam Jarquin and Luis Monge. In the meantime, his Cuban jazz trio established a reputation in the club scene in San Jose and San Pedro.

Luis Nubiola at work
   The result of all this hard work is beginning to blossom. Recently, Nubiola released their first, self-titled CD, in tandem with Costa Rica’s first-ever jazz DVD, recorded at the popular Jazz Café in San Jose, a sure sign of Nubiola’s success at putting their act on the map. The CD was recorded in a single day, using the trio of Luis Nubiola on alto sax, Nelson Segura on a baby bass, Raul Diaz on drums and the assistance of Luis Naranjo on piano for a single composition. The seven-song CD starts off with a tribute to New Orleans and its longtime jazz heritage, with the second tribute on the disc proving to be a fusion of Latin and Afro-Cuban jazz. Actually, the entire CD reflects this new marriage of musical styles. There is also an instrumental nod to Cole Porter, a truly inspirational jazz musician whose style Nubiola honors with the song, “Simply to Cole”. But this CD is in no way a “tribute album”. I think Nubiola simply wants to recognize his roots and influences as he blazes his own trail. I also believe that this CD has succeeded in placing the band solidly in the Costa Rican jazz scene.

   The DVD, “Live at the Jazz Café” is a nice snapshot of Nubiola in a distinct place and time. It was filmed with six video cameras, with the trio and Walter Flores on piano for the entire set. The film also features Robert Aguilar on vocals for one song and Alexi Del Valle playing the tumbadora on two numbers. All seven songs from the CD are performed, in addition to two more. I enjoy seeing the musicians taking their solos. The visuals seem to make it more personable for me. For example, when Diaz is taking a drum solo, he looks like he could be thinking about writing a letter to his mom: the drumming is second nature to him. This guy is what is referred to as a “musician’s musician”. The cameramen and post production are all to be commended, as the end result is nothing less than pristine.

   In Guanacaste, the Nubiola CDs and DVDs are available exclusively at Jaime Peligro in Playa Tamarindo. All commetns concerning this article are gladly welcome.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Rio Infinito

New Crest on the Infinite River

     Manuel Obregon is a man of visions. He accomplishes his goals because he acts on his aspirations. To his credit, Obregon is one of the founders of Papaya Music, Costa Rica’s premiere music label. He is a member of the popular band Malpais, has a solo career as a pianist, is the founder of Orquestra de Papaya, and the list goes on and on. Manuel’s newest vision is called Rio Infinito, one of his most ambitious project to date. Thirty-four musicians from all over the Americas assembled last April for the Costa Rica International Arts Festival. It would be the first appearance by the Orquestra del Rio Infinito. Since then, the number has swelled to more than fifty performers.
     Manuel Obregon sees music as a messenger with the capability of conveying individual and community needs. And he recognizes fresh waterways as critical to civilization since its dawn in the Americas: water to plant seeds for food and to transport those seeds, plants, and the things that consume them. It is no secret that the water that has formerly been in abundance here is literally evaporating. Obregon feels a responsibility to communicate this problem through musical events.

     The La Plata Basin Tour 2009 will commence its monumental five thousand kilometer journey by boat on November 3, beginning at Corumba on the Pantanal River on the border between Brazil and Bolivia. With eight scheduled concerts in these two countries, Paraguay, Argentina and ultimately Montevideo, Uruguay on December 2, the Orquestra de Rio Infinito will invite local musicians to participate along the way. All the concerts will be free, including unscheduled stops at any port where they dock. They have received commitments from more than two hundred local musicians and the support of more than forty-five organizations, the strongest support coming from AVINA Foundation, who are dedicated to sustainable development in Latin America.

     The Plata Basin is the fifth largest freshwater basin in the world. Literally millions of people depend on it for their lives. Manuel Obregon’s goal is to rejoin the marriage of water and culture. The response so far has been a very positive one, a union of musicians and teachers, artists and community leaders, environmental and social activists. The project has received a non-governmental status, which speaks volumes of its intentions, unbound by any political affiliation. The travelling band is a mix of musicians from all over the Americas: besides Sr. Obregon, musicologist Manuel Monestel and the Caribbean vocalists The Tucker Sisters are Costa Rican. The United States is ably represented by New Orleans violinist Nancy Buchan and Argentinan rock star and producer Leon Greco will be participating. Belizean punta rocker Mohobub Flores will also be there, along with Nicaraguan marimba players, Salvadoran bassists, Guatemalan percussionists, Panamanian guitarists, Peruvian flautists and a plethora of other players. The coordination and communication end of the project is a massive team in itself, with Daniel Aisemberg at the helm, accompanied primarily by Malpais member Jaime Gamboa and the lovely Julia Ardon.
     Manuel Obregon refers to the project as an “orchestrated journey”. I hope it is just the start of a pleasant, successful one.
     For more information, visit their website at:  All comments concerning this article are welcome.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Armando and the Baula

Armando and the Baula

Armando is a young Tico boy who has lived his entire nine years with his family, just a stones-throw from Playa Real on the Pacific Ocean in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. He’s a smart kid with an active curiosity and Playa Real has continually offered him an abundance of different ways to explore and learn. Upon his request, Armando’s father allows him to spend the night alone on the beach on the evening of his ninth birthday because Armando wants to witness the phenomena of the Baula turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs. What transpires on that night has a huge impact on Armando: he does, indeed, see a Baula lay her eggs. In fact, the turtle introduces herself (Yes! She speaks!) as “Annabella”, or Bella for short, and has quite a story to tell the impressionable Armando.
     This story is the premise of “Armando and La Baula”, the new, self-published book by David Robert. The story line moves right along, guaranteeing to keep young readers’ interest. There are more than a few good lessons concerning ecology, honesty, the value of a promise along the way, making it well worth it for the parents to read along with their children. Or even to read it alone for their own good: there is information in the book about both the life cycle of the Baula turtle and some of the species-threatening problems they are currently experiencing of which I was not aware. The chapters have been separated by the wonderful watercolor illustrations of Ellie Cox, helping the young reader to visualize Armando and his surroundings through the various phases of his adventure. It is a story that succeeds on a few different levels at being worthy of any young reader’s collection. Along the way, there are wonderful geographic descriptions and folkloric stories, all playing a part in the story line. The plight of the Baula turtle and many other species of Costa Rican wildlife is not a new development. But teaching people at an early age about it seems like a positive step to help come up with a solution. And David Robert’s book certainly makes the message easily digestible for a new generation. In fact, the story points toward a few viable answers and alternatives, with the potential for the young reader to become his parents’ teacher.
     Armando and La Baula is available at Jaime Peligro bookstores in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos and Nuevo Arenal or can be ordered at:
     All commetns concerning this article are gladly welcomed. 

Friday, July 3, 2009

Planeta Sol

Planeta Sol

   There is a form of commercial Latin Rock that has evolved to a very predictable and very marketable format. This is eventually true for every style of popular music. The “safe” Latino Rock is identifiable in every country from Mexico to Argentina, and all those in between.  And as with other musical styles, there will always be musicians who refuse to conform. El Sol Caracol appears to be one of these nonconformists. There first release, Planeta Sol, is a refreshing collage of punta, ska and reggae (especially the bass and percussion), mixed with modern rock and Latin folk music. The result is a unique collage of sounds that seems to give tribute to the past while looking to the future at the same time.

   The twelve song CD was recorded at Tarantula Studios in San Pedro Sula, Hunduras, for the fledgling Costa Norte label. The quartet is made up of Rafa Castro, handling percussion, Jose’ Cerrato on lead guitar and Alfredo Poujol on a variety of keyboards. Jose Ines Guerrer is the singer, songwriter and bassist. On this CD, he also contributes some cello parts, acoustic guitar and piano. There are also some background vocals and trombone passages but Guerrer is obviously the driving force behind El Sol Caracol. The songs reflect a variety of musical influences, from the Carlos Santana-esque guitar work on a few of the songs, to drums at times reminiscent of the band Fabulosos Cadilax.

Max Urso, Founder Costa Norte Records
   The album kicks right off with Un Dia Volvera’ (One Day You Will Return)  with a strong reggae rhythm section. It is a very danceable tune, one that begs for radio airplay. And it definitely sets the pace for the entire disc. The second song, El Compa (The Companion) is another up-tempo song that even includes some slick rap. This song was filmed for a video, which is included in the disc. The third song, Milonga, is the first of only three ballads on the entire album. Gigante Tres Pies (The Giant With Three Feet) and  Una Flor de Domingo (A Sunday Flower) reflect he playfulness of this Honduran band, who, for forty-five minutes, present a package of pure energy. On Planeta Sol, their premier CD, El Sol Caracol performs like seasoned vets.

   The production of the CD  is complete with vivid artwork and a lyric booklet. A percentage of the proceeds are donated by the band to Christian Aid, a foundation to help needy children in Honduras. In Guanacaste, Planeta Sol is available excusively at Jaime Peligro in Tamarindo. All comments concerning this article are gladly welcomed.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Lounging with Putumayo

Lounging With Putumayo

   The Putumayo label, named for a river in Colombia, broke into the music scene some fifteen years ago, basically defining World Music and then catapulting it into global consciousness. Their packaging is easily recognizable, with eco-friendly jackets (sans conventional plastic jewel cases) and booklets that give comprehensive descriptions of each song and performer on the discs.
   As with any forerunner in a big business, there have been many music labels that have followed the Putumayo prototype in the ensuing years. To maintain its defining role, the label has now released a series of discs with a common musical theme. The latest of these offerings by Putumayo is their Lounge Series. In the Latin culture, there have been two impressive contributions,
   The Latin Lounge compilation CD sets the tone with “Reflejo de Luna” (Reflections of the Moon) by the band Alacran. The song blends traditional tango and flamenco with electronica, all complimented by the voice of Paola Fortini from Argentina. Next, Roberto Poveda from Cuba offers “Sueno Mama” (I Dream, Mama) an Afro-Cubano style, which is one of the roots of contemporary salsa, complete with muted trumpet. Other highlights on the disc include “Siempre Mi Quedara” (I Will Always Stay) by Bebe’, a young singer who’s star is definitely on the rise. Her sometimes crackling, understated voice sounds at times as if she is whispering through a megaphone. This effect, in tandem with the subtle percussive recordings, makes it one of the strongest, most memorable songs of this compilation. Another winner is “Mariposa en Havana” (Butterflies in Havana) by the Dominican Republic band Si*Se. The song sounds like a mix of old world Latin rhythms and Cuban sol with the contemporary backbeat of hip-hop. Jennie Oliver’s singing is perfect for this marriage of musical styles. It becomes evident that the Lounge style is made for a sultry, female bedroom voice. It works much better than the male singing on this disc.

   To support this theory, along comes Brazilian Lounge, the second disc in this series. The female vocalists on this disc, Paula Morelenbaum, Luca Mundaca, Bia Krieger and Katia B, Bebel Gilberto, Marcela Mangabeira and Marissa all seem to have been born to prove this point. And the Brazilian Portuguesa language, with its soft consonants, and this new lounge musical style seem to be sculpted for each other. Putumayo even appears to have noticed this symbiotic match with the plethora of female talent presented on this disc.
   Once again, Putumayo has set a new standard for the World Music world. The new series is hip and ethnic without sounding cliché. It should be interesting to see what follows, both from Putumayo and its clones. Putumayo’s Lounge Series CDs are available at Jaime Peligro, Tamarindo’s oldest book store, where they will gladly sample the CDs for customers.All comments concerning this article are welcome.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Latin Party

Party, Latin Style

     When it comes to parties, no one does it better than people of the Latin culture. Spirits are high and conversations are animated, but best of all, the food is always delectable and the music upbeat and very danceable. None of these factors has was lost on Putumayo Music when they released their new album, appropriately titled “Latin Party”, a compilation of twelve modern, up-tempo songs from a varied reach of Latin regions and influences. Latin people are very proud of their heritage and I think this CD demonstrates how new musicians pay homage to their musical Latino roots, while putting their own spin on it.
     The album kicks off with “Big Apple Boogaloo” by Brooklyn Funk Essentials, a band that got its start in the early Nineties as a studio jam band that evolved into a group doing world tours, with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie sitting in, which adds a lot to your credibility. Another artist from Spanish Harlem, Luis Mangual offers his song “Son de Nueva York” for this album. Luis is a legendary sideman from the Sixties, backing such names as Johnny Pacheco and Celia Cruz. He retired from performing in the late Eighties but returned to the studio in 2007 with his brother, Jose, to record the album “Abril en Paris”, which is where this song first appeared.  And the group Yerba Buena, also from NYC, perform “Electric Boogaloo”, from their 2005 album “President Alien”, recorded with Venezuelan producer Andre Lorin, who has also worked with David Byrne, Tina Turner and Marisa Tome, so you know he can put the funk right in your face.
     Cuban son is well represented here, with Raul Paz playing “Buena Suerte”. Paz, who has been living in Paris for the last decade and has played alongside Ruben Blades, really rips it up on this song.  Another Cubano band with a French connection is Mas Bajo. Also residing in France, the band is a cool mix of French, Cuban, Chilean and Mexican musicians who reflect their Afro-Latin ties. The band began playing cover tunes but has graduated to writing and performing their own material, including “Rico Montuno”, the song on this disc. Anything but conventional, Ska Cubano is obviously having a good time playing “Yri Yri Bon”. The band came into existence when London ska artist Natty Bo went to Havana to record. He inadvertently met Beny Billy, a former boxer, who quickly became the frontman for the new band Ska Cubano. The music is infectious and I see it as a standout on this album.
     No Latin party disc would be complete without Colombian cumbia showing up and it does so in spades on this album. Fruka y Orquesta has been at it since the early Seventies. On this compilation, he offers an updated version of “Cumbia Del Caribe” by fellow Colombiano Edmundo Arias. And the Quantic Soul Orchestra presents “Regi Bugaloo” an instrumental from their 2007 album Tropidelico, which was actually recorded in Panama City. From Bogotá, the thirteen-member band Orquesta Lo Nuestro does their number “Ni Tilingo Ni Titingo”, a moving cumbia number with a salsa twist. Also from Colombia, Coffee Makers, who have generated a reggae underground uprising in that country, play an instrumental ska reggae original, “Las Calles de Medellin”, from their 2005 debut, “El Camino”.
     Rounding out the Party are a song from Peruvian singer Cecilia Noël and The Wild Clams, doing what she calls, “hard core salsa” with the song “Asi Se Compone Un Son” and the Corpus Christi band Kombia Kings, with bassist A.B. Quintanilla, the sister of Selena, with their composition “Mi Gente”.
     Did I say a Latin Party wasn’t complete without good food? Well, at the end of the liner notes (in English, Spanish and French), there are recipes for scallop ceviche and Cleriquot, a white sangria. If I have a knock on the project, it would be that I’d like to hear more South American and, of course, more Central American contributions. Is this a set-up for Latin Party Dos?
     Latin Party is available at the Jaime Peligro bookstores in Tamarindo, Quepos and Nuevo Arenal, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers.All comments concerning thhis article are welcome.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Souvenir From Santos y Zurdo

Souvenir From Costa Rica

     Just one glance at the cover artwork for the new Santos & Zurdo CD, “Souvenir”, should be enough for anyone to understand that this is not an album of typical or traditional Costa Rican music. The front jacket depicts the body of a multicolored iguana adorned with an implanted quetzal’s head, a pimento-stuffed olive in its beak in a bizarre mesh of images. The music on the CD reveals why this duo is one of the Central American “it” acts of their generation. The CD presents ten of the musicians’ original selections of what the band has proclaimed to be “contemporary electronic world music (of) sitar grooves over electronic beats with sounds of the Costa Rican atmosphere”. Granted, that’s a mouthful, but the entirely instrumental music on this CD truly is hard to nail down with words. I definitely hear the Middle Eastern influence; hard to miss, with a sitar (played by Santos) as the main instrument. The programming (done by Zurdo) gives it a lounge-sound and the keyboards and guitar work, also by Santos, seem to fill the music out and give it a unique ambience that is neither Middle-Eastern nor Lounge music. I am also very impressed that the tabla, a drum from India, is used as the main percussion instrument on the album. 

     Santos and Zurdo have been busy lately. They recently completed their role as programmers on the new Editus CD, “Electronica 360”. Anytime a triple Grammy Award winning band asks for your help, you know you are doing something right. Santos & Zurdo also recently appeared on the new Monteverde Music Festival compilation CD, which is an excellent representation of the new generation of diverse Costa Rican musicians who are now coming into their own.
     The duo have recently taken a liking to Playa Tamarindo; they have been playing together for six years and it is easy to sense their familiarity with each other when they are performing live. Papaya Music has recently taken on a secondary role as distributors for local, independently produced albums. They were quick to recognize the talent (and marketability) of Santos & Zurdos’ premier disc and to add it to their stable, allowing more exposure for this young, up and coming act.
     If I have a knock on the “Souvenir” CD it would be in the packaging and aforementioned artwork. I am pretty sure I understand and appreciate the idea of the collage, but I also think the execution was amateurish and sadly lacking. I am surprised, in fact, that Papaya did not have them revamp the entire package. That being said, the studio work itself is very professional, recorded and well mixed at Synthbio Studios in San Jose. Along with Amigosintimos, Amarillo Cian y Magenta, and Bernal Villegas, Santos & Zurdo present an impressive new league of Costa Rican musicians.
     The Santos & Zurdo CD, “Souvenir”, and all Papaya Music CDs are available at Jaime Peligro Book Stores in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos and Tilaran, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers. All comments concerning this article are welcome.

Yazmn Ross & Luciano Capelli: Passion For The Caribbean

True Passion Shines Through
     Webster defines passion as "a strong liking or devotion to some activity, object or concept". But after reading "Passion for the Caribbean", Webster's definition seems a little tame. If you really want to witness an unbridled zeal for a place, its people and its culture, check out this book, a collaboration by Yazmin Ross and Luciano Capelli: it exudes passion.

     The book opens with a look at the "discovery" of the Americas by Cristofo Colombo, concentrating on his fourth expedition, which led him into the Caribbean and Costa Rica. But it journeys much farther than that, exploring the variety of legends and facts surrounding this explorer. The book then takes the next bold step into the plausability of previous explorers, including Africans and Egytians, who may have beaten Columbus to the punch by several centuries. From here, the transition to the ancient stories of the indigenous peoples here is a natural one, then continues to present-day events. The material is meticulously researched by Ross and the story is truly woven poetically like a tapestry to present a more clear and comprehensive, complete history of the cultural fabric that is the Caribbean.

     "Our goal," Yazmin told me, "was to complete a fragmented story", since there really doesn't exist an original, entire history of Costa Rica or any other Central American country, let alone the Caribbean coast, which is really its own entity, as this book beautifully depicts. More than anywhere else in the Americas, this area was a true melting pot, a convergence of people and their cultures. The churches, music, foods and fashions, languages and dialects all support this fact. And this is part of what makes the area enchanting and yes, passionate. And I think that it is the passion of the author and photographer that really make this book such a unique project. Luciano Capelli's photos are bold and distinct, with a great mixture of scenery, flora and fauna, and the people, the personality of the area. These, mixed with historic maps, emblems and photos make an excellent collage that works hand in hand with the text to create the complete impact of the book.

     Yazmin and Luciano first worked together on a bilingual documentary, "The Promised Ship", about the Black Star Line, the first cruise ship owned and operated exclusively by black people. Ultiimately, it was a four year project that also resulted in Yazmin's first novel, La Flota Negra. It also resulted in their marraige and you really can't get more passionate than that. The magnetism they both sensed in the Caribbean while making their documentary spawned their idea for this book, and they found themselves returning to San Juan del Norte and Old Greytown in Nicaragua, Tortuguero, Cahiuta, Limon and Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica and Bocas del Toro in Panama more than once for more photos and interviews. "When you ask the right questions, you find the right answers, the living story," explains Ross, whose interviewed many locals with nearly a century of stories each and are included in the book.

     A history of an entire half-millenium is captured here, from pirates to train moguls, explorers and missionaries, tropical fruit kings, and the story of immigration, which Yazmin sees as being key to the many-layered Caribbean history. "The Latin history is only one part of the story, one root of the history" she told me.

     And Passion for the Caribbean reveals the true depth of history as no other book has succeeded in doing.

     A real bonus comes at the end of the book: a CD entitled "La Pasion por el Calypso". It is a collection of thirteen songs by legendary calypsonians, a compilation that simply cannot be found anywhere else. The recording artists include the band New Revelation from Limon, whose members include Julio Medina and Herberth Glinton "Lenky", who was born in 1933 and is a self-taught musician. They deliver great renditions of  "Pompaper" and "Mama"; Charro Limonense, who gets his knickname from singing mariachi songs. His strong voice is legendary and he participated in famous festivals in Cancun with such singers as Ruben Blades and Willie Colon. An incredible version of "Black Man" on this disc, as well as "True Born Costa Rican"; Cahuita Calypso, a pioneer ensemble from Calypso and the first group to sing the calypso songs of the legendary Walter Ferguson outside that town. The band was integrated by Reinaldo Johnson, Alfonso Goldburn "Gianty" and Soraya, the only female calypsonian from Costa Rica. On this CD, they cover Ferguson's "Caroline" and their own version of "Fire"; Emilio Alvarez "Junny" checks in with his classics "Paquiria" and "La Confiancia". Junny claims to have "twenty-four children and more or less the same number of calypso songs"; Reynaldo Kenton "Shanty", born in 1938, sings his "Jamaica Farewell"; and finally, the master, Walter "Gavitt" Ferguson, Dr. Bombadee, closes the album with an early rendition of his classic "Cabin in the Water".

     The album is a discovered "lost" classic, unearthed largely due to Luciano Capelli, a music afeccianado, and Nano Fernandez, who was key in recording this album, the "Simbiosis" album with Manuel Obregon, "Babylon", the first Waler Ferguson CD, and instrumental in getting Obregon, Capelli and Ross together for what would ultimately result in Papaya Music. But that is another story of passion, for another column, another time.

     Signed copies of "Passion for the Caribbean" are available exclusively at Jaime Peligro Book Store in Playa Tamarindo, where the customers can also view the book and sample the music. All comments concerning this article are welcome.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Garifuna Soul

Garifuna Soul

     Throughout their four hundred year history, the Garifuna people have earned a reputation for their sense of pride in their unique community. Created in the early Seventeenth Century when the survivors of two sinking slave ships swam to the Belizean shore and began cohabitating with the indigenous Arawat tribe, the Garifuna became a culture unto itself, unlike any other. They were persistent in keeping outside influences at a distance, which helped maintain a close-knit society, complete with a unique language.
     Today, less than two thousand people in Central America speak Garifuna as a primary language and the numbers are diminishing. Garifuna music has become a wonderful vehicle to help preserve the culture on a whole and to put it on a world stage. A predominant voice in a new generation of its musicians has been Aurelio Martinez, whose project Garifuna Soul is a nice microcosm of the culture. The project is in continual flux, with a variety of talented people making contributions at different junctures in time. Martinez has released an album by the same name, which is also a reflection of the ever-changing project. Recorded for the storied Stonetree Records label out of Belize, Aurelio has utilized a number of musicians, including a few lead vocalists other than himself, to allow every participant to put their own signature on the work.
     Aurelio Martinez was born near La Ceiba, Honduras in Plaplaya, a small town that still has no electricity. By the age of six, he was playing percussion in front of live audiences. He built his own guitar at the age of eight and moved to La Ceiba at fourteen to study music. Traditionally, Garifuna music is played at social functions or contains lyrics that revolve around the citizens or events in a community. Garifuna Soul is a nice slice of that lifestyle. 

Aurelio on tour
     Drawing on his musical family and heritage as major influences, Martinez has endeavored to modernize the music, even including a little Spanish guitar that “seeps” into the mix. Using no less than twelve different musicians for this collection of traditional and original scores, Garifuna Soul strikes a nice balance. Prevalently featured on the disc is Rolando “Chiche Man” Sosa, playing guitar, bass, percussive instruments, saxophone and providing background vocals. Stonetree’s founder Ivan Duran contributes sideman work on a variety of guitars, including the Maya K’ekchi’ guitar.
     The album was recorded at Sandy Beach Resort in Hopkins Village in Belize and the comfortable surroundings permeate into the music. The lyrics are personal and touching, with topics ranging from a son sitting on a beach at sunset, awaiting the return of his father, to a town festival, and even death itself (“When I die, sing me my song/So that I may go, never to return for a verse/So this is how the sun sets”).
     Aurelio Martinez has a real sense of community. He is the first Garifuna to be elected to the Honduran congress and takes great pride in representing the indigenous people in that country who formerly had no voice in their government. His pride in his community is also apparent in his musical work.
     In Guanacaste, “Garifuna Soul” and all Stonetree CDs are available at Jaime Peligro in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos and Nuevo Arenal where they will gladly sample the music for their customers. All comments concernng this article are welcome.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Andy Palacio Watina

Andy Palacio & the Garifuna Collective

   The Garifuna have a legend about their genesis that claims that Pre-Colombian Western Afrikaners sailed to the Caribbean coast of Central America to coexist with the indigenous peoples there. Conventional history suggests that when two European slave ships sank near the Caribbean island of St. Vincent in 1635, the survivors swam to shore, where they cohabitated with the natives there, known as Arawaks. However it occurred,  the descendents of these people are now called Garifuna, as is their now-threatened culture and unique language, a mixture of Arawat, African and Spanish. One of the offspring of this lineage, Andy Palacio, is from the coastal Belize village of Barranco. In 1987 he moved to London to work, upon invitation, with the Cultural Partnership, Ltd., a community-based organization committed to the preservation and documentation of Belizean music. In 1991, Palacio recorded his first solo album, “Keimoun“, on Stonetree Records for the label’s producer and president, Ivan Duran. He also received the Best New Artist Award at the Caribbean Music Awards and later hosted a television music show in Belize. Since that time, Andy has visited Garifuna villages in Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala, tooling and broadening his musical scope.

   The result of this research has come to fruition with “Watina“, the first CD by Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective, on the Cumbancha label. The music on the disc is a distinctive blend of Caribbean, Latin and Afrikaner music, heavy on the backbeat. In an exclusive interview, Cumbancha founder Jacob Edgar explained to me that he had lived in Costa Rica in 1989 and 1990 while in college. He played trumpet with several local bands while in San Jose, including one with guitarist Edin Solis, who would go on to found three-time Grammy winner Editus. He also met Ivan Duran and “we hit it off. Later when I was at Putumayo, I was able to get some Stonetree tracks onto Putumayo discs. I had been made aware of Garifuna music in San Jose and recording this album is a perfect example of why I started the Cumbancha label.” So, the making of “Watina” has been something of a culmination for Jacob Edgar as well. He even played a conch shell on one of the songs for the CD!

   The new disc was recorded over a four month span by a multigenerational group of musicians, some who had worked with Andy on his first CD and others he had admired but never played with before this. The actual recording took place in a thatched-roof cabin by the sea in the village of Hopkins, Belize. The result is incredible. Traditionally, Garifuna songs reflect everyday occurrences, backed with distinctive drums, called “primero” and “segundo”. “Watina” is a celebration of living, tinged with a melancholy toward the everyday challenges of life and mixed with cries of hope and individualism. The music has an organic, wooden percussive sound to it, the ethereal harmonies ranging in and out of the spotlight. The very themes of the songs, such as the last three on the disc, “Aguyuha Niduhenu (My People Have Moved On)”, “Ayo Da (Goodbye My Dear)” and “Amunegu (In the Future)” indicate the temperament of the CD and the Garifuna culture as well.  As Andy Palacio says, “Music is the soundtrack that we live to”.
   As is the trademark of the Cumbancha label, the packaging of Watina is impeccable, including a book of lyrics printed in English and Garifuna. In Tamarindo, the Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective CD is available exclusively at Jaime Peligro, where they will gladly sample the disc for the customers.All comments concerning this article are welcome.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Manuel Obregon - Mangore


     In my Merriam Webster’s collegiate dictionary, “dedication” is defined as “the act of committing to a goal or way of life.” I find both options of this definition as an appropriate description for the musical career of Manuel Obregon. He is one of the three founders of Papaya Music, Costa Rica’s preeminent music label. A classically trained pianist, Obregon is the musician among the three partners. But I think he should also be referred to as a music historian or musicologist as well and this is where the “commitment to a goal and a way of life” comes into play.
     The accomplishments that Papaya Music has amassed in just seven short years speak for themselves. The company has done no less than an amazing job of preserving Central America’s diverse musical past while, at the same time, opening the doors of exposure for a new generation of talented and budding musicians from this area. As a result, Papaya Music has literally become the standard for other music labels to emulate.
Manuel Obregon
     In 1999, prior to embarking on this lifelong venture of passion, Manuel Obregon recorded an album entitled “Mangore”. Recorded in Germany and mastered in New Orleans, the disc is a compilation of scores written by the revered Paraguayan guitarist Augustin Mangore (1885 – 1944). A child prodigy, Mangore began performing in public at the age of thirteen and writing original compositions by the time he was nineteen. His main musical influences were classical, religious and the indigenous Guarani, of which he was a descendent. During the latter half of his career, in fact, Mangore’ insisted on performing only in Guarani costumes. The list of his admirers includes Maestro Andres Segovia, for whom Mangore performed a private concert, and John Williams, who has proclaimed Augustin as “the purest guitarist ever”. And, of course, Manuel Obregon.
Augustin Barrios Mangore
    Obregon transcribed the songs for his CD, written specifically for the guitar, so that he could give his renditions of them on piano. In that sense, it is similar to “Piano Malango”, Obregon’s most recent CD, which is a collection of songs that represent a history of Costa Rica through its songwriters. A key part of both these discs is Manuel Obregon giving his interpretation, his twist, to the original scores. Nearly a century has passed since Augustin Mangore created his own, personal style of music that was a poetic fusion of his influences. On this nearly one hour disc, Manuel Obregon has successfully channeled his interpretations, his unique variations on the theme, to create a new sound on the piano, different than Mangore’s original works. Included in the arrangements are the classic masterpiece “La Catedral”, the folkloric “Danza Paraguaya” and the challenging “Gran Tremelo”, where Obregon plays an unbridled interpretation.  A project of this magnitude could not be propelled without passion and dedication. Merriam Webster would be proud.
     Unfortunately, “Mangore” has been out of print for several years. A recently unearthed limited amount of copies are available at Jaime Peligro in Playa Tamarindo, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers. Any input concerning this article is welcome.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Micheal Sims: Paiinted Oxcart

The Painted Oxcart

     Since early in the Nineteenth Century, the oxcart has been a versatile vehicle of transportation as well as recreation in rural Costa Rica. It has been used to relocate entire families and literally every variety of goods this country has to offer. But it is the elaborate, varied and colorful artistic designs of these vehicles that distinguish them from oxcarts from any other Latin American society.

     In her new book, “The Painted Oxcart”, Michael Sims traces the history of the Costa Rican oxcart and how it came to be a tradition to decorate them so uniquely and elaborately. She alone is responsible for every bit of the extensive research it took to compile this book, taking all the photographs and writing all the text as well. Ms. Sims relocated to Costa Rica more than thirty years ago. She currently has her own line of jewelry, called Costa Rica Creatures, teaches a handicraft workshop in Tortuguero, an art workshop for at-risk kids in San Jose, and art classes at the European School in Heredia. Busy gal, Michael Sims.

     It was in the art class in Heredia in 2001 that she gave the students an assignment to design their own oxcart, bearing each child’s personal design. After visiting several Costa Rican book stores, Michael was surprised to discover how very little had been written on the subject of oxcarts. Ultimately, the kids used postcards as models for guides, and the idea for the book was hatched.  During her research, Michael discovered an entire cultural history revolving around these carts, including the expected photographs, of course, but an extensive history of poems and songs as well. The book opens with a history of the migration of the oxcart, following the industrious vehicle from its introduction in Argentina, then north through South America, into Panama and north through Central America, into Mexico and even California. At one time, there was such an intense use of the vehicle that it became enough of a thriving industry that taxes were levied on the boyeros, or oxcart drivers.

     The middle and bulkiest section of Ms. Sim’s book is devoted to the culture and legend of the oxcart. And it is in this section that the reader is able to view the romantic tie-in of the vehicle with Costa Rica’s history, eventually evolving into a symbol of the Costa Rican lifestyle. And it is in this “beefy” section that the most detailed, colorful and varied photos are displayed.

     The third and final section of “The Painted Oxcart” describes and documents the evolution of the oxcart, looks at the history of its assembly practices and has a very nice glossary of Spanish colloquialisms and slang based around the oxcart, in all its implications. Michael Sims has found her niche, and has chosen to share that passion with the public in a satisfying way.

     Signed copies of “The Painted Oxcart” are available at the Jaime Peligro book stores in Playa Tamarindo, Nuevo Arenal and Quepos.All comments concerning this article are gladly welcomed.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Romulo Castro Unveils his Heritage

Romulo Castro Unveils His Heritage

     Although he was born in Mexico, Romulo Castro’s parents are Panamanian and he was raised in Cuba. He “came home” to Panama in the late Seventies but his collage of musical tastes had already been firmly put into place, both in his ears and in his soul. That multi-cultural embrace comes across strongly in his album “Herencia”, which he recorded with his nine piece band, Tuira. The CD is a blend of bossa nova, samba, rock and Panamanian folkloric music, all with a pronounced Caribbean backbone. His band is comprised of guitars and bass, keyboards and horns and an array of indigenous percussion. If this sounds like a potpourri, it is, but it is also anything but garbled. “Herencia” is Castro’s fourth CD and the twelve selections arrive like individual entrees rather than a mixed stew.
     At times the music is reminiscent of the style of Guillermo Anderson from Honduras, and that is a good thing. Like Anderson, Romulo has a sweet voice that is complimented by the musical styles which he interweaves around it. The band members are an interesting cultural mix as well. Keyboardist and arranger Luis Thomas has worked with an array of artists from Ruben Blades to Air Supply. Percussionist Tony Martinez has also worked with Blades and with Sting. Kansas transplant Marco Linares plays guitar and adds background vocals, while Cuban transplant Wichy Lopez is a horn master, playing trumpet, flugelhorn, flute and sea conchas. A veteran of half a dozen Panama bands, Germain “Sparks” Dawson handles the heavy bass. Dino Nugent is the musical director and arranger. He is Panamanian, trained in Brazil, and adds keyboards on a few songs, too. Reynaldo Cruz and Guillermo Franco play a small army of percussion instruments. It’s an extensive entourage and each player brings their own flavor to the mix.
     Castro is meticulous in his work: his first album, “Amor a Medias” was released in 2001, his second, “Travesias” in 2003 and his third, “Palabra de Cantada” in 2006. He spent about two years in preproduction for “Herencia”, writing songs and assembling the band, scouting recording studios and labels, graphic artists and the like. A total of about forty persons were used in the entire production of the disc. Standout songs on the album include “Amor en el Tiempo de Colera”, an airy, Caribbean sound with a Gabriel Garcia Marquez title. Que romantico! I also like “Estoy en el Puertomarte Sin Hilda”, with its slick, swingy, big band sound, and “Otra Cancion de Amor”, a straight-ahead rocker...
     All the songs were written by Romulo. It was produced and recorded in Panama, mastered in Puerto Rico and distributed on Castro’s own independent label, Naranja Studios. The album has an impressive list of guest artists, no less than twelve horn players and eight percussionists, giving the final product an overall full sound. The disc is available at Jaime Peligro book store in Playa Tamarindo, where they will gladly play the music for their customers.All comments concerning this article are welcome.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bailongo! La Solucion

New Costa Rica Salsa CD

   Like much of modern Latin American culture, salsa music and dance originated literally hundreds of years ago on the islands that include Puerto Rica and Cuba. At the time, the region was called the Spanish Caribbean. But the term “salsa” is generally credited to Izzy Sanabria, a graphic artist who reportedly coined the phrase to identify the Latin music that was popular in New York in the Sixties. Sanabria designed album jackets for the popular Fania Records in New York City’s “Spanish Harlem”, founded by Jerry Masucci and Johnny Pacheco. It refers to a phrase the audiences would call out to the musicians during the montuno, the instrumental portion in the middle of a song, to “spice up” the established melodies, dance and rhythms of the time, such as la conga, cumbia, guaguanco and danzon, with a new, notable jazz influence.
       In Costa Rica, Orquesta La Solucion has been supplying the picante salsa rhythms of the nightclubs and ballrooms throughout the country. La Solucion was founded in 2001 by bandleader/songwriter Carlos Gutierrez Hine “Pitusa”, who comes from a musical family. His uncle, “Pibe” Hine, was a famed pianist who gained notoriety in the nightclub scene for being an accomplice on and offstage with the bolero playboy Ray Tico. And his father, Ronald Gutierrez Mayorga, performed for years with the popular Costa Rican musician Paco Navarrete, who is honored in a tribute on one of the recordings on this disc. When Carlos assembled La Solucion, he put together the twelve most talented musicians he could find. This included former members of Los Diamantes and Los Brillanticos, who shared his sympathies in music, with attention to a big, brassy horn section and a deep percussion ensemble.
   Carlos was born in Alajuela, Costa Rica, a city known for its musical history. He received his nickname, “Pitusa” (funny little kid) from the family doctor when he was five years old. And the name has stayed with him into his adult life. He started playing music at the age of sixteen and has written more than seventy songs. La Solucion has accompanied countless salsa legends, such as Celia Cruz, Cheo Feliciano, Tony Vega, Johnny Rivera and the Puerto Rican band El Gran Combo, also known as “The University of Salsa” because they are regarded as the quintessential salsa group throughout the world. This is a long, storied relationship, dating back to 1972 in Panama, when Carlos was introduced to El Gran Combo by his father and Paco Navarrete.
   During their career, La Solucion has released six albums, showcasing their talents in the Latin styles of cumbia and son, meringue and boleros, and of course, salsa. In 2006, the Congress of Salsa in Puerto Rico recognized the group for their high level of musical achievements. Now, Papaya Music has released Bailongo, a compilation disc spanning the history of this remarkable band. The songs were selected to portray the motto of La Solucion: “Emotion in every note”. It’s nice to see Costa Rica’s premiere salsa band receive the recognition it deserves.
   Bailongo is available at Jaime Peligro stores in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos and  Nuevo Arenal, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers. All comments concerning this article are welcome.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Musicians Collaborate With Natural Costa Rica Sounds

   The shelves of souvenir shops throughout the tourist towns in Costa Rica are littered with CDs boasting the “natural sounds” of this country. Nearly all of them are pretty boring, their biggest attribute being the cover art, designed for the impulse buy. In 1999, Manuel Obregon and Papaya Music changed all that with the release of Simbiosis, a recording of natural sounds from Monteverde with Obregon playing piano as a kind of accompaniment. There is also a spectacular DVD that was filmed at the same time, using the CD as a soundtrack.

   Now, more than ten years later, a new CD by the name of Nattiva has been released and distributed by Son de la Jungla. Like Simbiosis, it was also recorded at Monteverde. This time, the musical contribution comes from renowned percussionist Carlos Vargas and the equally notable pianist/flutist Walter Flores, who also mixed and mastered the album at Estudio Costasonic. And Fidel Gamboa makes a cameo appearance to offer his song, “Como Un Pajaro” (Like a Bird), a song made famous by his band, Malpais. Vargas, who plays with Gamboa in Malpais, as well in three-time Grammy winners Editus, is the driving force behind the musical arrangement on the CD. It is he who controls the pace and directions of the eleven different passages on the disc, totally nearly an hour of music.

Carlos Vargas in action
   But the album as whole belongs to Alexander Villegas and Patricia Maynard. Villegas is a naturalist who has dedicated his life to recording the natural sounds of the Costa Rican rainforests and his labor of love has been transcribed onto this disc with amazing clarity. Patricia Maynard is a producer who conceived the idea for the disc, then brought together all the individual components to create the impressive final package. Carlos Vargas even recognizes Maynard as the “matron and mother of the creation”. And Patricia Maynard herself has likened the fusion of passions of the artists involved as their “first child”, hence the name, Nattiva. While the recordings from Monteverde could probably stand on their own, I think it is the musical thrust that allows it to stand apart from other similar recordings. With the voices from no less than twenty types of toads and frogs, along with jaguars, leopards, a bevy of different birds, including the quetzal, several monkey species and a coyote or two, there is a broad spectrum of Costa Rican wildlife represented on the disc.

   The CD is included in a hardbound book, encased in a durable laminated cardboard sleeve. The pages of the book, mostly color photos by four top-notch Costa Rican photographers, are represented on high-gloss, heavy gauge paper. The photos are high dpi, very clean and clear. The entire package is all very first rate in production. I look forward to the birth of the future brothers and sisters of Nattiva.

     This CD is available at the Jaime Peligro bookstores in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos and Nuevo Arenal. It can also be purchased online anywhere in the world at: .
     All comments concerning this article are gladly welcomed.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

History of Latin America

The History of Latin America
     To write a palatable book that people will read about the history of the last five hundred years of Latin America in just four hundred pages, the author would need to deliver a concise and comprehensive summary, a broad overview, and keep it interesting. Marshall Eakin has done just that with “The History of Latin America – Collision of Cultures”. The book is presented in three parts, the first section concentrating on the history of this enormous expanse of land from the time Columbus landed, through the Nineteenth Century. There is a short review of pre-Colombian history; actually, the history of Latin America began with Columbus’ arrival –obviously, there was no Latin influence prior to that. The subtitle, “Collision of Cultures” refers to three distinctly different cultures, European, African, and Indigenous, being forced into a state of coexistence and merging, due to the rush for power, money, land and prestige created by the discovery of the “New World”. Eakin, a professor of history at Vanderbilt University, likens this collision being like “three powerful rivers converging to produce a roaring river, mixing these three peoples into a dazzling variety of combinations and producing something unique in world history”.
   The second section of the book addresses the construction of new countries, governments and peoples evolving through five centuries. It’s interesting to note the different names given to various locations throughout its modern history and that the term “Latin America” was not used to describe this culture until the mid-Nineteenth Century. The term is a reference to the areas in The Americas that were inhabited by Europeans who came from countries that spoke “Romance”, or Latin-based languages: Spain, France, Portugal and Italy. Part two also examines the various revolutions against European monarchies and religions during this time.
    The third section analyses the areas different economic developments and political exchanges, in a kind of search for identity in a land of unity and diversity. I thought Eakin presented the unique cultural developments here, the arts, architecture, etc., in a revealing manner, with a focus on the search for an identity as a main theme. And Eakin is bold enough not to hold back when he refers to this large global area as “a rich land full of poor people” or in noting the definitive line between European descendents, who maintain the huge bulk of power and wealth, and the indigenous peoples, the plurality of whom are the bleakly impoverished. He also reports on economic and political movements in the Twentieth and the blossoming Twenty-First Centuries whose goals are to help equalize this situation.
     With references from more than one hundred fifty different authors, Marshall Eakin’s credibility stands tall. He delivers a straightforward, interesting and concise book that really does historically explain the events that have transpired in Latin America since its inception through more than half a millennia. Eakin was also thoughtful enough to include a nice calendar of events in his appendix, a very useful reference guide. The book is an excellent launching pad, a good first step for those interested in the history of Latin America. All comments concerning this article are gladly welcomed.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Piano Malango

       Piano Malango
               Pianist Navigates a Tributary of the Infinite River

      Manuel Obregon is at it again. I honestly don’t know when the man has time to sleep. A classically trained pianist, Obregon founded Papaya Music in 2003 with the writer Yazmin Ross and her husband, photographer/filmmaker Luciano Capelli. In the ensuing years, Sr. Obregon has released “Simbiosis”, an album of the natural sounds at the preserve in Monteverde with his piano accompaniment, three CDs with his group Malpais, two with his Orquestra de Papaya project, one with the Calypso Legends and another with Costa Rican gospel choruses called “Wade in the Water”. By my count, he has also appeared on at least four other Papaya recordings, giving him participation in a total of twelve albums in just five years. And that doesn’t include touring with these groups or his other involvements, such as Om, Cuarteto Esporadico, La Isla de Pasion and El Rio Infinito, to name a few.
     Manuel’s newest CD, “Piano Malango” is a nearly seventy-five minute instrumental odyssey that peruses Obregon and Costa Rica’s musical histories, not unlike a small boat meandering along a peaceful river, an image used repeatedly in the album’s artwork. The malango is an indigenous, edible tuber that grows along the eastern shores of the Central America. The actual word comes from western Africa and I think it is a nice analogy for a project that pays tribute to Costa Rica’s multicultural roots. The CD was recorded live in San Jose’s Teatro Nacional last October by Sr. Obregon and a group of his musical mates, including four members of Malpais. But it would be a mistake to consider this a Malpais project commandeered by the pianist.

The creative Manuel Obregon
     The spectrum of musical influences is broad-sweeping, from calypso, bolero and Guanacaste folkloric to a traditional bullfight song and Yeguita, one of the very few pre-Colombian musical styles to survive to the present date. The comfort level among these musicians is apparent as they play off each other and improvise their way along the musical sojourn. These guys obviously enjoy playing together. The potpourri of musical instruments used in this endeavor also demonstrates a passion for the provocative that these musicians spur in each other. While most of these songs were written for guitar, marimba and percussion, Manuel Obregon has transcribed them to piano, much as he did in his pre-Papaya days with the work of the Peruvian guitarist Mangore. The other musicians have followed suit with their own interpretations with instruments as varied as saxophone and flute, double bass and accordion, ocean drums and a variety of other percussive instruments, along with a curious collection of children’s toys, for the more whimsical passages.
     The music is based in traditional song but has been updated by the musicians’ interpretations. This has been a continual theme of Papaya since its inception: a tribute and preservation of historical music melded into a modern mold. The result is a unique sound seeped in tradition with the signature of these talented musicians.
     In Playa Tamarindo, Quepos and Tilaran, Piano Malango and all Papaya CDs are available at Jaime Peligro, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers.