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.