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.