Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Terry and His Bottle Tree

      Terry McLaughlin is full of surprises. He lived in Tamarindo for some time with his wife, Lynn and entertained all over Guanacaste with his harmonica expertise. During that time, he released his CD, “El Gato”, a collection of classic songs, interpreted by Terry with his own, unique style. It’s a kind of a tribute album, which received great acclaim locally.
        After touring The States, performing in such cool venues as the Napa Opera House and Yoshi’s in San Francisco, Terry and Lynn are back in Costa Rica, landing in Grecia, for the time being. He returned with his second CD, “Bottle Tree”, a collection of six original songs, all penned by Terry, with the help of his long-time friend, Lorian Hemingway, who wrote the lyrics for the final cut, “Hymn for the Ninth Ward”. Lorian is Ernest Hemingway’s granddaughter and a successful writer on her own, with the highly acclaimed novels “Walk on Water” and “Walking into the River”. I warned you: this guy is full of surprises. Terry sings all the lead and back-up vocals on the recording, in addition to providing keyboards, bass guitar and, of course, the slick harmonica work. So, yes, this is Terry’s album, his labor of love. All guitar tracks are provided by long-time friend Flip Shoemaker, a jazz guitarist with his own impressive credentials, including work with Bernadette Peters, Mel Torme, Liza Minnelli, Ramsey Lewis, Roy Hanes, Nat Adderly and his contributions on “Renaissance”, the Grammy nominated album by Rene Croan.
       My first impression of the project is how melodic it sounds, how well sculpted. Put that in his repertoire, too: Terry McLaughlin, sculptor. It’s a very soulful album, reminiscent of Boz Scaggs in the Nineties, when he recorded such classics as “Some Change”. The album opens with “Wish You Were Here”, a romantic, nostalgic number and a nice introduction to The Blue-Eyed Soul of Terry McLaughlin. “Darlene”, the second song on the CD is up-tempo, a bit tongue in cheek, with great vocals and harp and full of infectious hooks. The third song, “Trouble’s No Stranger” is another richly-layered tune, highlighting Terry’s sweet vocals and songwriting mastery. “More Work 4 Less Money” is self-explanatory, an historic opus looking back on the life of a hard-working musician, again with soulful vocals that inspire. “Rivers Run” moves along like a gentle stream, with a strong bass line and memorable, crafted lyrics. The final cut, “Hymn for the 9th Ward”, displays the crisp harp work of McLaughlin, a song that deserves to be listened to and listened to again. I’m still listening, and I think this holds true of Terry’s entire “Bottle Tree”.
     El Gato told me he got the idea for the title from a Eudora Welty novel, in reference to a tradition brought to America by slaves from Mother Africa. Stripped-down branches from trees outside their domiciles are used to house inverted bottles, placed there to capture spirits to prevent them from entering the house. Terry has captured his own spirits (or some of them) on this wonderful recording. I look forward to him visiting Tamarindo again performing for us. In the meanwhile, copies of “El Gato” are available at Jaime Peligro book store, as will be “Bottle Tree” when it is released.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Bad Girl - Mario Vargas Llosa

Once a Bad Girl,
Always a Bad Girl

     Mario Vargas Llosa is known for weaving stories like threads into an ultimate, seamless tapestry that far exceeds its individual components. He is also an enigma in that he gained acclaim as a writer while in his birthplace of Peru, became involved in politics there, grew disenchanted and then renounced his Peruvian citizenship. He moved to Spain. But he continues to write about Peru.
     I’ve just finished reading his novel, “Bad Girl”, a novel where Llosa unequivocally answers the age-old question, “Which is the weaker sex?” Meet Ricardo Somocurcio, a 1950s Peruvian teenager living in Lima. He falls pathetically in love with “Lily”, who’s just arrived from Chile, with her exotic manner and colloquialisms. She allows Ricardo to hold her hand and no more, calling him “the good boy”. When her Chilean history is exposed as false, she vanishes.
Ricardo becomes a translator to fulfill his dream of living in Paris, which he does, though he never forgets Lily. And then, there she is again, in the City of Lights, this time calling herself “Comrade Arlette”, an activist on her way to Cuba. She allows a remote relationship to begin between them, one where she dictates the time and place to meet as well as every physical action between them, which generally focuses on pleasuring her exactly as she mandates it to occur, all the while referring to Ricardo as her “pissant”. And then, she is suddenly off again, this time to fight for The Cause.
     And so she continues to disappear and reappear throughout this poor dog’s life, tugging on his leash the entire time. Whether she is Madame Arnoux, wife of a UNESCO official, or Kuriko, mistress of a sinister Japanese businessman, she is constantly reinventing herself with a smokescreen of lies, designed specifically for her own gains. She snaps her fingers and he comes running, even if it is half-way around the globe, to repeat “that sentimental crap” that amuses her so. Although their sexual forays revolve around what pleases her, she somehow remains detached the entire time, paying little or no attention to his desires. More than not having a conscience, she is truthful and proud of pursuing goals that exclusively revolve around her gains, be they physical, financial, or an elevation in her social status.
     As with all of Llosa’s novels, we receive an historical backdrop, ranging from Paris and London in the Sixties, Tokyo in the Eighties and Spain in the Nineties. Because Ricardo stays in touch with his uncle in Lima, the author is also allowed to expound on the cultural and political climate and changes in his “former” country throughout nearly half a century.
     Just as Everyman is a morality play that attempts to define human nature, Llosa seems to be writing his version of Everywoman, with a clear message of who he thinks is really the stronger sex. Randle McMurphy explained it best in “One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest” when he told the ward psychiatrist, “You know how it is, Doc. When they put that thing in your face, ain’t a man alive who will turn it down”.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sones de Tierra Caliente

Historical Album by Guadalupe Urbina

     Born the youngest of ten children in Sardinal, Guanacaste, Guadalupe Urbina demonstrated her interest in folkloric music at a very early age. She sings with passion, veracity, capriciousness and has an incredible range with her voice. She credits her mother as being her mentor and biggest fan as well. Ms. Urbina received her deserved recognition in 1987, when she was invited to participate in the Latin American Music Festival in The Netherlands. From that performance, she was asked to perform at the 1988 Amnesty International Festival in San Jose, along with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Tracy Chapman, Sting and Peter Gabriel.
     Guadalupe has recently released “Sones de Tierra Caliente”, a compilation of sixteen regional songs that have been passed from countless generation to generation. The songs are a mix of lullabies, fiesta songs, romantic songs, children’s songs and street songs, all stemming from the Costa Rica province of Guanacaste. They are so entrenched in time that the songwriters are unknown. She has travelled to an assortment of small villas to gather these songs, traveling west from Sardinal to Artola, Portegolpe and Brasilito, and then south to Santa Barbara, Talolingo, Nambi and Diria. Some of the songs are humorous and some romantic; some are both. Guadalupe credits each person who “donated” the various songs and they are each given the opportunity to introduce their contribution prior to the beginning of the song. Each song is described in its historical detail in an accompanying booklet, the lyrics are printed and the music transcribed. It is really an amazing accomplishment, a true labor of love by Ms. Urbina and all involved, including Luis Porras and Fidel Gamboa who helped score the songs.

     The album opens with “El Pilon” and “La Zopilota” two songs about working under the hot sun in the finca, songs recanted by generations of workers in the fields and farmlands. “En Coche Va Una Nina” is nursery rhyme, as are “El Garrobo” and “Chinto Pinto”, sung with a cadence, to accompany hand games or skipping rope, and “Cancion de Cuna” is a lullaby. The remainder are songs of love and humor; sometimes both themes are combined. One of my favorites is “La Viuda Alegre”, sung as a traditional waltz.
     Guadalupe gathered an impressive group of musicians to record this compilation. The versatile Ricardo Fonseca played guitar, bass, saxophone, marimba and mandolin and helped arrange the album. Warren Alani supplied nice piano accompaniment. Isaac Morero played various forms of percussion, while Veronica Zumbado played violin, Ivan Chinchilla the trombone and Carlos Valverde the tuba. The musical accompaniment rounds the songs out, makes them more palatable and credible as an historic part of Guanacaste culture. The wonderful, lush painting and graphics are by Mary Anne Ellis.
     Truly, Guadalupe Uribe shines on this project; it is her baby. Her voice is expressive, dimensional. Her work here is obviously a labor of love and she is to be commended and thanked for her hard work. The CD is available at the Jaime Peligro book store in Playa Tamarindo.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

South of Normal

South of

     Norm Schriever used to live in Tamarindo. A couple of times, actually. I met him when he was here for a year, writing a traveler’s memoir, titled “Push-ups in the Prayer Room”, a collection of stories Norm had woven together about his travels around the world a decade earlier. It was also about a young man looking for a humanistic mission in life. I liked it, even gave it a favorable review in The Howler. The book has been put Norm on the map as a credible writer. It also had something of a cathartic effect on him, allowed him to leave something behind as a legacy, positive proof of his existence.
     I know because I’ve just finished reading “South of Normal: My Year in Paradise”, Norm’s chronicle of living in Tamarindo for a year, with the three goals of composing his first book, getting physically and mentally healthy again and finding happiness. He was smart to keep notes during his stay here: “South” proves he is an accredited writer, not a one trick pony. I regard it as a handy guide for anyone wanting to pull up stakes, relocate and navigate in a new culture. Specifically, it’s a wonderful inside glimpse of life here in Tamarindo, complete with all our quirky customs and personalities. For this reason, it’s earned a place in my heart. But “South of Normal” also picks up where “Push-ups” left off, finding our writer at a crossroads in his life. He’s out of shape and completely dissatisfied in The States – the Rat Race was taking its toll. So he does what so many dream about but so few follow through on: he pulls the plug and free-falls into Central America, following his heart, not his brain, and writing his book, the one he had been postponing for ten years.
     In the introduction, Schriever explains that he is a traveler. He is also an objective camera, but with compassion and a sense of humor. The opening of “South” is jarring. The writer has just returned to Costa Rica and heads to a prison outside Liberia to visit a gringo friend who is there for growing marihuana. It’s not pretty, but Norm is able to blend humor even into this bleak scenario. Throughout the book, Norm returns to visit his incarcerated friend and repeat his mantra about getting back into shape and making a mark in the world. It’s no surprise that he discovers a connection between his physical and mental states of depletion, as the two mend symbiotically.
     And as Norm pursues his “metaphysical journey to consciousness”, it becomes apparent that in “South of Normal”, there is a sense of completion for the writer that began in “Push-ups”. He also has a blast with his sardonic wit, depicting life in a culture where logic often takes a back seat. His portrayals of local personalities are spot-on and hilarious, touching and human at the same time. There are many poignant interactions for Norm in this book, both with other people and by himself.
    Norm spent a year in San Juan del Sur and The States writing “South of Normal”. So, what’s next for this established writer?  He told me he wants to find a little hut on some obscure beach in Southeast Asia and write a “small” book, perhaps about the plight of children in the Third World. There he goes, leaving his legacy again. I know he left one in Tamarindo. I hope he finds his hut.
     You can find both of Norm’s books at his website: www.NormSchriever.com

Monday, June 10, 2013

Green Phoenix

The Noble Act of

     The province of Guanacaste in Costa Rica has the distinction of containing most of the remaining Tropical Dry Forest in all the Americas. Technically, a dry forest receives less rainfall than a wet forest, and typically has a dry season that spans about eight months, as anyone who lives here can attest. Although it is rich in biodiversity, it remained largely unnoticed as it shrank in size. Its use as pasture land expedited its decay and ironically, when the cattle were removed, the decay escalated as the jaragua grass that had been planted to feed the cattle overran local fauna and became fuel for dry season fires, which further diminished the forest. Enter Daniel Janzen, an American entomologist working in the area who realized the magnitude of rich life here and the futility of trying to discover and study it if it would become only a memory in a few short years. This is where the book “Green Phoenix” by William Allen begins. A team of Costa Rican and American scientists and volunteers soon ventured out of the classroom and into the political, ecological and social world arenas to not only preserve the quickly vanishing forest but to boldly propose to regrow the forest, to connect the tiny islands into a corridor resembling its original status. The notion was initially considered outlandish, but the determination and passion of those involved pressed the idea ahead, against seemingly insurmountable odds.
     Allen does a good job of portraying the main characters and their character flaws in this book, as well as how all the participants are able to put aside their egos for the cause. The project is a group effort but to succeed, they needed a spokesperson to pitch the cause. The result was that “The Janzen Story” (part Crocodile Dundee, Part “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, part “Nutty Professor”) started to overshadow the story of the project to everyone’s dismay, especially Janzen, who came to distrust most reporters.
      Allen also includes some incredible detail about the delicate and intricate balance between the entire eco-structure, how plants, trees, birds, mammals and insects are interdependent on one another. A breakthrough revelation was the discovery that this same interdependency occurs between the rain forest and the dry forest through migratory mammals, birds and even insects. He also does a wonderful story detailing the work of many others involved, including the huge help Arias provided almost immediately after becoming the president of Costa Rica.
     The project is a model success story, one that will finally succeed in reclaiming the forest to its pristine form, “in about one hundred to one thousand years,” in the words of Daniel Janzen. Throughout their endeavors, the team is confronted with hurdles, from poachers, gold miners, squatters and even hostile land owners near the park. But they persevered, and along the way they learned to be creative. The final result can be viewed in about three centuries, but until then, Costa Ricans can be very proud about what they have preserved and returned to Nature for future generations.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Radha Torches Tamarindo

Radha Torches Tamarindo

     Originally from Panama, Radha Kunja began her musical career at the age of twelve and has performed in Cuba, Nicaragua, Argentina, Peru, Mexico and The U.S. She has been singing in Tamarindo since last February, steadily building a following here. She has been wowing them at Le Beach Club with her “Retro Latin Cabaret music”, as she calls it. Radha confesses to having a nostalgic side, that she has visceral, spiritual experience while singing these songs; this is apparent to the astute observer. Radha embraces her role as diva and definitely lets her singing take her away. The audience is permitted to go along with her, if they allow themselves to. Her rendition of “Summertime”, for example, is haunting, strong and ethereal at the same time.
Radha performing with Jesse Bishop
Guitarist Jesse Bishop told me that his sets with Radha “range from ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ to ‘Roxanne’”. When I saw them perform, they also covered “Fly Me to the Moon”, the Patsy Cline song “I Fall to Pieces”, a gripping rendition of “Quizas, Quizas” that received a wonderful response, the classic “Makin’ Whoopee” and a heartfelt rendition of “Me Voy Pal Pueblo”, a song that had an early influence on Ms. Kunja. Between sets, I strolled onto the beach with Jesse and Radha to hear them practice an upcoming song, truly an intimate experience.
     Christian and Heidi, the owners and producers of Le Beach Club, should be commended for offering these early performances (7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Tues. & Thurs., 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday), with no cover charge, as a form of diverse cultural entertainment in Tamarindo. They, too have a passion for art and the community.
     On Tuesdays, Jesse performs with bassist David Herzovich and Brad Schmidt on sax; Jesse, David and Radha play on Thursdays, and Radha performs solo on Fridays, a completely different format than the prior night, with Ms Kunja singing to music recorded by musicians in Cuba, Peru and Argentina with arrangements specifically for Radha. These songs are all Latin: valses criollo from Peru, boleros from Buenos Aires and tangos from Cuba. During an intermission, she explained a bit about the songs: “Que Te Pedi’”, a Cuban ballad, “Piensa en Mi”, from Mexico. She feels these songs and their musical styles are being lost in time. She wants to keep them alive, so is performing and now recording them with the help of Nano Fernandez in his studio in Santa Ana. The disc will include “Me Quiero Morir”, a bolero by Costa Rican Ray Tico.

     All the compositions sung by Radha have strong lyrics. They are nostalgic songs, more passionate than romantic. Radha steps onto the stage prepared: black gloves that extend above here elbows, black dress with spaghetti straps, black high heels and nylons. When she begins, it is startling to hear a voice so strong emanate from such a petite body. She has control of her voice, the mike, her stage presence. The music takes her away. Her entire body becomes the song, something that needs to be witnessed to be appreciated. A passion for music is not something one can pretend. Radha has the passion and the talent as well.
     Radha performs at the Beach Club in Playa Portrero and at Soda Mediterranea in Playa del Coco. Radha, Jesse and David also perform at the Exclusive Resorts next to the Four Seasons in the Papagayo Peninsula.

Diana Renee: Tell Me About the Telarana

Tell Me About the Telarana
Diana Renee: A Poet in Our Midst

     Diana Renee is an anomaly. She is currently living in the state of Washington, “near the North Pole,” she told me in jest. But she was born in Pennsylvania and traveled cross country with her family to live in Montana for a year. In 1995, she moved to Costa Rica where she lived for five years in Guaitil, near Santa Cruz and for another ten years in Playa Tamarindo. She returned to The States but still visits here in her body sleeps, she confided, and her soul has free time to visit the garden at the house here where she used to call home.
     Diana is an accomplished journalist who wrote wonderful articles for The Howler, which were also spot-on in their accuracy. But she has been writing poetry since the age of ten when she was so taken by the Rocky Mountains during her aforementioned family excursion that she simply had to describe it and voila! her first poem was born. Now Ms. Rene has decided to publish some of the poetry she created during her fifteen years in Guanacaste. The book is titled, “Tell Me About the Telerana (media vida de poemas)”.
     The poetry is flowing and flawless, autobiographical and rooted in nature. A lot can happen in a person’s life in fifteen years and Diana depicts and expresses her half-life here in all its naked beauty, with the wonder of life and abundance of Nature here as both a backdrop and canvas for her art. The writing can be sparse yet rich, abundant with life without overflowing. Some of the poems were written in English, some in Spanish. Some are presented in this single version while others have been translated, presented side-by-side versions in the book. Still other poems are written in “Spanglish” which, the authoress confessed, is her favorite format for her poetry. Some of the poems are published only in the language in which they were written, because Diana felt the translation would not do the original poem justice. The book is divided into nine sections, the titles as bilingual as the poetry itself: Cielo, sun, stars, viento; Peces/Fish, aves and other creatures; Tress, tierra, grass; Night/la noche; Dientes, bones; Gritos/Shouts, cries; Belly, heart/corazon; Rain, tormenta, river, mar; Mountains, stillness, esperar. We watch Diana become the life around her, or do the mountains and trees become her? Diana may visit us in her sleep but a big part of her heart will always be here, as she demonstrates to us in her poetry. I particularly like “boat poem”, where we discover from the poet:

I prefer the tickle of fish
to the safety of sand

And “Biking Home at Night”, where the poetess explains:

I make my swooping left turn
while watching the stars
and dodging potholes I haven’t noticed
in years.

     I can relate exactly to what she is telling me, but I could never explain it in those terms. She is concise and prolific, spare and voluptuous in her use of language, which is why poets are venerated.
     “Tell Me About the Telerana” is available at the Jaime Peligro bookstores in Playa Tamarindo and Quepos.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

New Guanacaste Rutas de Viajes

New, Improved Guanacaste Travel Routes

     In 2008, Luciano Capelli and Yazmin Ross released their joint effort: “Guanacaste: Rutas de Viaje – Travel Routes”, a photographic and written journal of this unique Costa Rican province. It has been one of the most popular books in Costa Rica for the last five years. Have I really been admiring this book for half a decade? The original project took nearly three years to assemble. Luciano told me he had to decide which photos would appear in the book among the five thousand that he took. So it really is no surprise that he wanted to present a new version of the book. The 2013 edition contains one hundred thirty-five new photos. Beginning with the first two photographs in the book, the images are stunning. The patience needed for this kind of selection speaks for itself. It is not every day that a photographer can catch a school of manta rays leaping out of the water, as if on cue… He also confided that he used a very high-resolution printing process, along with augmenting his own photos with about fifty others by Pablo Cambornero and Simone Manzo in addition to the underwater photos of Diego Mejia. Luciano also employed Guido Scheidt and Frank Nierhoff of the Flying Crocodile, with their gyrocopters that we can see flying over our heads at times, in Tamarindo and Samara.
     Just as it was difficult to edit the photo selections down to the original version, it must have been equally hard to choose the new ones for this new edition. But when I opened the cover for the first time, I was amazed at the new shots. It is easy to see why Capelli wanted to put out this new version. I am sure these new photos have been “calling” to him for their deserved exposure for some time. Luciano also expanded the book to include the entire Nicoya Peninsula, including Montezuma and the beautiful beaches of Malpais, where the road ends and the legendary band got its name. 

     The entire book has been revised: some of the original photos have been moved on the page and sometimes even to other locations in the new book and Ms Ross’ printed words (in Spanish and English) have been reconfigured on the page. It is still a book of seven chapters: the introductory “Routes to Get Lost In”, followed by Marine, Volcano and Pre-Colombian Routes, then Routes of Tradition, and finally Ranch, Nature and Summertime Routes. There are new photos as the cover page for each section, kind of a new introduction to each chapter. Even the breath-taking cover photo of Witches Rock is new, a kind of variation of the original, with its panoramic, overhead view of the beach and island.
     Deciding which version I like better is like asking me to choosing between apples and oranges. And asking me which is my favorite new photo is like asking me which is my favorite day of the week; Monday: the rainbow road starting “Camino de Luz”; Tuesday: the bridge at Playa Conchal; Wednesday: the sunrise shot of an ash-spewing Volcan Arenal; Thursday: the jaguar at dusk; Friday: the hidden spot on the Tempisque; Saturday: the shadow-play in the Colorado lowlands; Sunday: the yellow full moon hanging over the Pacific Ocean at dawn. I do recognize that the new edition is a pristine version, one worth owning, but I also think the two editions would look nice side by side on any coffee table. The new “Guanacaste: Rutas de Viaje – Travel Routes” is available at the Jaime Peligro bookstores in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos and Nuevo Arenal.

Pura Vida, Detroit Style

Pura Vida, Detroit Style

     Cops grow a tough shell. They have to, I am told, or they’ll never make it. The violence, injustice and dark underside of the human condition that they witness on a regular basis hardens them. Everyone is a suspect. They eat hoagie sandwiches while cracking jokes together at gruesome murder scenes. Take, for example, Detroit homicide detective Jacob Miller: he’s been on the job for thirteen years, seen it all, hell, even his dad was a cop, even if they aren’t speaking to each other any more.
     Jacob Miller is also the main character of “Pura Vida”, the first novel by Jim Utsler, who has been coming to the Tamarindo area for a dozen years, each year trying to stay a bit longer. But back to detective Miller who, along with Albert, his work partner of five years, decide finally that enough is enough in regard to a drug dealer by the name of Willy, who has taken “scumbag” to a new level with some of his unspeakable practices. So the two cops decide to teach him a little lesson and abscond with some of his money in the process. Their real problem starts when Albert shoots and kills Willy. They do a poor job of covering it up and eventually get thumbed. Miller decides to rat his partner out for in exchange for a short term at a minimum security federal pen. During his five year stint, he meets some higher-end crooks and finds a way to skim a fellow inmate who has illegally hidden a lot of money in off-shore accounts.
     When he is released, Miller knows he can’t stay anywhere near Detroit, so he grabs some of his money and makes his way to the Pacific coastline of Costa Rica, moving into a little town that looks a lot like Tamarindo and Langosta. Utsler’s portrayal of some of the atypical ex-pat characters here is a hoot, something, I believe, he enjoyed lampooning. But wait! One of the affluent gringas turns up dead, brutally murdered. And Miller cannot resist re-donning his detective’s cap and solving the crime. This actually lands him in a tureen of trouble as his good gesture receives international press coverage, and the guy he burned in The Pen hears about it.
     Utsler told me he wanted to write a novel about revenge and he certainly has accomplished that. I think he did a splendid job of portraying Miller’s detached character and I particularly liked the language used for the main character’s inner reflections at the beginning of some of the chapters. And there is also a bit of romance, which may be part of the subject matter for Utsler’s second novel, which he is currently writing. Jim assured me that it will be “driven by the same search for some sort of passive-aggressive salvation as in ‘Pura Vida’”. I will definitely read it.
     “Pura Vida” is available at Jaime Peligro book store in Playa Tamarindo.

La Opera Andina

     Inspiration comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, in a plethora of locations, at any given time of the day; Jerry Garcia once said it happens “in the strangest of places, if you look at it right”. For Bolivian musician Cristobal Colon, it came as he gazed upon a waterfall deep in the Bolivian jungle. A longtime fan of Jimi Hendrix, he felt a vision, the apparition, the voice of Hendrix telling him that it was time to stop thinking and start creating the opera he had been mentally formulating for some time. In the liner notes, Colon also explains that the Andean Opera “was inspired by the beautiful nature in those too few areas that have not endured the ‘Progress’ of mankind”.
     The eight-part opera was composed by Colon and Miguel Angel Lima, who contributes percussion as well as the quema flute playing. Colon supplies vocals, guitar, charango, bass and percussion. The female vocals by Cristina Baden add a dimension that I think helps round out the entire sound. The music has an obvious influence from indigenous Andean music, but certainly a sound and flow all its own. And I know I heard a direct influence from the Jimi Hendrix song “Red House”.
     The opera opens, appropriately, with “El Naciamento” (Birth), a song about the unique physical and emotional connection between mother and child. The opus moves through the phases of “Growth”, based on the Bolivian rhythm called “tinku”, a song basically about youthful rebellion in the face of all he has learned and been born into. “Separation” is a passage devoted on the time in a man’s life when he considers himself completely independent. The music is a fusion of modern Andean Rock and Afro-Blues music, at a tempo that invites dancing. The fourth entry, “Loneliness”, also based in the Bolivian “tinku” rhythm, pulls away the analogy of child and mother to proclaim the opera one about mankind and his Mother Earth.  “Destruction” is a mix of spoken and sung lyrics that deal with the negative footprint humans have stamped into their home, their planet. Inspiration was the first entry written for this opera. Appropriately titled, it reflects a ray of hope on a new shining sun.  “Solution” offers a positive slant, reminding people not to play the “blame game” but to move together to find ways to repair our global home. Finally, “Animals”, which is based on the song of the “chulupia”, a bird native to Bolivia, perhaps a reminder of the joys that still exist on this planet.
     The music has wonderful rhythmic changes, recorded with pristine deftness by Yuval Zekharya in “Mezcal Ladyland Studios”, another obvious Hendrix reference. The entire CD spans seventy-seven minutes, including two bonus tracks and I found the booklet enclosed very helpful for me to follow the story wrapped inside the opera. I’m sure that somewhere, Jimi is smiling down at this accomplishment.  
      The entire project was financed and supported by Ginger’s Paradise, nestled in the jungle of Bolivia. They have a cool site at www.gingersparadise.com . The CD is available at the Jaime Peligro bookstores in Quepos and Playa Tamarindo, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Nadine Pisani and her Happier Sequel

     The story of Nadine Pisani’s deserved success with her first book, “Happier Than a Billionaire” has been well chronicled. It is a humanistic look at the first year she and her husband Rob spent living in Costa Rica. I thoroughly enjoyed it and wrote a review saying so because I felt she had shown both sides of living here and she had done it with her adroit humor, not an easy task. At the time, I’d asked Nadine if she had any plans for a second book and she replied that she had already begun a follow-up.
     “Happier Than a Billionaire – The Sequel” has been recently released. After reading only the first few pages, I had the sensation of seeing an old friend again. The book revolves around the couple’s second year here, adjusting to their new environment in Guanacaste and building their dream home in Paradise. And here she is again, Nadine the storyteller, addressing her audience directly like she is chatting with each and every one of us individually. She was good at this in her first book and I couldn’t help noting as I read the Sequel that she has actually gotten better at her craft.
     Nadine and Rob are Mr. & Mrs. Yin and Yang: she likes to plan, is hesitant, cautious; Rob, on the other hand, likes to plunge into it, be persistent and approach the goal perceiving a positive result. It creates a nice balance, a symbiosis in this Dynamic Duo. Their likelihood of success would be a lot less if they were two gung-ho types or an overcautious couple tumbling together into Central America. But together, they are able to take on all comers: a seemingly senseless municipality, makeshift mechanics, killer bees and lurking crocodiles, lunatic fringe neighbors and even a month-long visit by Nadine’s parents and a visit from Rob’s mom. 

Nadine in front of my shop
     I appreciated Nadine’s explanation early on that this form of paradise is not necessarily for everyone, because that much is certainly true. Along the way, she discovers herself taking the time to appreciate the little things in life, to exert patience over panic, plus utilizing her unique humor as a form of catharsis.
     I particularly enjoyed reading her entries about trying to publish her first book – the one that subsequently took off like a house on fire. I like witnessing that, seeing her push to make that happen. Throughout both books, it is the authenticity of the writer’s “voice” that makes the book such a joy to read. Nadine told me that in part, one of her goals for writing a sequel was to prove to herself that she wasn’t just a “one trick pony”. I believe she has cleared that hurdle with sparkling colors. “Happier Than a Billionaire: The Sequel” is available at Jaime Peligro book store in Playa Tamarindo.
     So what’s next for the wonder girl? Nadine recently revealed to me that she is looking into starting her own production company and that her first project will be a cooking show. Mangia!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pursuit to Paradise

Pursuit to Paradise

     Mary Anne Marlowe’s got gumption and she has been willing to demonstrate it throughout her adult life. Her recent autobiographical book, “Pursue to Paradise” demonstrates just how resourceful and resilient she truly is as it recounts her decade of living in Costa Rica by herself and as a single mom, battling for custody of her son, Chaz. The book opens with her pulling the plug on her life in Toronto, Canada and freeing herself from the “herd mentality” as she puts it, then relocating to Guanacaste, specifically Playa Flamingo, on basically nothing but her wherewithal, her “sandal strap budget”, again in her words.
     The book is divided into nine chapters, beginning in 2001, with her arrival in Guanacaste as she immediately demonstrates her ability to adapt to her surroundings and situations. Within no time at all, she has a place to live and a small restaurant called The Hillside CafĂ© (for those here long enough to remember it) and is making and soliciting her homemade fragrant candles on the side. She’s figured out a niche with her wholesome style of cooking and canvassing for candle clientele, while she battles with her son’s custody with his father, for whom she has not one single good word throughout the book.. In the meantime, she gains notoriety from the locals for being an early riser, a beachcomber with the ability to locate discarded goods and “natural gifts”, such as driftwood and shells, and transform them all into something useful, without cost. She also begins single-handedly manufacturing and distributing ice cream at a wholesale scale, an amazing feat.
     Throughout the book, Mary Anne discovers more and more about herself as she spends more time in Costa Rica and discovers more about this place as well. She finds herself becoming more and more healthy, physically and mentally, and does find a way to reunite with Chaz here in Costa Rica. I have to say that throughout the book, she seems to have bad luck with her relationships with men. She also pulls no punches about those men’s ultimate selfishness and general bad behavior. But she is also surrounded by good friends she has accumulated, quirky as they might be, who are continually there to lend a hand for her.
     Her journey in Costa Rica eventually takes her to Lake Arenal when she decides to relocate and try new approaches to making a living, being a mom, and being in a relationship. The most amazing factors I found in the book were Mary Anne’s focus, her unwavering determination and her ability to make her goals materialize. She has fallen in love with Costa Rica and the style of life here and now sees her calling as passing these lessons on to others. I wish her all the luck in the world.
     I was lucky enough to get hold of an advance copy to read for this review, but by the time this article is published, it should be ready for purchase by the general public at pusuetoparadise@gmail.com or at the Jaime Peligro book store in Playa Tamarindo.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Patino Quintana

Patino Quintana

     Daniel Patino Quintana is a singer/songwriter guitarist from San Jose. He is also an arranger with a good perception of what he is after and how to produce it. I have been listening to an E.P., “La Dulce Vida” and an album, “Camino de Aire” by his band Patino Quintana. The two discs are comprised of sixteen songs tracking more than an hour of music. It is not possible to label the music with any particular style. The full-length album has a suite sensation to it, with the titles of some of the passages referencing the album title and sounding symphonic, giving it an almost orquestral sound. Indeed, the band includes not only guitars, bass, piano and percussion, but violins and a female vocal chorus as well. And for this album, Daniel has recruited Ivan Rodriguez from Malpais to play additional violin on two of the songs, Camilio Poltronieri to add petal steel guitar on one passage, Checka D’avila to contribute sax for two songs and flute on another, and a variety of guests on a variety of electronic keyboards and percussionists. The result is a real collage or melting pot of sounds, varying between the orquestral, and acoustic and vocal songs. I have to mention the guitar playing by band member Esteban Urena. It’s always clean and slick and he uses a lot of filters and phasers to enhance the sound. It’s obvious he is plugged into Daniel’s vision and knows how to help get them there.
   The album opens, appropriately, with the sound of a radio dial surfing through channels, broadcasting a variety of snippets of different sounds until it “lands” on the opening notes of “Tentacion de 12 Horas”. The voices are strong, harmonic and the music has some great hooks, as the album takes off, coursing through the ten songs, including three “Camino de aire” segues. I think it is a very accomplished production overall. If I have a complaint, it would be about the cover artwork, blank with oversized, very faint grey block letters. It is easy to not notice the jacket and I don’t think it does the music justice. That might seem crass, but believe me, packaging is a huge part of marketing a CD, which is how you get people to buy your product.
     The EP, “La Dulce Vita”, on the other hand, has a very bright, Poppy, enhancing cover. The album opens with a nice vocal and acoustic guitar entry, into a straight-forward rock song. Daniel certainly has a talent for creating musical hooks. The total musical ensemble is composed into a very listenable product. Papaya Music thinks so, too. The largest music label in Costa Rica has agreed to distribute the two CDs for Patino Quintana, and that can only help them reach the audience they have obviously worked so hard for and that they deserve. Their CDs are available at the Jaime Peligro Book Store in Playa Tamarindo, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers.

A Turtle and a Toad Join the Pachanga Family

A Turtle and a Toad Enter the Pachanga Family

     In Tortuguero at the break of dawn, a baby turtle cracks through the shell of its egg and begins its perilous trek through prospective predators and other dangers in order to unite with the raging sea that beckons.
     At the dawn of time, according to Bribri legend, there was an only mountain, at the top of which countless toads held up an immense spherical stone that emitted strange noises. The toads, who were all the same color, had been told by their creator that their mission was to protect the stone and keep it from breaking apart.
     These are the openings of the two new bilingual books for young readers from the Costa Rican publishing company Pachanga Kids, their fifth and sixth in the series.
     The noted Costa Rican poet Rodlolfo Dada wrote the lyrical storyline for “Una Tortuguita Sale del Nido (A Turtle is Born)” and Wen Hsu, who was born in Taiwan to Chinese parents and moved to Costa Rica at the age of two, contributed the wonderful artwork. The work by these two artists compliments each other in this amazing union of talent. I cannot stress enough the incredible marriage of medias accomplished by this book. And Eliot Greenspan did a good job in the translation to English to preserve the rhythmic flow of the story. The book is intended for children three years of age and older. I think the author’s delivery of information to the young reader feels unobtrusive, therefore much easier for the kids to digest. 

     Yazmin Ross, one of the founders of Pachanga Kids, is no stranger to adapting stories. At the age of seven, her son created a story about a group of fish who wanted to sweeten the ocean with sugar. Ms Ross remembered and treasured this story for twenty years and used it as the premise for “El Mar Azucarado (The Sea Sweet Sea)”, the first Pachanga publication. For “En Busca del Sapito Dorado (In Search of the Golden Toad)”, Ross has elaborated on an oral history of Creation from the Caribbean indigenous culture in Costa Rica. It is quite a responsibility bestowed upon the poor, uniformly-colored toads, and luckily for us, they eventually were unable to hold the rock and keep it from opening and creating every form of life we know. Yazmin told me she relocated the story to Monteverde to help children understand the plight of the Golden Toad and that she did not depict them as extinct because she wants the children to embrace a sense of hope. Again, it is the telling of the story, alongside the mesmerizing illustrations by the Venezuelan artist Maria Elena Valdez that take the book to another plateau. Valdez contributed the artwork for an earlier Pachanga publication and it is nice to see more of her talents applied to the Pachanga publications.
     Both of these new hardback books are printed in Spanish and English, simultaneously on each page, a nice vehicle for helping your child become bilingual. All of the Pachanga Kids books are available at the Jaime Peligro book stores in Playa Tamarindo and Quepos, where they have open store copies for the customers to check out.

Roxanne Oliva's Accordian Crumbs

Roxanne Oliva’s Accordion Crumbs

     She’s at it again: after her highly listenable 2010 debut album, “Box Candy”, accordionist extraordinaire Roxanne Oliva now offers her sophomore venture: “Accordion Crumbs”. The CD opens with “Secret Body Tango”, an Oliva original, a nice bass & accordion duet with castanet accompaniment and a wonderful intro song. “Fi Fi’s Messy Closet” is an up-tempo, playful and frenzied tune recorded by her band Youkali at what Roxanne describes as “a run away fast tempo, giving it that untamed quality”. She told me that the song was inspired by what is hidden, or closeted. I also like this album’s versions of the traditional songs “Hole in the Boat Jig” and “Limerick Lass Set”, with their roving, Irish lilt, reinforced by the fiddle playing of Scott Renfort. And “Spin Bouree”, another Roxanne original, was inspired by 3/4 Bourees that were popular in southern Europe. In fact, Ms Oliva told me that most of her songs are inspired by folk dance music. 

Roxanne at work & play
     Roxanne acknowledges that the title of her album is in reference to the popular E. Annie Proulx novel, “Accordion Crimes”, which follows the life of an accordion and its many owners, of many nationalities, for more than a century. And I believe Roxanne has been successful on this disc in embracing those varied cultures and musical styles that span a great length of time and heritage.
Everyone needs an accordion Babe
     The CD is subtitled, “Tasty Bits if Random Sessions” and I wholeheartedly agree with the “tasty” assessment. Granted, the songs are an assortment of songs from a variety of projects with which Ms Oliva has been associated, but far from being a hodgepodge, I enjoyed a certain cohesiveness, a flow in the music. Four of these new songs were written by David Lux and were recorded for “Quiet Little Marriage”, an independent film that has garnered critical acclaim and received awards from film festivals in both Los Angeles and Austin. Along with Richard Mandel, David Lux also provided the tasty guitar work on the album. Four other songs on this fourteen song project were recorded with the trio Youkali, which is comprised of virtuosic fiddle and bass players and of course Ms Oliva and her diverse accordion styles. The rest were recorded with a seven piece band who have gelled quick well on this project. Three of the songs that appear on this CD were on “Box Candy” as well, but far from being outtakes, they are new (to me) versions, much different than the previous renditions and stand on their own, especially “Each Part Was Played”, that has a kind of haunting “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” feel to it.
     Roxanne owns a home in Playa Negra and is here at various times throughout the year. Perhaps with some coaxing, we can convince her to perform some time while she is here. We’ll sweep up the crumbs, of course.
     Both of Roxanne Oliva’s CDs are available at Jaime Peligro book store in Playa Tamarindo, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Glass of Wine with Charly Lopez

A Glass of Wine with Charly Lopez

     I’m listening to “Un Vaso de Vino”, the new self-produced album by local musician Charly Lopez and I realize that he has really been around. You can hear it in his musical influences. Born in Montevideo, Uruguay, Charly played in five different bands there during a twelve year span: Vision, Aeroplano, Las Bestias, Mamut, and Alvacast, recording four albums with this band. Charly relocated to Canada in 1992, playing with three different bands over a span of more than a decade and recording his fifth CD with Tears for the Dead Gods, before moving to Costa Rica when a friend suggested he come down and play at his restaurant in Brasilito. His initial four month stay here lasted six months, with Charly playing five nights a week. He went back to Canada for about seven months before returning here to live in 2005.
     Recording a solo project is different than that experience with a full band. Charly decided he wanted to return to his home country, as he told me, because “I wanted this CD to be by a Uruguayan, recorded in Uruguay, made in Uruguay!” He also told me that he grew in a beautiful country that, at the time was, unfortunately, being run by a dictatorship that had curfews and did not allow men to have long hair and that, being a rebel, this is how he discovered Rock & Roll.
     The album is a compilation of songs that Charly has written throughout his career. It should be noted that, while he did well to recruit a guitarist and percussionist for the recording, it is Charly who sings all lead and background vocals, plays guitar as well as a mean bass throughout to album and even plays the drums on “Until the End of Time”, the one song recorded in English.
     The album kicks off, appropriately, with “Tres Milenos” and sets the tempo for the disc. It’s a great opener with a catchy hook of infectious, straight-forward Rock ‘n Roll and an homage to Charly’s first thirty years in the music business. Other stand-outs include “De Norte a Sur”, “Jaque al Rey”, and “Soy Zero”, all with very nice, upbeat tempo changes. The finale is the title track, “Un Vaso de Vino”, a kind of send-off that closes this nearly hour-long album. Charly told me he co-wrote it with his longtime friend, Leo Rodriguez, as a kind of dedication to their friendship. The entire album is a stroll down Charly’s musical career and the music a smart potpourri of Charly’s musical influences, all presented in original material.
     Charly Lopez has been a member of Electric Storm since 2006, performing regularly around Guanacaste. He also performs solo, as he did recently at El Coconut in Playa Tamarindo. The CD can be purchased at his shows and at Jaime Peligro book store in Tamarindo and Super Massai in Flamingo. His songs can be downloaded from iTunes and from the website: http://www.reverbnation.com/charlylopez . More information is also available at both Facebook sites for Charly and for Electric Storm. Charly is taking the band on tour to promote the album, playing initially in San Jose and then in Panama. His live performances are definitely worth checking out.