Largely overlooked by the global music scene, Central America is diverse and rich in its musical genres. Luckily for the music listener, there are people dedicated to exposing this treasure trove. Central American Music Box 2 is the second release contributed by Moka Discos inNicaragua, Stonetree Records inBelize, Costa Norte inHondurasand Papaya Music inCosta Rica, under the collective name Central American Music Network. The first installment came out in 2010 and laid the groundwork in exposing both traditional and new, cutting edge musicians from this area. The new twelve-song CD is a welcome companion, expanding the list of bands and musical styles.
The first time I listened to “Musica Profana”, the new CD by Rialengo, I found myself being impressed time and again by the vocal and instrumental harmonies and the seamless, gentle flow of the melodies. The music is a mesh of Cumbia, from Colombia, and Swing Criolla, which itself is a marriage of Peruvian Criolla and American swing music, all blended in a Costa Rican, Latin stew. Francisco Murrillo, the singer and songwriter of the band, has a perfect voice to portray this flowing music. Francisco was born in Rialengo, a neighborhood in Guapiles, on the road to Limon, on the Caribbean shore of Costa Rica.
Criollo music actually originated inPeru, and was quickly absorbed by Venezuelan and Argentinean musicians. But swing criollo with its tico flavor had its genesis here in the Sixties with a merger of American Swing music and a Latin style of music from Colombia called cumbia. Initially, it was frowned upon, considered an uncultured, even crude style of music to a point where in the Seventies in San Jose, there were many signs at dancehalls and clubs proclaiming, “Swing Dancing Forbidden”. But the style continued and grew, both in popularity and refinement over the next forty years. Last 30 November,Costa Rica’s president Laura Chinchilla and Minister of Culture Manuel Obregon officially declared swing criollo “one of the expressions of dance of the intangible cultural heritage of Costa Rica”.
The new Papaya DVD, “Piano and Tropical Dry Forest – a Journey into the Heart of the Tropics” is a stunning compilation of imagery and sound, filmed and recorded entirely in the Guanacaste province, in several locations: Rincon dela Viejaand Cacao, Islas Catalinas, the Gulf of Papagayo, Malpais, Playa Naranjo, the national parks of Palo Verde and Santa Rosa and El Viejo Wetlands. The hour of sound and film of Manuel Obregon accompanying the natural sounds and sights of each of these areas on his portable electric piano is nothing less than breathtaking, impressive in its consistent attention to detail on and off camera. I cannot imagine the number of man-hours put into this project, also a statement to Papaya’s commitment. The filming, a team of five photographers, headed by Luciano Capelli, who is also the director and executive producer, presents a potpourri of crystal clear long shots and very detailed close-ups of the area’s living, breathing soul, all literally in concert with Obregon improvising with Nature’s beauty and unpredictable personality. The imagery is really a play of light and motion; the editing in conjunction with the sound is superb. Nano Fernandez contributed a seamless job of recording the natural sounds, then mixing and mastering the final result, a critical step in the end production that often goes unrecognized.
By Jim Parisi
For the many fans, of Malpais it is impossible not to become nostalgic while listening to their new CD. Fans, friends, family and band members were stunned at the sudden and unexpected passing late last August of Fidel Gamboa, the singer/songwriter/guitarist/flautist of this very popular Costa Rican group. After the shock resided a bit, the remaining musicians in the band decided to pay tribute to their fallen leader, which they did, with the help of many other notable musicians, at the National Stadium inSan Josein mid-November to an emotional sold-out audience. During that nether time, the band also discussed releasing one more album, another way to honor their friend and to thank their loyal fans. The decision was an easy one.
By Jim Parisi
When he passed away unexpectedly on August 29, Fidel Gamboa shocked music fans all over the world and left a void that can never really be mended. The founder, songwriter, guitarist and lead singer of the highly popular Costa Rican band Malpais was honored on November 18 at the National Stadium in west San Jose with a concert by the remaining members of his band and guest musicians such as Bernardo Quesada, Adrian Goizueta, Humberto Vargas, Max Goldenberg, Walter Flores, Cantoamerica, Peregrino Gris, the Nicaraguan rock band Perrozompopo, and the Costa Rica Philharmonic Orchestra throughout the night, including an incredible version of “Historia de Nadie” with Maria Pretiz. The real surprise was the appearance of Ruben Blades, a three-time Grammy Award winning Panamanian musician who was loudly received by the sold-out audience in the stadium. The show continued well past the scheduled two and a half hours, with Fidel’s guitar standing upright in its stand onstage, alone, all night.
Writing a soundtrack is tricky business. The music needs to compliment the action and images of the movie of the film without being pervasive. It needs to follow the storyline so in this way it is almost like an assignment. And all good musicians want to put their own personal stamp on their music, so it needs to fall into the category of artistic expression as well: no musician wants their work to become wallpaper. This article is a review of the soundtrack of the new Costa Rica movie “El Regreso”; it is not a review of the film, which is wildly popular right now.
Federico Miranda picked up his first guitar with serious intentions at the age of twelve and taught himself to play. In 1993, he formed the popular Costa Rican rock band Gandhi, one of the first of this genre in this country. They have since released four albums and in 2005, Miranda also teamed up with pianist Walter Flores to work on the Baula Project, a fusion quartet who dedicated this album to the preservation of the leatherback turtle.
What do you get when you combine eleven musicians from Costa Rica, Cuba, Colombia and El Salvador who create a fusion sound of reggae, cumbia and funk, then let them tour Europe? If you ask the musicians of Sonambulo, they will tell you that the result is a new style of music that they call “psicotropical”, a catchy phrase for their very infectious music. The band’s first album, “A Puro Peluche”, was released in January 2009 with a lot of positive acclaim and little distribution. It was reissued in 2010 and promptly won the ACAM Best Tropical Album award.
Putumayo Music recently took a step away from its customary formula of regional and stylistic compilation albums to give us a tribute to the music of one man, the great reggae progenitor Bob Marley. Few people have made the kind of lasting, universal impact that Bob Marley has made with his music. In his short 36 years, Marley managed not only to introduce hundreds of millions to reggae but also spread powerful messages of peace, love, human rights and acceptance. It’s no surprise that almost 30 years after his death, one can travel to any part of the globe and witness his far-reaching musical legacy. A number of the twelve tracks were recorded specifically for this disc. But it opens strongly with something that already existed: Three Plus’s convincing “Jahwaiian” fusion version of “Is This Love.” And it remains inHawaiifor singer Robi Kahakalau’s cool, smooth take on the seldom heard “Do It Twice.”
Nearly all music is a melting pot, a new image of its influences and predecessors. In Central America, Garifuna music is unique in that it is a blend of African and indigenous music without any influence from the European cultures that became dominant in all the Americas. The offspring of the indigenous Awarak tribe and African slaves who survived from two sinking slave ships, the Garifuna have always preferred an isolated existence. As these people enter the Twenty-first Century and near extinction, Ivan Duran and Stonetree Records in Belize have undergone painstaking labors to at least preserve the music by recording it. Likewise, a spin-off of Garifuna music came into existence around the middle of the seventeenth century when Spanish guitar and musical styles lent themselves as a variation on Garifuna music, and a style called Paranda was born.
By Jim Parisi
Since its inception eighteen years ago, Putumayo Music has blazed a reputation for being outside the box. These are the guys who invented the term “World Music”, offering compilation discs of music by musicians from the same country or region or from all over the globe, playing a similar style of music. With more than one hundred albums under their belt, Putumayo has now endeavored into a new genre (for them), entitled simply “Rhythm and Blues”. The album is a collection of classic R&B songs performed alternately by legends and by novices, rising stars of the current R&B revival. And the formula works like a charm.
By Jim Parisi
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.
Lucho Calavera and his band La Canalla recorded their entire debut album “Ni Pa’ Que Te Cuento” in the Papaya Music Studio in Alajuela in just two and a half months, an incredible, very efficient accomplishment. Then they spent nearly a year crafting and polishing their model. A band that has a reputation for enjoying themselves onstage, including live dancers as part of their entourage, became very serious in the studio, expanding the band from five players to nine, to include more percussion and a horn section, further indication of the scope of their vision. That vision is initiated by singer/songwriter Lucho Calavera, the altered ego of Luis Arena, who has been in the Costa Rica music scene for some time. He recorded two albums in the late Nineties with El Parque, the second CD on the Sony Music Label. They were the first Costa Rican band to air a video on MTV Latino. He then went solo, working on projects with other local bands, most notably Evolucion. He also sat in with Soda Stereo, a popular band from Argentina. Arena then relocated to Madrid, evolving musical influences and his pseudonym, with gypsy bravado wrapped around it.
By Jim Parisi
Reggae music has become a global phenomenon, cast into public awareness forty years ago by musicians like Johnny Nash, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. But the music remains Caribbean in temperament.
In 1995, the young Costa Rican music label Papaya Music released “Costa Rica Reggae Night”, an excellent compilation of authentic Reggae music from the Caribbean coast of this country. It is a compilation of thirteen songs from well known Costa Rican bands, both past and present; it was a kind of history of notable reggae bands from this area. The album has been a big hit, selling more than fifteen thousand copies in just ten years, a remarkable feat for an independent Central American label.
Max Urso is a busy guy, a tireless visionary. He started his recording studio and label, Costa Norte Records, in San Pedro Sula, Honduras in 1998, after hearing a rough cassette tape of Honduran singer/songwriter Guillermo Anderson performing and perceived a real need for a recording studio in the country. Both Guillermo and Garifuna singer Aurelio Martinez were recently included in the Central American Music Box CD, a compilation album demonstrating the musical diversity of this region. It is an accomplishment that all three of them are very proud about and happy to be a part of.