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Diversity

The beginning of a new year is a time for reflection—on the past, on the future, on our goals, on our missteps and screw-ups. I am writing this in January and am trying valiantly to let go of the bad and mean-spirited crap of 2016 and move on. But I can’t seem to focus in on one topic, so I’m just gonna talk about whatever comes to my little brain and celebrate the diversity of our planet and of our music!

Let’s think about the many geographical and environmental and physical influences that people are subject to and which define our musical paths. Humans have always had to fashion instruments out of the available materials where they live. An Eskimo in a frozen land might make a drum out of seal skin, or a flute from fishbone. A rural farmer in Mexico discovered that a horse’s jaw bone can become a percussion instrument. An Aboriginal guy in Australia might make a didgeridoo out of a tree to communicate with others or to provide the bass line for an Outback jam session. Some Celtic guy figured out how to turn a sheep’s stomach into a bagpipe or how to make strings out of catgut. A Brazilian native may carve a flute out of soft stone or a drum out of a gourd. Instruments are often made to imitate the sounds of nature—bird songs or the sound of rain or thunder or migrating herds. We use our human voice to interpret natural sounds as well as to communicate, and we learn through trial and error and example how the different sounds can be woven together. Just as the people on this earth are diverse, so are our habitats and the materials they provide. Once people starting working with metal, things changed even more. Then we got horns and trumpets and kazoos and snare drums…

The reasons for making music are also wildly diverse. A mother might sing or play soothing repetitive lullabies to calm her child. Clearly there’s a need for music driven by angst or anger. Since the very beginning of time music has been written or played to honor some kind of deity or as a way to remember our histories. There is music played to support or interpret other art forms, whether it be theatre or film or art. We use music to sell or promote a product or to attract a partner. There is music that is incomprehensible to some and sacred to others. It’s a big ‘ole diverse world. 

I am guilty of griping about the techno form of music the younger folks nowadays seem to be pre-occupied with, but if you think about it, they are just using the elements they are already familiar with, like electronically produced sounds and rhythms. Instead of using physical instruments they use the gadgets and computers and devices they already know about to produce their own interpretations of life or to mimic sounds found in nature. I may not always enjoy this style, but it’s way too late to put that genie back in the bottle, and the communal part of listening to any kind of music is big fun.

Envision Festival adThe Envision Festival held down south in Uvita is coming up (Feb. 23 to the 26th) and the folks who put it on say it is, “Inspired by and inspires the positive collective consciousness of all who are involved in the betterment of ourselves and of the planet.” Well, that’s a pretty lofty but I suppose righteous goal—frankly I mainly went to music festivals for the much humbler reasons to get high and dance or sing along… The organizers also say it is a celebration dedicated to awakening our human potential and to provide a platform for different cultures to co-exist in sustainable communities. An attempt to inspire one another through art, spirituality, yoga, music, dance, performance, education and our fundamental connections with nature. Most of the organizers and some of the bands have gone to Burning Man festival, and you can see the influence that event had on their plans. Their stage designs are inspired and quite beautiful. Their attempts to minimize trash and use bio-degradable products is admirable. This festival is not specifically about music but it is about diversity, which is to be applauded.

Govinda album coverI listened to a bunch of recordings by a guy named Shane Madden and Govinda Music—he is a very good violinist and will be one of the performers at Envision. He’s all about re-mixes—combining previously recorded material with new electronic rhythms and his violin interpretations. His website had many songs that had a decidedly Indian influence, but he also has some other pretty interesting combinations, like a re-mix of Bob Marley’s song Jammin, one with vocals from The Blind Boys of Alabama, and another mix with gypsy accordion music. Very eclectic. His vision for the violin is interesting to me, and he certainly plays well enough to be worth listening to. They have a lot of workshops at Envision, about topics like re-forestation, meditation, yoga, visual art, digital art, sound healing, nutrition, herbal medicine, dance, martial arts, permaculture and for all I know, the importance of hula hoops. I find a lot of the folks who attend this festival to be sincere, interesting and committed to helping make this a better world. And then there’s the guys who just want to get high and dance and sing along…

There is a lot of musical diversity here in our little corner of the world on a regular basis. You can hear the G-String Cowboys play their original tunes every Thursday night at Roca Verde and other nights at the Bamboo Room in Ojochal. Ben Jammin’ and the Howlers play every Friday night at Roca Verde, and Ben and I play with two young Ticos from the band Los Geckos at La Palma Beach Club in Dominical every Tuesday night, doing our own versions of rock, blues, reggae and original music. The Tropi-Cowgirls (New Orleans honky-tonk singer Kim Carson and myself on violin) will be playing at Tortilla Flats in Dominical on Feb. 13th, starting at sunset. Kim and I and a bunch of other musicians will also be playing at a benefit for the D.A.W.G. organization on Sunday, Feb. 12th at Roca Verde. They do great work around here fostering and fixing and caring for stray animals with the help of Dr. Fernando at his clinic in Uvita. Country music star Ralph Simms plays at various venues in Quepos, including Dos Locos and at the marina. You can find some fine local Latin players around the area and blues guys like Robbie Clark getting down and dirty. There’s a beautiful new Brew Pub called Fuego in Dominical and they will be having live entertainment, as does the restaurant Por Que No (just south of town) and the shopping area at the beginning of town called Mama Toucans. There is something for everyone around here! Diversity should be encouraged and celebrated—not feared or alienating!

I’ve found that festivals are a relatively painless way to meet people and make a few points that need making, without having to hit them over the head with too many speeches. Pete Seeger

Don’t be cruel… Elvis

Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life, bringing peace, abolishing strife. Kahlil Gibran

When you were young and your heart, was an open book. You used to say, live and let live. Paul McCartney


One Response to “Diversity”

  1. Dottie Evans said:

    Another great article Nancy! I totally enjoyed reading it and I love your style of writing. Quite informative and witty!! Love you guys and looking forward to seeing you at some point this year.