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New World Music Box

By Jim Parisi

It’s a funny thing about music: it does not recognize the imaginary boundaries men have drawn on maps or in the ground. Put simply: music transcends borders.  It travels into the ear of its listeners then, hopefully, into their hearts as well, no matter where they live. And music does not need a passport to accomplish this. That is part of the appeal of World Music for aficionados from anywhere on the globe. We have had a plethora of Euro café discs, Middle Eastern lounge CDs and Indonesian trip-hop fusion albums while, regretfully, Central American music has been nearly unheard during this wave of international awareness. Until now. A joint venture by the four most popular and progressive recording labels in this part of the world has begun to fill that void with the release of La Caja de Musica Centroamericana, the Central American Music Box.

This compilation of sixteen songs showcases musical styles that ignore the borders of places we call Nicaragua, Belize, Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica. The Garifuna music represented here from Ivan Duran’s Stonetree label from Belize is a good example. The Garifuna culture was spawned nearly four centuries ago when survivors from two sinking slave ships began cohabitating with the indigenous Carib tribes, including the Arawaks on the islands of Saint Vincent (in the Lesser Antilles), Dominica and Santa Lucia, as well as with other escaped African slaves. Later, under British domain, they were relocated to the Honduran island of Roatan and from there they migrated to the surrounding countries in Central America. The resulting music is unique, mesmerizing, and anything but Latin.

Jaime Peligro Books and Music

Then there is Perrozompopo, a rock singer from Managua, Nicaragua, who records with Costa Rica’s premier label, Papaya Music. It’s a nice touch on this historic album to have Manuel Monestel with his calypso band Cantoamerica sing “Calaloo”, a song written by his mentor, the legendary Walter Ferguson and the contribution by the Calypso Limon Legends. This style of music has certainly travelled outside the Caribbean coastline and contributed to the creation of other musical styles, including reggae. The Moka Discos label from Nicaragua is represented by the fabled Duo Guardabarranco, along with Moises Gadea, internationally acclaimed Clara Grun and Katia Cardenal, the label’s founder. And the ethereal voice and variety of musical styles of Guillermo Anderson who co-founded the Honduran label Costa Norte with Max Urso is testament to the wide scope of rich culture here. Of course, no Central American compilation album would be complete without a song from the immensely popular Costa Rican band Malpais, and they are here, along with a solo piece from their pianist Manuel Obregon, one of the founders of Papaya Music. One of my favorites is Belizean Leroy Young, discovered by Ivan Duran doing his thing while washing cars in Belize City. He went into the studio and recorded his infectious art and now he’s a dub poet.

I have to admit that when I moved here nearly eight years ago, I had no idea of the wealth, diversity and depth of Central American music. This collaboration between the four major labels, under the name The Central American World Music Network, has done an excellent job of offering a sample of the broad scope of culture that lies within these imaginary boundaries.

I could not review this impressive new album without mentioning the artwork and overall production. In sharing the duties of production executive, Luciano Capelli from Papaya Music and the aforementioned Ivan Duran of Stonetree Records, along with Sylvie Duran from Costa Rica, who was instrumental in getting the key players together at the World Music Expo (WOMEX) last year in Copenhagen, have collectively done an incredible job putting this coalition of diverse talent together; Priscilla Aguirre from LaCabeza Estudio and Paula Cruz from Papaya have done a first class job in packaging and presentation, complete with classic Central American watercolor artwork and a bilingual booklet, with text by Yazmin Ross.

I have a feeling that this project is just the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, each of these four labels has an abundance of talent that could easily make this album the first of a series. As they say in the business: “It’s a monster!” Already, I can’t wait to hear the songs playing on Central American Music Box II.

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