RENOWNED keyboard wizard RickWakeman is rounding out a brief LatinAmerican tour with a concert finale and agrueling 14-hour day of determined sightseeingin San José.Wakeman, famous for accompanyingYes’ rock anthems of the 1970s and for aprolific set of solo albums and tours, playedtwo venues in Havana, Cuba, last weekend,followed by a stint in Monterrey, Mexico,and said he’s “desperately looking forwardto coming back” to Costa Rica for his secondconcert tour here in the land of Pilsenand pinto.The British musician has recorded 106solo albums with combined sales of $50 million.Throughout most of the 1970s, heplayed with Yes, taking a two-year breatherin the middle to pursue his frenetically fruitfulsolo career. He made 130 recordings withYes, including album classics such asFragile, Close to the Edge and Yessongs.The list of artists he has accompanied readslike a rock hall of fame, including BlackSabbath, Cat Stevens, David Bowie, LouReed and Ozzy Osbourne, among others.The self-professed lover of art and culture,who steps off the jet asking for thenearest museum rather than the hippest clubin the cities on his tours, convinced a touroperator to show him and his band everythingaround San José in the one day theyhad free during his first tour here in 2002. Itwas 14 hours of butterfly gardens, raftingand volcanoes that left them all exhausted,but gluttons for more this time around.THIS is Wakeman’s 12th LatinAmerican tour since 1975. Since then, hehas mined these countries for musical inspirationand incorporated styles into his work.The region has been a more insistent musethan any other in the world, he said. Whenasked what it is about Latin America,though, he doesn’t know exactly.“Why Latin America? I can’t tell you. Ifirst came down in 1975, and I fell in love. Iliterally fell in love with the place, the people,the atmosphere… to quote an old saying,there is something in the air. I get drawnhere. I wish I could tell you if there wassomething… maybe in a past life I was LatinAmerican,” he joked from his hotel room inHavana, in a phone interview with The TicoTimes.“I come here and always go back withnew ideas. Right from when I first camedown in 1975, I brought back a lot of ideas,natural sound ideas, rhythm ideas. I have tosay that in all of Latin America I’ve pickedup more influences than I have anywhereelse in the world, really.”MUSIC was what struck him as thedefining experience on the streets of Havana,as well. He chose the country hoping to soakin some new sounds, and heard them playedlive nearly everywhere people gathered – thefamous Cuban jazz concoctions raw and notpackaged for Western sensibilities.“The music stands out in Cuba,”Wakeman said. “I had expected some things,like I knew about the old American carseverywhere, the architecture, which is prettyamazing – but there’s music everywhere.You walk down the streets and there’s music coming out of every doorway. The standardfor quality is high; they have a distinctway of playing here and there’s a lotof talent. There are some unique, uniqueplayers.“I’ve picked up loads of CDs andstuff to take back and listen to. It’s a lotdifferent from the westernized music youhear in England. They’re a mixture ofclassical jazz and their own instrumentsthat they’ve still got, plus the percussionstuff is quite amazing. They were certainlya different sound than what I hadheard before.”AT the historical Melico SalazarTheater in downtown San José this Sunday,May 1, Wakeman will perch himselfamong 11 keyboards, each set differentlyas components in the utterance of hisuncanny sound, backed by a five-pieceband.“It’s one of the reasons I’m sober –you can’t play (11 keyboards at a time)when you’re drunk,” he said.One of the two labels he owns, HopeRecords, is a Christian crossover labelthat reflects Wakeman’s religious values.Asked if his outlook ever clashes withthe stereotypically hedonistic, drugs-and sexindulgent rock-star lifestyle, he joked,“I’ve often heard about that, and I wonderhow I’ve missed it.”His sense of humor might not be accidental– in England he hosts a comedyshow, “Live at the Jongleurs,” and hasmade hundreds of television and radioappearances.Distancing his Christian philosophyfrom that of the religion’s fundamentalelement, he said, “I’m a Christian wholives in the real world instead of wantingthe whole world to join what I do. Thereare lots of other religions and ways tobelieve and I respect those. I’m not oneof those who says, hey, you have to dowhat I do.”BESIDES the musical influences,Latin American – including Costa Rican –crowds infect Wakeman’s performanceswith their innate excitement.“Latin Americans come to a concert toenjoy themselves,” he said. “And thatspreads onto the stage. It’s unbelievable…they could dance to anything.”Added to the charge of the audience,fans can expect an emotional reciprocationfrom the stage when Wakeman plays.“We try to do a show that goesthrough as many emotions as possible,”he said. “At the end of the day, the mostimportant thing is to leave with a smile onyour face, feeling like it was a great night.We’re both the same – the audience andthe stage is all the same. We have themachinery, but we’re all there for thesame reason.”When asked about his CD sales, hisonly comment was the self-deprecating, “Ijust wish the tax man and the ex-wivesdidn’t take it all.”He has been married and divorcedthree times, has five children ranging inage from their late teens to their early 30s,and is engaged to be married to RachelKaufman, an English journalist for thenational Daily Mail.THE fact that all of the above is inprint doesn’t phase Wakeman at all – on athree-year-old biography supplied by hisCosta Rican concert producer, suchinsignificant (or invasive) details wereincluded as the kind of car he drives(BMW 728i) and the name of a now ex-girlfriend.Does the intrusion bother him?“It doesn’t worry me in the least, to behonest; it’s sort of part and parcel. To befair, for years and years I’ve had friendswho are journalists.” And when journalistsare involved, nothing is sacred.Showtime is 7:30 p.m. at the MelicoSalazar Theater. Ticket prices range from¢14,000-32,000 ($32-68). Tickets are onsale now at Bansbach stores in Escazú’sMultiplaza mall and downtown San José,Sharper Store in Mall San Pedro,Hipermás and Maxibodega outlets.For information, call 207-2025 or visitwww.mundoticket.com. For informationon Wakeman, visit www.rwcc.com.