Costa Rica and Central America are not known for their music. But musicians, label representatives and producers from throughout the region have been working together this past week to change that, with the first-ever Papaya Fest.
After seven days of brainstorming, planning and rehearsing, the 19 members of the Papaya Orchestra were set to inaugurate the main segment of the festival last night, to kick off what will be a four-day string of concerts outside the Edificio Metálico in San José’s Barrio Amón.
The festival is being organized by Papaya Music, a local independent label that aims, among other things, to “rescue traditional popular composers from oblivion.” As the region tends to increasingly look elsewhere for entertainment and music trends, the festival organizers hope to open Tico and international eyes to the creativity and versatility of our own regional talent.
Perhaps just as important as the concerts, however, were the behind-the-scenes meetings that took place earlier this week at the SpanishCulturalCenter in eastern San José’s Barrio Escalante. Here, Papaya Music, along with Stonetree Records from Belize, Costanorte Records from Honduras, Mantica-Waid from Nicaragua and Contraxeñas Productions from Panama, met to discuss better methods of distribution, marketing and production, so as to lower costs and make Central American music more widely available throughout the region. In a bit of a preview of what’s to come, albums by the participating artists are on sale at a variety of music, book and souvenir stores throughout the city for the month of February.
San José was selected as the host city for the festival not only because it is the home base of Papaya Music, but also because it has been named the 2006 Latin American-Iberian Cultural Capital, meaning that a number of cultural events will be taking place here throughout the year, with the support of the Municipality of San José.
Festival organizer Luciano Capelli says he recognizes that Costa Ricans are showing an increased interest in both national music and world music, which he believes imbues people with a desire to understand their own culture’s music. With Papaya Fest, he hopes to establish San José as the center of the Central American music scene.
The Papaya Orchestra is the perfect poster child for this festival; composed of musicians from throughout Central America, the ensemble has achieved substantial success by creating a sound as diverse as its members.
The orchestra has toured Central America and released two albums under Papaya Music, but because of the geographic distances between the musicians, the group has been unable to play or perform together for almost a year. Their performance at Papaya Fest marks the culmination of an intensive workshop that focused not only on music but also on elements of performance, stage design, lights, choreography, projection and sound.
Tonight’s concert, entitled “Caribbean Central America,” starting at 7 p.m., will feature an amalgam of musicians and sounds, bringing together four groups: Calypso-Jazz Band unites some of Costa Rica’s most accomplished musicians in a project that highlights the similarities between New Orleans jazz and Central American calypso; Aurelio Martínez, an accomplished musician and politician in his native Honduras, is known for his celebration of Garifuna culture, most notably the parranda rhythm; local veterans Cantoamérica will present their signature blend of calypso limonense (from the Caribbean province of Limón), salsa, jazz and reggae; and Guillermo Anderson, perhaps the most important Honduran musician today, will close the night accompanied by his Grupo, whose Garifuna-inspired songs bring to life the cultural and natural beauty of their native country.
Tomorrow night’s show, which starts at 6 p.m., will stray from tradition to explore the latest trends emerging from Central America’s urban centers. Local nu-jazz “poetry in dub” group Amarillo Cyan y Magenta will be joined by Leroy Young “The Grandmaster,” an artist who uses rap, hip-hop and beatboxing to reflect on crime and other social problems in Belize City’s infamous Majestic Alley neighborhood. Panamanian group Señor Loop combines rock, funk, ska and an ironic sense of humor to chronicle everyday life in what it has dubbed “the capital of tropi-capitalism.” Perro Zompopo, a group from Managua, channels both the lyrical sensitivity of a singer-songwriter and the musical power of a rock band, and popular Costa Rican band Gandhi is straight-up rock, San José style.
Papaya Fest ends on Sunday with a special performance by Costa Rican favorites Malpaís, who will be joined by all the other participating artists for a finale involving more than 30 musicians onstage at one time. The stage was set up especially for the Papaya Fest in the heart of the capital, complete with a complex lighting system, enormous screen, Grammy award-winning sound engineers and room for up to 6,000 people in the parking lot of the Edificio Metálico. Each concertcosts ¢1,500 ($3) the day of the show or ¢1,000 ($2) in advance; a package including all four concerts costs ¢3,000 ($9). Tickets are available at Vértigo, Music Box and Librería Internacional stores.