22 de Diciembre de 2008

Piano Malango
Pianist Navigates a Tributary of the Infinite River

By Jim Parisi

Manuel Obregón is at it again. I honestly don’t know when the man has time to sleep. A classically trained pianist, Obregón founded Papaya Music in 2003 with the writer Yazmín Ross and her husband, photographer/filmmaker Luciano Capelli. In the ensuing years, Obregón has released “Simbiosis”, an album of the natural sounds at the preserve in Monteverde with his piano accompaniment, three CDs with the popular group Malpaís, two with his Orquestra de Papaya project, one with the Calypso Legends and another with Costa Rican gospel choruses called “Wade in the Water”. By my count, he has also appeared on at least four other Papaya recordings, giving him participation in a total of twelve albums in just five years. And that doesn’t include touring with these groups or his other involvements, such as Om, Cuarteto Esporádico, La Isla de Pasión and La Orquesta del Río Infinito, to name a few.

Manuel’s newest CD, “Piano Malango” is a nearly seventy-five minute instrumental odyssey that peruses Obregon and Costa Rica’s musical histories, not unlike a small boat meandering along a peaceful river, an image used repeatedly in the album’s artwork. The malango is an indigenous, edible tuber that grows along the eastern shores of the Central America. The actual word comes from western Africa and I think it is a nice analogy for a project that pays tribute to Costa Rica’s multicultural roots. The CD was recorded live in San Jose’s Teatro Nacional last October by Obregón and a group of his musical mates, including four members of Malpais. But it would be a mistake to consider this a Malpais project commandeered by the pianist.

The spectrum of musical influences is broad-sweeping, from calypso, bolero and Guanacaste folkloric to a traditional bullfight song and Yeguita, one of the very few pre-Colombian musical styles to survive to the present date. The comfort level among these musicians is apparent as they play off each other and improvise their way along the musical sojourn. These guys obviously enjoy playing together. The potpourri of musical instruments used in this endeavor also demonstrates a passion for the provocative that these musicians spur in each other. While most of these songs were written for guitar, marimba and percussion, Manuel Obregon has transcribed them to piano, much as he did in his pre-Papaya days with the work of the Paraguayan guitarist Agustín Barrios Mangoré. The other musicians have followed suit with their own interpretations with instruments as varied as saxophone and flute, double bass and accordion, ocean drums and a variety of other percussive instruments, along with a curious collection of children’s toys, for the more whimsical passages.

The music is based in traditional song but has been updated by the musicians’ interpretations. This has been a continual theme of Papaya since its inception: a tribute and preservation of historical music melded into a modern mold. The result is a unique sound seeped in tradition with the signature of these talented musicians.

In Playa Tamarindo and Tilaran, Piano Malango and all Papaya CDs are available at Jaime Peligro, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers.