Tag Archives: Costa Rican Music

Artist Profiles: Orquesta de la Papaya

Since its creation in February 2002, the Orquesta de la Papaya (Papaya Orchestra) has become Central America’s most distinctive calling card.

Meeting for the first time and in many cases, making the first venture out of their communities, fourteen musicians from seven countries along with their instruments and their traditions were called to interpret music usually played at festivities, to accompany labor, for religious ceremonies and in everyday life.

This how the folk violin of Panama, the Garifuna drums of Belize and Honduras, Guatemala’s earthen jars (pre-Columbian percussion) and Nicaraguan marimbas de arco were brought together under the direction of Costa Rican pianist Manuel Obregón.

The musicians of Papaya are a true reflection of ethnic convergence in this zone, made up of indigenous ancestors, the Africans who came with the Europeans in the colony and all of the mixes that subsequently took place.

The Papaya Orchestra has conquered both Central Americans and demanding audiences at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (April 2003), the Festival International of Louisiana (May 2003) and the Forum of Barcelona 2004.

At the Festival Cervantino in Mexico (October 2003), the Orchestra powered up its stage presence with the inclusion of Yomira John, an Afro-Panamanian singer residing in France who has opened the way for incorporating Central America’s female voices.

The orchestra was originally comprised of Lenín Fernández from Guatemala; Oscar “El Chele” Menjívar from El Salvador; “Breeda” David Obi y Mohobub Flores from Belize; Ramón Eduardo “Guayo” Cedeño y Juan Astor Norales Dolmo from Honduras; Marcos Martínez, Domingo Martínez y Yader Martínez from Nicaragua; Raúl Vital, Miguel Angel Leguisamo, Ormelis Cortez and Antonio de la Cruz from Panama and Manuel Obregón from Costa Rica.


Manuel Obregón y la Orquesta de la Papaya (2002)
Tierra de la dulce espera (2005)


Artist Profiles: Manuel Obregón

Manuel Obregón

An intense desire to experiment has led Manuel Obregón down the paths of theater, cinema, and dance. Jazz has been his platform for musical ideas, and the best vehicle for connecting with nature and with traditional musicians.

Simbiosis and the Papaya Orchestra are two of Obregón’s greatest achievements in a career replete with concerts in Europe and America, research, recordings and the creation of the Papaya Music label.

Born in San José, Costa Rica, on October 4, 1961, Obregón began playing piano at the age of seven. After graduating from the University of Costa Rica Conservatory, he went on to study at the Real Conservatorio Superior de Música de Madrid; in Barcelona, Spain; and at the Swiss Jazz School in Berne, Switzerland.

Obregón has been successful at achieving a synthesis between academic formation, tradition and experimentation, an evolution that can be traced in his 14 solo recordings and in the various music groups he has formed, including Afro Cosmos, Cahuita, the Sporadic Jazz Quintet, Gospel Caribe, Orquesta de la Papaya and Malpais.

His introduction to international acclaim, the DVD production of Simbiosis with images by moviemaker José Cortés (2004) creates a profound impact, both as video and as live concerts in which Obregón’s piano appears in the midst of the forest.



Piano solo (1992)
Concierto del Farolito (1993)
Sortilegio (1994)
Piano y Ángel Ausente (1995)
Sin Ton ni Son (1996)
Pasión (1997)
Simbiosis (1999)
La isla de la Pasión (1999)
Génesis (2000)
OM (2001)
Tierra Seca (2003)
Concierto Tributo a Mangoré (2005)
Leyendas del Calipso Limonense (2006)
Trance Submarino (2007)
Piano Malango (2008)
Estampas de Abril y Mayo (2010)
Asia, África y América (2011)
Simbiosis, piano y bosque tropical seco (2011)
Paz (2015)
Turrialba 1920s (2017)
Ícaros (2018)


Uno (Papaya Music, 2002)
Historias de nadie (Papaya Music, 2004)
Malpaís en vivo (Papaya Music, 2006)
Un día lejano (Papaya Music, 2009)
La canción de Adán (2009)
Hay niños aquí (Papaya Music, 2010)
Volver a casa (2011)

Orquesta de la Papaya:

Manuel Obregón y la Orquesta de la Papaya (2002)
Tierra de la dulce espera (2005)


Artist Profiles: Manuel Monestel

Manuel Monestel

Manuel Monestel was born in San Pedro de Montes de Oca, Costa Rica in 1950. He is a singer songwriter whose songs refer to local and universal topics mixing folk sounds with contemporary moods.

In 1974 Manuel Monestel founded his first band, Erome, dedicated to Latin American music. He later joined Tayac?n, led by Luis Enrique Mejia Godoy. Monestel was one of the cofounders of the Nueva Canción Costarricense (New Costa Rican Song), together with Luis Enrique, Rubén Pagura, Bernal Monestel, and Dionisio Cabal, among others.

In 1980, Manuel created Cantoamérica, a group that has recorded several albums and toured worldwide for over 25 years.

Since the 1980s, Manuel has researched and promoted Limonese Calypso, the music of the Afro-Costa Rican community.

In 2003 Monestel wrote the book Ritmo, Canción e Identidad: el Calypso Limonense (Rhythm, Song and Identity: The Limonese Calypso).

After recording a dozen albums with Cantoamérica, Monestel recorded a solo album after a trip he made to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, accompanying Manuel Obregón and the Orquesta de la Papaya. The recording, One Pant Man, was recorded at the Papaya Music studios and features Manuel Obregón.


Solo albums:

One pant man (Papaya Music, 2003).
Merry woman (Kaiso Music, 2008)

With Cantoamérica:

Seguirá el Amor (Kaiso Music, 1982)
Haciendo el Día (Nord/Sud Records, 1985)
Cantoamérica (1986)
Buscando esa Bella Flor (Kaiso Music, 1988)
Canto de la Tierra (Kaiso Music, 1990)
Por la Calles de la Vida (Kaiso Music, 1995)
Aribarumba (Kaiso Music, 1997)
Calypsonians (Kaiso Music, 1999)
Palale Pot (Kaiso Music, 2002)
Vamos Cantoamérica (DYM, 2003)
Cantoamérica, 25 Años (Kaiso Music, 2006)
Vientos del Caribe (Papaya Music, 2007)
Vuela otra vez (Kaiso Music, 2015)


Artist Profiles: Malpais


The group “Malpaís” (whose literal meaning is “bad country” or badlands) takes its name from the Peninsula of Nicoya’s most remote shore, a forgotten land in Costa Rica, where all roads end and the beauty of the Pacific Ocean unfolds.

Since its first appearance in 2001, Malpaís has commanded a musical style with songs that display great maturity and freedom, moving from the city to the traditional roots of Guanacaste folklore, from blues to danzón, from urban loneliness to Caribbean humor.

“Boceto para Esperanza,” “Son Inú,” “Abril” and “La Chola” are some of the themes that have made this group a point of reference for several generations of Costa Ricans.

The musicians of Malpaís have a classical and jazz training, abundant recording production and solid experience in the National Symphonic Orchestra, Editus and Grupo Experimental, and as composers of music for film, dance and theater. But it is the amalgam of rhythms, instruments and lyrics that has lent them strength as a group.

Malpaís was originally comprised of saxophonist Fidel Gamboa, bass player Jaime Gamboa, violinist Iván Rodríguez, pianist Manuel Obregón, percussionist Carlos “Tapao” Vargas and Gilberto Jarquín on drums. Fidel Gamboa passed away on August 28, 2011.

Malpaís Discography:

Uno (Papaya Music, 2002)
Historias de nadie (Papaya Music, 2004)
Malpaís en vivo (Papaya Music, 2006)
Un día lejano (Papaya Music, 2009)
La canción de Adán (2009)
Hay niños aquí (Papaya Music, 2010)
Volver a casa (2011)


Artist Profiles: Luis Muñoz

Luis Muñoz

Luis Muñoz, composer, arranger and percussionist, was born in San Jose, Costa Rica. Coming from a very musical family, Luis showed an early interest in the arts and spent his youth performing in rock and jazz groups. In 1972 Luis entered the University of Costa Rica where he studied both Architecture and Music. He studied privately at the National Music Conservatory and with the principal flutist of the National Symphony Orchestra.

In 1974 Luis emigrated to the United States and there completed his Degree in Music Composition at the University of California, Santa Barbara, under the tutelage of British composer Peter Fricker. For the last 30 years Luis Muñoz has written music for educational and sports documentaries, animation films, radio and television jingles, dance and theater. In addition, Muñoz has worked as a music producer and arranger, as well as a percussionist for numerous artists such as Airto Moreira, Etta James, Flora Purim and Jim Messina.

Luis Muñoz has made numerous recordings of his music throughout the years. In 1980, commissioned by the Costa Rican government, Muñoz wrote and recorded Costa Rica-Costa Rica. Luis donated all the proceeds generated by the sales of that recording to the Red Cross in Nicaragua, a nation at the time desperately trying to heal itself from the effects of a devastating civil war. In 1988 he signed with CBS Records and recorded La Verdad.

In 1996, Fahrenheit Records released The Fruit of Eden, co-produced by Dominic Camardella. It marked Muñoz’s debut in the US. In 1998, Muñoz brought listeners a more progressive and exotic expression on his next endeavor, Compassion, continuing to evolve as an innovative force in instrumental music.

I grew up in Costa Rica, which is right in the middle of the American continent,” he said, “and being in a place where every form of Latin music merges really had an impact on me. Coming from a large family that included amateur instrumentalists as well as professional composers, my involvement with music started at a very early age. I was constantly being exposed to the plentiful, multi-faceted world of Latin American music; the pleasure, inspiration and joy that came from that experience were very important factors in my decision to become a composer.

I remember listening to the songs of Chilean Victor Jara and Violeta Parra; the voices of Mercedes Sosa and Milton Nascimento; the Argentinean Tango; the music of the Andean “Altiplano.” I loved the music of Brazil, with the pulsating rhythms of the samba, the maracatu, the partido alto and the baiao, plus the gentle beauty of the bossa nova; the cumbia from Colombia, the merengue from the Dominican Republic, the calypso from Trinidad, the norte?a and ranchera music from Mexico, the bomba and plena from Puerto Rico and the music of Cuba. Cuban music, with it’s deep African roots, has offered the world the gifts of the rumba, the cha-cha-cha, the son montuno, songo, mambo, guaracha and guaguanc?, creating beats to which the entire world now dances.”

Muñoz continues, ” … In loving and appreciating these styles of music I grew up with, I would soon realize that there was much more yet to be discover. Early on I remember being exposed to the music of Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk, which ignited my unquenchable thirst for jazz. Then, during my early teens, the” British Invasion,” and music from groups like the Beatles would introduce me to a new type of music and culture from other parts of the world. Naturally, as a student at the Music Conservatory of the University of Costa Rica, I found myself deeply intrigued with the classical music repertoire. Bach, Ravel, Chopin, Stravinsky … the influences were many and varied. I was in awe of the vast emotional spectrum of classical music. The passion and depth, the rapture and relevance, the sheer magic that can only be found in some of the greatest works ever written.”

Muñoz’s album Vida includes special guests Jonathan Dane and Adolfo Acosta (Tower of Power) on trumpets, Randy Tico (Airto Moreira) on electric bass, world renown classical bassist Nico Abondolo, Brian Mann (Larry Carlton) on accordion, Kevin Winard (Sergio M?ndez) on percussion, Ron Kalina (Linda Ronstadt) on chromatic harmonica and Charlie Bisharat (Strunz & Farah) on violin.


The Fruit of Eden (Pelin Music 1995), reissued in 1996 byFarenheit Records
Compassion (1998)
Vida (2004)
Of Soul & Shadow (2007)
Invisible (2010)
Luz (2013)
Voz (2015)
The Dead Man (2017)


Artist Profiles: Jorge Strunz

Jorge Strunz – Photo by Eric Strunz

Jorge Strunz was born in Costa Rica and was given his first guitar at age 6. He began performing professionally in their early teens.

The travels of his diplomat father brought Jorge to the United States. In the mid-1970s, Strunz formed a Latin jazz group called Caldera, together with Argentine keyboardist Eduardo del Barrio. Caldera signed with Capitol Records and recorded as self-titled debut album. Caldera was offered another recording with Capitol, but the band was not happy with the label and had interest from CBS. They left Capitol but the deal with CBS fell through. The group disbanded in 1979.

Fortune and music brought Jorge Strunz and Ardeshir Farah together, when fellow guitarist Ardeshir came to see Jorge perform with Caldera. When the two guitarists subsequently met, it was instantly obvious that they were brothers of the guitar from opposite ends of the earth. They quickly prepared a repertoire, began performing, and recorded their first project, Mosaico, in 1980, under the name Strunz & Farah.

Although record companies at that time were not yet ready for this new hybrid music, jazz radio embraced it enthusiastically, and the duo caught the attention of Milestone that released two of the duo’s CDs in the early 1980s, ‘Frontera’ and ‘Guitarras’.

The intimate audiophile recording Misterio was commissioned and recorded by Waterlily Acoustics in 1989. Following this came the phenomenally successful recordings Primal Magic (1990) and Americas (1992) on Mesa/Atlantic, which won Billboard’s World Music Album of the Year and a Grammy nomination, respectively. The artists then started their own record company, Selva, as an artist-friendly alternative to the majors and put out Heat of the Sun, (top 10 Billboard World Music chart) and Live, the artists’ first live performance recording. Strunz &Farah received back the rights to Primal Magic and Americas, which were re-released on Selva, which the artists will own and distribute independently.

In 2010, Jorge Strunz released an excellent acoustic guitar solo album titled Neotropical Nocturnes.

Solo Albums

Neotropical Nocturnes (Selva, 2010)

Strunz and Farah Discography:

Mosaico (1982, Reissued on Selva 1997)

Frontera (Milestone 1984)

Guitarras (Milestone 1985)

Misterio (AudioQuest 1989)

Primal Magic (1990, Reissued on Selva 1999)

Americas (1992 Reissued on Selva 1999)

Heat Of The Sun (Selva 1995)

Live (Selva 1997)

Wild Muse (Selva 1998)

Best of Strunz &Farah (Selva 2000)

Stringweave (Selva 2001)

Rio de Colores (Selva 2003)

Zona Torrida (Selva 2004)

Desert Guitars (Selva 2005)

Jungle Guitars (Selva 2006)

Fantaseo (Selva 2006)

Journey Around The Sun (Selva 2011)

Moods and Visions (Selva 2014)


In Performance (2003)


Artist Profiles: Jaime Gamboa

Jaime Gamboa

Jaime Gamboa is a philologist, publicist, poet and bass player. He has written much of the lyrics of Malpais’ songs, along with his late brother Fidel, and shared responsibility for organizing the International Festival of Arts with Iván Rodríguez.

Malpaís Discography:

Uno (Papaya Music, 2002)
Historias de nadie (Papaya Music, 2004)
Malpaís en vivo (Papaya Music, 2006)
Un día lejano (Papaya Music, 2009)
La canción de Adán (2009)
Hay niños aquí (Papaya Music, 2010)
Volver a casa (2011)


Artist Profiles: Iván Rodríguez

Iván Rodríguez

Iván Rodríguez was a violinist in the National Symphonic Orchestra of Costa Rica for twenty years, and member of Adrián Goizueta’s Grupo Experimental and the Probus Ensemble string quartet.

Iván also plays mandolin, guitar, keyboard, Celtic flute and percussion. He has composed music for dance and theater and is one of the founders of the Jazz Café, indisputable focal point for Costa Rica’s urban musicians and numerous international figures. He directed the International Festival of Arts in Costa Rica.

He’s a member of Malpais.

Malpaís Discography:

Uno (Papaya Music, 2002)
Historias de nadie (Papaya Music, 2004)
Malpaís en vivo (Papaya Music, 2006)
Un día lejano (Papaya Music, 2009)
La canción de Adán (2009)
Hay niños aquí (Papaya Music, 2010)
Volver a casa (2011)


Artist Profiles: Fidel Gamboa

Fidel Gamboa

Fidel Gamboa Goldemberg, better known as Fidel Gamboa, was born in Nicoya, Costa Rica on August 6, 1961. He was the musical director, lyricist and singer for Malpais.

Fidel was also a composer, arranger and performer with extensive experience. Some of his songs were performed by Rubén Blades and Pedro Aznar.

Along with playing saxophone, guitar and flute, Fidel composed a large number of works for dance, theater and chamber groups. He was a member of Grupo Experimental and several jazz groups in Costa Rica.

Fidel Gamboa died on August 28, 2011.

Malpaís Discography:

Uno (Papaya Music, 2002)
Historias de nadie (Papaya Music, 2004)
Malpaís en vivo (Papaya Music, 2006)
Un día lejano (Papaya Music, 2009)
La canción de Adán (2009)
Hay niños aquí (Papaya Music, 2010)
Volver a casa (2011)