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Rumba Jam in Costa Rica

Having a Swinging Time

Criollo music actually originated in Peru, and was quickly absorbed by Venezuelan and Argentinean musicians. But swing criollo with its tico flavor had its genesis here in the Sixties with a merger of American Swing music and a Latin style of music from Colombia called cumbia. Initially, it was frowned upon, considered an uncultured, even crude style of music to a point where in the Seventies in San Jose, there were many signs at dancehalls and clubs proclaiming, “Swing Dancing Forbidden”. But the style continued and grew, both in popularity and refinement over the next forty years. Last 30 November, Costa Rica’s president Laura Chinchilla and Minister of Culture Manuel Obregon officially declared swing criollo “one of the expressions of dance of the intangible cultural heritage of Costa Rica”.

Now, here to usher swing criollo into official credibility is another merger: Bernardo Quesada and Rumba Jam, with their new CD, “Donde Te Espera mi Nombre”. Rumba Jam is an eight piece band made up of graduates of University of Costa Rica, the National Institute of Music and the National University. They recently participated in the Festival de Artes Turrialba 2011 and the Tegucigalpa Jazz Festival 2011 in Honduras. They have also worked with the popular San Jose jazz Band Escats. Rumba Jam is a brassy band of piano, bass, percussionists and a deep section of trumpet, sax and trombones.

Bernardo Quesada is a household name in the music business in Costa Rica, recognized as a performing musician with two CDs, “Cuervo Blanco” in 2000 and “Mas Cerca de mi Corazon” in 2007. He is an established producer, working with Editus, Malpais, Ruben Blades and more recently with Perrozompopo from Nicaragua. In the past few years he has been touring the U.S., Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Brazil and Colombia.

The result is a very nice marriage of a fine composer and conductor working with a slick band. It’s obvious from the first song on the album, “Pa Curubande’ Yo Voy” that these guys are a nice fit and enjoy playing music together. Bernardo is a clever lyricist and has constructed songs to fit around the musical concept of the album; Rumba Jam does the rest. The music, which also includes Costa Rican Salsa, jumps right off the disc, directing the listeners’ feet to the dance floor. The title song, “Donde Te Espera mi Nombre” has a snappy, almost hypnotic staccato beat that is definitely infectious. Other standouts on the album include “De Tu Boca” and “Congoli Shango”, two very danceable tunes. The final song, “Salsa Marinera” is another tune with a mesmerizing beat, a nice send-off that should leave the listener anticipating the next project by Bernard Quesada & Rumba Jam.

Papaya Music, one of Costa Rica’s premiere recording labels, has decided to distribute the CD, a vote of confidence that should give this CD excellent exposure. The CD is available at the Jaime Peligro book stores in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos, and Nuevo Arenal, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers.

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