Jim ParisiMusic Review

Gospel Music in Costa Rica

Wade in the Waterby Jim Parisi

Religious hymns and spiritual music have played a role in Costa Rican culture for more than two centuries. Traditionally, however, the practice of organized groups celebrating and singing these songs has been confined to within their respective church walls, primarily in Limon and San Jose. Enter music historian Manuel Obregon, who is also the president and founder of Papaya Music, Costa Rica’s premier music label. Obregon felt this musical legacy deserved to be shared with the general public. So he enlisted more than thirty participants from a variety of denominations to perform live for two nights for an audience at National Theater in San Jose, which is truly how gospel music should be heard; live rather than canned studio work. Appropriately, a recording of this event, “Wade in the Water” has recently been released.

Jaime Peligro Books and Music

The disc opens with the Reverend Phil Jones singing the title track. He also sings the lead vocals for “We Shall Overcome” and the closing song, “Amazing Grace”. Other standouts on the song list include Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” and the traditional Gospel tune, “Fly Away”. Two Kirk Franklin original songs and a Caribbean Gospel medley help round out the song selections. A variety of vocal ensembles grace the performances on this CD, including a backing chorus of ten voices. In addition, Obregon spotlights Masterkey, a six-man singing group from Limon who formed their sextet in 1998, singing a combination of traditional and original spiritual songs in a bilingual style they call “Tico Gospel”. Their counterpart, T4, is comprised of the four Tucker sisters, singing a style of music that has Afro-American Gospel style enmeshed with a Jamaican/Caribbean influence. Harline Tucker claims that their style of music can be played “only on the black keys of the piano”.

The music leaves a lot of room for instrumental solos, which are handled by Obregon on piano and organ, while fellow Malpais band member Fidel Gamboa plays flute and saxophone, with the guitar work performed by veteran session man Carlos Delgado. The house band for this project is comprised of self-admitted “non-believers”, who expressed delight in being able to participate in the event. The music tends to transcend traditional gospel, adding elements of soul, rhythm & blues and even jazz to the mix.

The packaging has the unmistakable Papaya Music attention to detail. Obregon, a bit of a music perfectionist, also did all the arranging, producing and art direction. The disc comes with a booklet with its liner notes and lyrics in both Spanish and English. The eco-friendly jacket is a double fold-out that opens to reveal a clever photographic collage. In short, Manuel Obregon and Papaya Music have done it again, presenting a comprehensive package that preserves Costa Rican heritage by putting it on the map while adding a current spin to it that keeps it modern at the same time.

“Wade in the Water” and all Papaya Music CDs are available in Playa Tamarindo and Tilaran at Jaime Peligro, where they will gladly sample the music for the customer. In Quepos – Manuel Antonio you can check the Central Market or Buena Nota.