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Ancient Indigenous Songs Meet Modern Sounds

January 13, 2006

WHEN I received an invitation to hear Jiron-Dai’s “contemporary electro-acoustic music that breathes with the mystic breath of the ancient Ngöbe,” I must say I didn’t know what to expect of this proclaimed combination of techno beats with traditional indigenous songs. I was pleasantly  surprised.

 

At a December performance at El Observatorio restaurant and bar in eastern San José’s Barrio La California, I witnessed five Tico musicians and a Ngöbe singer effectively revive with synthesizers, guitar and bass the centuries-old songs of the Ngöbe (also known as Guaymí) indigenous culture of southern Costa Rica.

 

Through its songs, Jiron-Dai seeks to make indigenous culture accessible to the public while keeping ancient traditions alive, said synthesizer player Luis Porras.

 

“It’s new-age, very free, world music,” Porras said. “Costa Rica has an image of being a nation that doesn’t have a lot of different ethnic voices, where everything is españolizado (‘Spanish-ized’), and we wanted to change that.”

 

PORRAS, the group’s two other synthesizer players Luis Mora and Edward Castro, and bass player and guitarist Jordon Hughes had the idea of producing a CD with indigenous Costa Rican melodies. They heard of Ngöbe singer Alexis Rodríguez, who was on a mission to revive the ancient songs of the La Casona indigenous reserve in Coto Brus, in southern Costa Rica.

 

Rodríguez joined the Tico musicians, and Jiron-Dai was born. The name comes from an Ngöbe story about a famous shaman named Jiron-Dai, who foresaw the arrival of the Spanish conquerors, Mora explained.

 

Jiron-Dai’s songs are just what the group claims they are: a fusion of ancient, indigenous songs with modern sounds. At last month’s concert, Rodríguez soulfully crooned songs passed down from his mother in the nearly extinct Ngöbe-Buglé language, as the four musicians created an impressive backdrop of new-age tones reminiscent of Moby’s acoustic and electronic guitar against piano. The three synthesizers produced a range of sounds, including flute and drums, and Hughes’ guitar took the spotlight on several occasions.

 

A large screen behind the musicians projected film and photography from the Coto Brus region, creating a dual sensory experience and allowing the small yet attentive audience to visualize the jungle birthplace of the ancient melodies.

 

BESIDES reviving Ngöbe songs, Jiron-Dai has also set a goal of building a cultural center in the Coto Brus area where visitors can learn about the language, art and other aspects of the indigenous culture.

 

To raise money for the project, the group hopes to form an association and seek investors, Mora said.

 

“The goal is to make this pueblo proud of its culture and not lose it,” Mora said. “There are many people here today who don’t feel proud of their own race.”

 

Jiron-Dai recorded a CD last year and hopes to record a second, live CD this year to capture the spiritual energy that resonates during its performances.

 

The group is also in the process of planning more concerts for 2006, including a few open-air performances in the Coto Brus area for the indigenous community and visitors.

 

For more information on Jiron-Dai, email jirondai@gmail.com.

 

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