MONTEVERDE – Picking a line of bass notes with his thumb and bright flutters of high notes with the other fingers of his right hand, Felipe Carvajal commenced a concert of flamenco last Friday in this small town in the mountainous cloud forest of north-central Costa Rica.
It was the second week of the Monteverde Music Fest, which this weekend culminates in its grand finale.
The guitarist’s left-hand fingers sprawled and scattered across the neck of the instrument like a startled daddy longlegs.
Intermittently, a voice came from another man seated on a wooden box drum, or cajón, saying “¡Olé!” – the age-old call invoked by the gypsies of southern Spain who spawned the genre.
This was not a smoky Spanish tavern but rather a partly covered amphitheater, one of two of the festival’s venues, which also include the outdoor GreenPark stage. Not the hot Mediterranean, this place was in a cradle of cool green wilderness.
Percussionist Yamil Jaikel was dressed, like Carvajal, in a black button-down, black slacks and black shoes, his long dark hair tied back in a ponytail. The two musicians, members of the band Soloflamenco, boldly reached for Andalusian musical purity.
Singer Elena Zelaya didn’t sing as though she’d just smoked two packs of filterless cigarettes, as so many of flamenco’s most celebrated cantaores do. New to the genre, she later acknowledged, Zelaya’s clear alto voice had been sweetened by Latin traditions from closer ashore.
Aida Vargas, the dancer, or bailaora, arose and stomped, threw her arms and grabbed aggressively at her flowery peach dress, the percussionists worked up a frenzy on their box drums and clapping palms, and Zelaya achieved an almost Middle Eastern-sounding cadence.
Olé and other encouraging cheers stoked further improvisation. Percussionist David Solano took several stellar cajón solos.
Soloflamenco captivated the crowd. Was this flamenco a lo tico? The band members would like to think not. In a group interview after the concert, they agreed that, as their band name suggests, they want to play flamenco. That’s all.
The San José-based band may be local, but its sound is anything but. The mostly 20-somethings played some original material as well as tunes by flamenco greats such as Niña Pastori.
“Flamenco in Spain is an oral tradition – gypsies don’t study it formally,” Jaikel said. “In our case it’s different, being from a different country.”
“We’re descendents of the Spanish and Indians. The rhythms (here) also come partly from Africa and of course from Spanish culture,” Solano added. “We feel it in our blood. It comes easy.”
Soloflamenco’s show was a fine example of the kind of diverse program the festival’s organizers were looking for. Shows have ranged from rock and reggae to flamenco and Celtic – homegrown acts with a broad reach to eclectic sounds.
Festival organizer Patricia Maynard said the concert series serves to “promote and stimulate the national music scene.”
She emphasized that tonight’s show by Evolución, “one of (Costa Rica’s) most popular rock bands,” is not to be missed.
The band’s members helped carve out the country’s alternative rock scene of the ’90s and continue to shape the sound. Tomorrow’s concert is by Parque en el Espacio, a lesser known “trip rock” band that Maynard said is one of her favorites. Both shows start at 7 p.m.
The final night is Sunday, when the festival will go out with a bang with the Caribbean sounds of Cantoamérica at 5 p.m. and the rock stylings of Sonámbulo at 10 p.m.
For more information on the festival, call 2645-5926.