The band Café Surá is a distinctive Costa Rican musical experience – and not just because it features a whopping 11 members. The group began in 2010 as a project of high school friends who wanted to play for fun. In 2013, the group formalized a lineup featuring James Doga (voice and guitar), Alonso Zamora (voice and bass), Esteban Espinal (guitar), Errol Gudiño (percussion), Felix Solano (drums), Esteban Corrales (piano and keyboard), Oscar Vega (saxophone), Andrés Chamorro (trombone), Nelson Ramírez (trumpet), Mariel Cordero (voice and chorus) and Noelia Belfort (voice and chorus).
Offering a fusion of various Latin genres such as reggae, salsa, and cumbia, the Costa Rica band played Sept. 5 at the Community Pub in San José, where they premiered their new video. The Tico Times sat down to speak with James Doga and Alonso Zamora. Excerpts follow.
How would you describe your approach to music?
JD: Our music has a message that invites you to do whatever you want. Our conceptualization is about the energy that exists between the audience and us.
AZ: If art is just mine, then what’s the reason to create it? Art or music must communicate something towards others. We all struggle when communicating with others. In the end, it’s going to be a challenge and the communication between people will provide us with a lot of richness.
Which is the message you want to transmit with your music?
JD: The emptiness that we find is what we use when we compose our songs. We don’t know what we are doing and we want people to identify themselves with that particular feeling.
AZ: The truth is that we just want to create music from the heart. We want to communicate things about this modern life. What distinguishes Café Surá from other bands is that our music eliminates mental laziness; it’s about getting a grasp of life with a different perspective. It’s a love for life, but each one of you has to find it through your own means. We don’t have answers. We have questions, and we want to share them.
What is the meaning behind the name Café Surá?
JD: Surá is the energy or exchange that exists between the audience and us. Café is the place in which this energy is transmitted. It’s the propitious space to transmit this energy. Today Café Surá will be here, not because we came, but because the people came, and we’ll play the music [for them].
What inspires you when you create music?
AZ: The sublime feelings we have. If I’m in a bad mood and then, a stranger greets me on the street, everything changes. That person can be a homeless person and he might tell me to have a great day and it changes me. In that moment, you tell yourself that not everything is as bad as it seems. In that moment there’s a shift, a calm.
JD: Our inspiration comes from the things that are difficult to describe. If I were to do a painting, I would paint all the surroundings and leave the center white: the white space is the emptiness we’re trying to write about. It’s about the sublime stuff, the very rich stuff and emotions linked with our daily life.
AZ: That’s the magic! I want to explain it at some point. If I can’t explain it, let’s create songs and dance them!
What process do you go through when composing, or preparing a concert?
AZ: There is no definite process. Some songs have been composed by Noelia [Belfort, vocalist]. Most are ideas that we come up with as a group. It’s a very organic, joint process. Since our work is music made with love, we never tell ourselves to create music with the purpose of recording. Something we enjoy is that when we are playing and James says he played a chord wrong, I tell him that it’s not wrong and we should try this new chord. Who says it’s a mistake? He didn’t think about it, but his body did, and within his body there’s wisdom.
JD: We enjoy creating concerts that are different, like this one. We want it to be an experience, rather than playing in the same places as all the other bands.
AZ: There isn’t a correct process for a concert because we all work and we all try to do the best we can to have a great show. It must be a wonderful night, not for us, but for the audience. We are 11 members; we all have our own responsibilities and our own chaos and madness at Café Surá’s service.
Read other “Weekend Arts Spotlight” interviews here.
Our “Weekend Arts Spotlight” presents Sunday interviews with artists who are from, working in, or inspired by Costa Rica, ranging from writers and actors to dancers and musicians. Do you know of an artist we should consider, whether a long-time favorite or an up-and-comer? Email us at [email protected].